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Obama's failing: Too much head, too little gut

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By David Paul Kuhn

Liberals have long sought the professorial president. But U.S. President Barack Obama is starting to betray some of the vices of that virtue.

This president appears too much brain and too little gut. Prof-in-chief has his drawbacks. The decision to send the confessed Sept 11 mastermind to the civilian criminal court system was defensible in the academy. But it should have failed any seasoned pol's gut check. This crime was, after all, taken as an act of war.

Originally, thoughtfulness on the Afghan war was welcomed and justified. But there have been nine major meetings of Obama's war council. It's been nearly three months. Even as the decision nears, the deliberation has begun to feel like indecision.

It's also how this president speaks to the public. "Most folks believe that we've now turned the corner," Obama said of the recession in September. "Jobs tend to be a lagging indicator."

Obama's never had that gene, visible in other politicians, that allows him to convey the public's pain. Not in the deft sense of Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton. Last month, it was telling that Joe Biden, not Obama, took up Reagan's line that, "when you're out of work, it's a depression."

During the campaign, there were clues that this professor carried some of the baggage common to his breed. That reference to Whole Foods arugula prices to Iowa farmers. Obama's remark to a group of liberal donors in San Francisco that small town folks in places like Pennsylvania "cling to guns or religion."

Pundits did reach for adjectives like "aloof" or "professorial" to describe Obama. And even The New York Times took up the discussion post-market collapse. "In a Time of Crisis, Is Obama Too Cool?" read the Times' headline. But running in the wake of George W Bush's presidency, against John McCain's mercurial campaign and amid the financial crisis, Obama needed only to appear steady to be just cool enough.

W was the polar archetype of the professor. He used too much gut, from gauging the Russian leader to his "bring 'em on" bravado that permeated even his approach to war. But distance from W allows more perspective on the professorial presidency, including its negatives.

Those negatives consumed Teddy Roosevelt. The Harvard man, who wielded a photographic memory, was obsessed with seizing the "strenuous life" to avoid what he saw as the pitfalls of zealous intellectualism.

No modern administration has had more Ivy Leaguers than Gerald Ford, roughly half of his team. But Ford's most important decisions came from breaking with top advisers and going with his instincts: the pardon of Richard Nixon and the use of those famous words, "America's long national nightmare is over." A decade later, Ronald Reagan would similarly disregard learned advisers and stick with the line, "Tear down this wall!"

Obama's intellect has been understandably celebrated. He was the only major candidate who refused to float a gas-tax holiday. From his race speech to his first public comments on the financial crisis to his speech in Cairo, his eloquence is a visible asset.

And yet, even that asset has been exaggerated. Obama's inaugural address did not ring or read like John Kennedy or Franklin Roosevelt's. Obama lacks Roosevelt's touch with the jobless and hopeless, perhaps because Obama lacks so humbling an experience as FDR had with polio.

This financial crisis' strongest speech came in an address to Congress. But it came not from Obama but an impassioned British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, when he spoke of the "irrepressible nation" in his March call to action.

The advantage of Obama's command of the complex earns outsized notice, however, because his predecessor was unusually inarticulate -- for a president that is.

But there remains a tendency for those smart-guy dumb mistakes. Obama's recent bow to Japan's emperor was a powerful cultural gesture to the Japanese. But that bow came in the context of earlier controversies over his smiling handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his bow to Saudi King Abdullah.

Politics 101 teaches that creating jobs can also create votes. Yet Democrats decided not to create a new-New Deal. It would have visibly and proportionally focused job creation where unemployment is highest, among laborers. But the obvious move is often not the professor's move.

Democrats have, indeed, moved towards the professional class for decades. Obama was always the personification of two of the most important legs of the Democratic coalition, blacks and highly educated whites. Republicans won post-graduates by 2 percentage points in 1988. Two decades later, Democrats won the bloc by 18 points.

The political left came to, in Al Gore and John Kerry, realize the disadvantages of the overly brainy candidate. But Democrats still cherished the cerebral president. In the Bush era, many liberals found relief in "The West Wing" fictionalized presidency of Jed Bartlet, an Economics Nobel Laureate who spoke four languages.

But ever since one columnist branded Adlai Stevenson an "egghead" in 1952 it seems, many Democrats have proven unable to fully consider the substance of the charge.

Last year, the Daily Telegraph obtained a confidential letter from the British ambassador to the prime minister. It described Obama as someone who "can seem to sit on the fence, assiduously balancing pros and cons," with a demeanor that "does betray a highly educated and upper middle class mindset," a man who "can talk too dispassionately."

It was the sort of frank appraisal that thoughtful men should consider.

© RealClearPolitics

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

35 Comments
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great, JT quoting right-wing jibberish from less than respectable websites.

Moderator: If you disagree with the writer, then please say why. That is the purpose of the discussion board.

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The writer is an idiot! He should expalin the British Amabassadors background before using him as a reference of good judgement.

"He can talk too dispassionately for a national campaign about issues which touch people personally, eg his notorious San Francisco comments [in April] about small-town Pennsylvanians 'clinging' to guns and religion."

Sir Nigel boasts unrivalled contacts within the Bush Administration and has closely followed the career of Hillary Clinton. But he also has reputation among diplomats as an abrasive bully, and the leak of such a pointedly critical, albeit private letter, to Gordon Brown may damage future relations with an Obama administration.

The British Ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, has very little credibility. He might as well quote DICK Cheney.

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Another rabid right winger looking to vindicate their disgraced faction by slamming a president who has not been in office a full year yet.

For eight years we endured the leadership of that opportunistic, militaristic and out of touch faction. And for eight years we lived in shame as our president stumbled through every speech and made a mockery of the office of president.

Now we have to endure the ravings of their pundits who seem able to build major faults out of nothing.

So here's a message to the right. 'Sit down, shut up and give the man some time to undo eight years of your damage. If you expect miracles go to church. This is reality mate and proper policies take time to implement. A lesson your party would do well to learn."

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Its bad enough reading the scare mongering posts of the ill-informed right wingers,but now having to read a RANDOM,pointless,moan of a so called journalist, clearly shows the idea is to promote rabble rousing arguments.

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hey even if he does fail, he will still be a god when put along side BUSH !!! so who cares

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Obama's failing: Too much head, too little gut

nope. You can never have too much head.

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This is one of the worst written opinion pieces I have ever read.

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Too much head ,too little gut: too early to say. It will all depend on the outcomes. If the outcome is good , too much head,too little gut will be understood as so wise ,so inteligent , so careful, best president ever...etc.

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Politics 101 teaches that creating jobs can also create votes

and bigger government.

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All presidents have their shortcomings. There is little more here than to say Bush lead with his gut too much. Can we demonstrate how this is somehow failing the American people? Odd article.

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I wonder how many of Obamas supporters would take the time hes taken on the Afghanistan decision.. If they had the job. I can say, when I disagreed with Bush I said so.. but he made a lot of decisions in ways I think I might have under the circumstances. I would have sounded better doing it, but that`s my personal charm!

Obamas decision making, and/or lack of, has confounded me. After serious the consideration with an open (as possible, I suppose) mind, Im often left wondering... WHAT? REALLY? Lot`s of people are starting to feel this way. So get used to hearing it. THanks JT for posting something to counter balance the all too frequent knee jerk demagoguery from the left that we see on here (especially in the comments section.. just read below!)

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Reagan was the last of the real (not a Federal Reserve pawn) Presidents = that's why they shot him. -JFK.

Wildrow Wilson historically was the Dem's educated man. But thru him we got the corrupt (above the law) Federal Reserve, UN, income taxes and the start of a full-time military and the start to all these wars. They say WW1 was "The War to End All Wars" but it was just the start to indebt the American populace and eventually the whole World to the Fiat Dollar.

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cracaphat at 09:31 AM JST - 25th November

Its bad enough reading the scare mongering posts of the ill-informed >right wingers,but now having to read a RANDOM,pointless,moan of a so >called journalist, clearly shows the idea is to promote rabble rousing >arguments

Funny how the "enlightened" liberals cannot stand an opposing opinion. Since when is discussion "scaremongering?" Rabble? You do have a high opinion of yourself don't you.

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diggerdog at 09:31 AM JST - 25th November

hey even if he does fail, he will still be a god when put along side >BUSH !!! so who cares

You should care! Your country is now in more debt that a generation can pay off. And Obama want to add to the debt! The US dollar is loosing its lustre and your buying power is being depleted. But don't worry about it, I am you can find some other fool country to buy your debt.

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Phillyprnc: Just because your average person today thinks in 2 second sound bites and makes decisions like playing video games, does not make that kind of thinking effective or right.

I am happy to see someone willing to look at a real solution and not just some off the cuff solution for the moment. We have far too much short term thinking and not nearly enough long term careful consideration of issues.

It only seems like indecision to the impatient of mind. The same people who rushed us into Iraq after 911, forgot about Afghanistan when it could have been handled because it was not the sound bite of the moment.

Thinking is a good thing. The fact that we have to explain that to people today says far more about the poor state of our culture than it does about a president who is willing to make real, informed decisions.

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Obamas decision making, and/or lack of, has confounded me.

What decision would have you taken?

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Yup....This David Paul Kuhn is a real rightwing nutjob.

Kuhn is currently a Senior Political Writer for Politico.com, covering the 2008 presidential election. He is also the author of “The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma.” General Wes Clark called it “A brilliantly insightful analysis of American politics at the national level.” Kuhn covered the 2004 presidential campaign as Chief Political Writer for CBS News. He has also written for The Washington Post Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Salon.com, and the Tokyo-based Yomiuri Shimbun.

Yup...A real 'limbaugh' type.

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I agree dBung

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David Kuhn, you say that Sept 11 was taken as an act of war which is correct as far as the Bush Administration was concerned. But in hindsight it could be argued that it was not any country that did Sept 11, rather it was Al-Qaeda, a terrorist organisation which had cells in various countries.

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He is also the author of “The Neglected Voter: White Men and the Democratic Dilemma.”

Ok sailwind, if this title doesn't tip you off to this guy's colors then I don't know what will. And the credentials of having published in a few papers, who often give voice to the opposition as a means of equal time, don't carry much weight to overcome this title alone.

The right wing myth of the oppressed white guy panders to the racialist thinking of people who would rather blame their own issues on minorities and women than face the facts that their own political tunnel vision is largely responsible for their situation.

These are the same sad old white guys who vote GOP when the other parties offer more health care, education and jobs for their struggling communities. They vote with their outdated survive or die mentality and their religious beliefs than with any kind of political intelligence. Then turn around and point fingers at everyone else for causing their problems.

This kind of crowd are exemplary of the same mentality that could easily lead to the same nationalistic thinking we saw in the 1930s that led to world war II.

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Only the very far left in the U.S. believes that Obama is on the right track (check any poll). Whether it's the fraud-ridden stimulus (that spent $880MM and resulted in 3M less jobs) or the focus on healthcare reform (which is needed in some form, but not with a Govt-run option). Obama has proven to be a naive zealot, not ready to lead himself, let alone a nation. His behavior will lead to another civil war, it's only a matter of time.

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tkoind2,

No offense but do you not do any sort of research before you post?

His book is on how the DEMOCRATIC party can win these voters back.

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I love this title: Obama's failing: Too much head, too little gut! This is so true, he talks good but then does nothing to follow with that! Look at the failing in Afghanistan, Iran, Econmics, Dollar value, ....

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Ned, I thought you were talking about Bush ....

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I think this is a fair assessment of the situation. From the "if you disagree with us you must be an uneducated right wing nut job" to the inability to understand that there are instances where an intellectual analysis is going to miss something the Obama team has just been bouncing from one faux pas to another. OK, maybe they haven't invaded Iran or done something really stupid ala Bush, but that's not saying much, is it? There is a lack of leadership in this administration that is really amazing given all the rhetoric from the campaign. Even the press in the US is starting to report on it. After a while over analysis becomes simple paralysis.

I do like the analysis of Wilson in comparison. That might be an even better thought than comparing Obama to Carter. The amazing thing is that the Democratic party is almost rudderless. How many health care plans haver their been so far? And a different Democratic pretender to the throne has slapped their name on each of them.

Time for Obama to step up and prove his mettle. Just freaking close Gitmo, for starters. Do something other than dither.

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"This president appears ( to have ) too much brain(s)"

I don't think so.

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It seems that Obama's handlers have forgotten to tell him that the election is over, that he IS the President now. He still behaves as if he's on the campaign trail- gladhanding, chatting people up, trying to be everything to everybody. I guess he hasn't found President Truman's old desk sign, "The Buck Stops Here".

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Obama is probably on the bottom-half of the Presidents with smarts list (above GWB). But there are a lot of freaks on that list.

Lincoln had a photographic memory and like Obama was a great orator (Lincoln was more Bible orientated in his speeches, but Obama has that sort of style also) He also had great PR and always took photos for PR. Like Obama he put his Presidential competitors in Cabinet positions (Hilliary Clinton) making the best teams. If anything Obama needs to be quiet more and use his team to their utmost capacity. Physically compared to Lincoln, Obama would be considered a wimp even though Obama is tall, but Lincoln is taller at 6'4" and a much broader shouldered man.

I don't like the fact that this author's last name is Kuhn (Federal Reserve)

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If there ever was a US president who did nothing, it has to be Obama...

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I think they've simply gotten bored trying to catch him in the act of f***ing up on something.

They media is just dying to uncover some adultery or.. laundering or.. international cover-up so they can call it Obama-gate and feast on it for the next year.

But since he isn't giving them anything, just yet, they rather sink teeth into the fact he doesn't want to make the wrong moves with domestic and war policy.

I thought we agreed, as a nation, we'd had quite enough of both?

As I recall, thinking about what you do before you do it lands a man in good graces and good places, regardless of the context.

As I also recall, in every respect possible, the US is in positions where mis-steps may result in a compromise in the integrity of the union, not unlike the Soviets ran head-on into.

If he makes the wrong domestic economic moves, which the bottom line facts don't really say he has, we fall apart economically and people dissent.

If he makes the wrong moves in our current overseas commitments, we end up overextending, overstaying and not streamlining in order to get the job done and go.

These are decisions and balances few people can or should make in snap motions. He might still make wrong moves but I doubt they will be so thoroughly wrong as what we've all very recently seen.

I very much suggest we let the president decide on his move. I also suggest we defer our concerns to our own age old wisdoms about patience, about haste, about the glory of thinking about what you do before you do it.

All our lives we're taught and we live these lessons.. so why conveniently forget them now, because the media is bored and wants more politician flesh to feed on?

The bottom line seems to be they just want him to do something.. and be in the complete wrong. Now they're bored because he absolutely wont.

I agree, watching chess players who are any good is boring. But, at the end, the more patient and more calculated player prospers. The one who panics or gives in to intimidation, or simply compromises his intellect for speed usually regrets it, upon losing.

Let's not forget the media thrives on impatience, sound bytes, context disembowelment and anything else that gets attention. The more attention they have, the more they benefit from it.

Let's also not forget that we exist in the real world which thrives, as a whole and individually, on principals which are polar opposite; patience, thorough detail, comprehension and so forth.

The only people who should be disappointed are those who expected quick fixes and superman-like actions.

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I would never want to be the Prez of the United States of America, even if u paid me a billion dollars. U're dammed if u do and u're dammed if u don't, even with the best of intentions.

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As much this column is about the current president of USA, I would like to see more wise Americans opinions than others wily ones.

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These are the same sad old white guys who vote GOP when the other parties offer more health care

You mean, "offer more health insurance." All who need care are receiving it. In the case of the indigent, it is free. You haven't seen anyone die in the street due to lack of care, have you?

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hehehe... i like the heading: "too much head.." :p

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Liberals have long sought the professorial president

No, but it's nice when the president isn't stupid.

But that bow came in the context of earlier controversies over his smiling handshake with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his bow to Saudi King Abdullah.

Yes, well, Bush kissed the Saudi king, didn't he? This whole controversy is ridiculous no matter who is in office. You greet and relate to people politely according to their culture. I actually thought Bush' dancing with the Liberians, for example, was good-hearted. People of both parties need to get over this.

What amazes me is that if you want to criticize a politician, there are so many better things to talk about than whether his/her demeanor is too brainy or too aggressive. Is everything about image these days and nothing about substance?

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