Whatever his ultimate, well-scrubbed narrative, the Obama experiment in learning-on-the-job defies the popular theory that great, overpowering personalities dictate their will, dominate eras and make history. Long past his definitive re-election win, this president exposes a paltry command over his own, his party's, or his country's destiny. His underwhelming electoral coattails evaporate weekly, like burnt candle wicks, thus jeopardizing Democratic Senate control.
In only weeks, Obama was ripped by legislative rejection of modest gun restraints, Benghazi unfurled administration blundering, the IRS went rogue on his watch, and now the revealing, impossible-to-flee NSA intrusions. The wary, ex-law teacher, with allegedly better self-esteem than his predecessor, turns out just as compliant as our most gullible president (or Reagan, for that matter). Remarkably, protean Obama sponged up the Bush Doctrine (belligerent, go-it-alone militarism), the Cheney Doctrine (spying uber alles , freedom demands tyranny), the Clinton Doctrine (pragmatic relativism), even the transparency-hating Nixon Doctrine (if a president does it . . .).
A curious path to greatness. Hell, Obama could make history as the first president impeached for the high crime of hypocrisy: winning office as "the anti-Bush," then governing as "the pro-Bush," with mixed results on health care, taxes, the environment, gay and civil rights. If Obama's fate recapitulates Clinton's, he'd be the first president impeached less for overt crimes against the state than zealous commitment to safeguarding entrenched powers far and wide.
The "Greatness' of Bush-Cheney?
No doubt, default to the "Great Man' theory re-emerges when explaining the last White House gang, able to ride one dramatic, terrorist episode into dead-end invasions and a slew of rights- and privacy-invading laws. Who but "great leaders" could so badly mangle the Constitution, erode our overseas standing, abandon a great city under siege, facilitate huge environmental fiascoes, then cap it all off by squandering trillions in national assets? Only masters of the universe, so the logic goes, could bunker-bust bomb the world's super power while resetting the Political Iniquity-Stupidity Scale (PISS) that Nixon established.
Turns out hidebound, pedestrian men, if sufficiently ruthless and blessed with good timing, can bring on horrendous devastation that will endure, like an insidious oil sludge, for decades. In magnitude alone, Bush-Cheney reinforces unholy greatness, especially when rewarded with unindicted, pensioned retirement. Memories being fluid, Bush credibility rises on cue, as the great Muslim Kenyan socialist normalizes criminal governance, legitimized with the hallowed imprimatur of liberalism. "If a president does it"
Though historians pooh-pooh 19th C. "great man" notions as personality cults, does not our celebration of heroism underlie universal values and moral frameworks? We admire formidable members of our own species at their best. Even writers who take macro views -- attentive to economic determinism, elitist, predatory capitalism, plus unbridgeable class struggles -- rarely divorce the American Revolution from Founders, the Civil War from Lincoln, Lee and Grant, the New Deal sans FDR, or the Iraqi fiasco detached from Bush's brain -- and what he didn't know, even know enough to question, before defaulting into the abyss.
History's Glow Worms