Summary: Today we have an article by Prof Bromwich painting a portrait of Obama. As his term slides to its end and the 2016 election begins we must learn from our experience. Yet again we elected as President someone with inadequate experience but a powerful image, as if we vote for the best float in the Memorial Day parade. So long as we remain uninvolved in the political machinery, as consumers, our elites will serve us only choices that meet their needs — not ours.
David Bromwich (Professor of English, Yale)
London Review of Books, 2 July 2014
Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB
The first year and a half of Barack Obama’s second term has been preternaturally unlucky. The stymied enrollments for his healthcare plan, the multiple errors of computer co-ordination that forced people to wait days or weeks in front of blank screens, marred the new faith in government the plan had been intended to affirm. Just when, around the end of April, the trouble seemed to be halfway resolved, with millions finally insured and several deadlines put off, there emerged stories of faked records of treatment and months-long waiting lists at Veterans Hospitals. It was another failure of managerial competence, in another branch of government to which Obama had professed the warmest commitment. And there has been nothing resembling a success in foreign policy to offset the embarrassments at home. The United States, which always needs to be doing something, was in no position to do much about the Russian annexation of Crimea or the conflict in Ukraine.
A common feature in all these events was that Obama himself seemed far from the scene. He was looking on, we were made to think, with concern and understanding. But in matters like these, one could easily feel that a conspicuous sign of a ‘hands-on’ president was needed. Apparently Obama was startled by the bad rollout of healthcare – shocked and dismayed like all Americans. But shouldn’t he have known more about it than most Americans? Again, the Veterans Affairs scandal was something he learned about when he read the papers, but why only then? His show of injured trust and surprise had been received more charitably on the still obscure earlier occasion when four Americans were killed in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. He was notified at the time, but he was in the middle of campaigning and left the crisis to the State Department. Absent and accounted for. Yet there has been, all along, an airy and unnerving quality about these absences. Obama launched the bombing of Libya in March 2011, having previously signaled that he intended no such action, in an emergency speech during a state visit to Brazil.