I feel bad for President Barack Obama. Here is a decent, intelligent, articulate man who had all the qualities to be a brilliant candidate but somehow ended up in the wrong job.
As I see him running out the clock on his second term, gamely trying to appear in control but clearly in over his head, I think back to the days when my then-8-year-old daughter fell in love with Candidate Obama.
It was my daughter’s fascination with Obama that fed my own. We would sit together at night and watch his speeches, moved by his ability to inspire us.
Because his delivery and persona were so mesmerizing, we couldn’t help but absorb his message. And what a grand message it was: Unity. Opportunity. Hope. Renewal. Optimism. A more perfect union. A more perfect world.
At a time when America was feeling down on itself, Obama came along to boost our morale, to remind us that there’s nothing we can’t do — a message he himself embodied through his remarkable rise.
But while fate dealt Obama a perfect storm of circumstances to help him shoot to the top, it also dealt him a perfect mess of crises that greeted him as soon as he walked into the Oval Office.
The magnificent candidate inherited a trifecta of disasters: Two of the dumbest wars in U.S. history in Iraq and Afghanistan (my definition of a stupid war: squandering trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on a country that doesn’t say thank you), combined with an economic and fiscal crisis the likes of which we hadn’t seen in decades.
On top of those disasters came a problem of his own making: He made us expect too much. This is the side effect of being a transcendent candidate. You make people dream. You get carried away with your promises. You don’t manage expectations.
Eventually, crummy hand or not, Obama had to own up to his record. For a while, his eloquence and self-confidence made many of us overlook his failings. But as the problems and scandals piled up, as the “jobless recovery” became the new normal and as the Obamacare launch turned into an infamous mess, the Obama magic waned.
His words were still strong and upbeat, but they could no longer cover up the failures.
From a high of 69 percent in January 2009, his Gallup approval rating sank as low as 40 percent in March 2014.
Liberal admirers like Amy Goodman have taken him to task for promising “a new era of open Government,” which, she writes, “seems just another grand promise, cynically broken.”
Last year, another prominent admirer, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, wrote: “Unfortunately, he still has not learned to govern. … No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him.”
Evidently, tyrants around the world aren’t scared of him, either.
And why should they be? At heart, Obama is a dreamer, a preacher, a philosopher-king. He’s simply not wired to be a hands-on, hard-nosed leader who can leverage his power.
Sure, when circumstances suit him, he can play tough guy and take down Bin Laden or send out the drones to kill more bad guys.
But his real passion is not with hard power. It’s with soft power.
He believes more fervently in dialogue and persuasion than in credible deterrence, which is the only thing that works with bullies. After seeing him violate his own red line against the murderous bully running Syria, few allies or enemies believe he has the stomach to enforce any red lines.
His reckless predecessor may have given toughness a bad name, but Obama himself has never quite found the smart middle ground between reckless and hapless.
As a result, Obama’s wobbling, coddling and wishful thinking have weakened America’s credibility and reduced our ability to positively influence the world — on everything from fighting global warming, to reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to combating genocide in Africa, to standing up to tyrants.
Of course, none of this would matter if Obama weren’t the leader of the free world. But he is. And while he’s certainly had his high moments, it’s clear he’s fallen far short of the greatness he evoked in 2008. The charisma that made him a star on his magic campaign ride has hardly been enough to navigate the world’s toughest job.
But there’s hope.
As I see it, there’s one important job that would enable Obama to truly display his greatness: running the United Nations.
In this era of globalization, can you think of a more perfect role for our orator-in-chief? Every week, he’d deliver an inspiring address to the world about the most crucial issues facing humanity.
He would initiate resolutions and proclamations, set priorities for fighting injustice and healing the planet, root out the blatant hypocrisy that too often infects the U.N. and shame the bullies while honoring the heroes.
In short, he’d be wallowing in his element, presiding over a global forum where ideas, eloquence and “soft power” matter more than anything. He’d be the inspirational leader, not just of the free world, but of the whole world.
President Obama still has 1,000 days to end his presidency on a high note, and I hope he does. But the highest note he'll reach, for him and the world, is not in Washington. It's in New York City.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.