One could readily make a long list of things that are amiss in today's post-Bushite America-- things that also could be corrected or improved by political action in which presidential leadership could be relevant.
Reasonable people would differ on many of the details of that list --exactly what are the problems, exactly what would be the optimal solution to those problems-- but consensus on many important elements would likely be easily achieved.
And with that list, one could readily chart all the ways in which Obama has and has not made clear movement to solve the problems, repair the damages, right the wrongs.
It is surely a very mixed picture, with many clear and beneficial presidential actions and statements and many other areas in which Obama has left problems unaddressed or even, by some reckonings, aligned himself with the wrong side.
I am positing that Obama's deviations from the straight-forward path of the good and the right and the just represent not an indifference to the Good but a strategy he thinks best for the long-term advancement of the Good.
The question then is: is he choosing the best strategy?
COSTS IN THE AMERICAN SYSTEM
That there are costs to his approach is clear. There are different kinds of costs we could examine.
Most critics speak of the costs in terms of this issue or that issue.
Constitutional legal scholar Jonathan Turley (of Georgetown University) exemplifies this critique: the failure to prosecute war crimes, he argues, makes it more likely that future American political leaders will follow in the criminal footsteps of the Bushite regime; Obama's failure to fulfill his legal obligation to prosecute, despite clear evidence of criminal violations, will do long-term damage to the rule of law in America.
Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer likewise critiques the manner in which Obama is dealing with the banking crisis: Obama's working with, rather than restructuring, the existing financial system leaves us with the problems that got the economy into its present pickle to begin with.
These critiques seem sound, and they seem important. I will put forward here a critique of a different sort. Obama's strategy, I fear, forfeits a profound power that might have been his to wield.
OBAMA WEAKENS HIMSELF: ON THE POWER OF PURITY
Go back to the time of the Inauguration. After eight years of the most criminal, most dishonest, most destructive presidency in American history, Obama took the oath of office. Having run a sterling and high-minded campaign about hope, about American ideals; having conducted himself in exemplary fashion, Obama took office with the great majority of the American people behind him.
As I imagine the situation, Obama was perhaps well-situated to assume the role of The Man Who Does the Right Thing. And the great majority of the American people would have been ready to support him.
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