I agree with much of what historian Michael Kazin has to say about Obama here. But this notion, which we often hear from Obama defenders, puzzles me:
For all his talk about “winning the future”(and his undeniable intellectual gifts), Obama seems to think that solving immediate problems is the key to political victory.
In fairness, the economic collapse has provided a surfeit of crises that must be addressed, and quickly. But, from the Great Depression until the great stagflation of the 1970s, Democrats dominated national politics by balancing crisis management with the building of a multi-ethnic, cross-class coalition tied together both by such programs as Social Security, the National Labor Relations Act, and Medicare, and by expressing a generous ideology and moral perspective Roosevelt in 1941 called “the Four Freedoms”—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
My impression of American history was that those presidents universally considered great—Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt—were beset by crises: the founding of a new nation, the Civil War, the Depression, World War II. And far from “balancing crisis management” with their pursuit of long-term goals, the great presidents saw, or found, in those crises an opportunity for reconstructing American politics from the bottom up. It was the crises, in other words, or at least how they handled those crises, that enabled them to pursue their long-term goals.
That at any rate was the final judgment Teddy Roosevelt rendered on his own presidency: that he would never be remembered as another Lincoln because he didn’t have the benefit of confronting catastrophe. Or so I remember reading somewhere, perhaps here.
Whatever one thinks about Obama, it really makes no sense to say that he can’t be all that his supporters want him to be because of the Great Recession, two (now three) wars in Arab and Muslim world, a recalcitrant opposition, and so on. Other presidents would have killed for opportunities like these.