Why We’re Expecting Too Much of Obama

The most powerful critique of the American way of life in recent years has come from a conservative professor named Andrew Bacevich, who in his book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism absolutely dismantles both the Bush doctrine and the fatuous belief that Barack Obama will fundamentally change the national security state.

It's pretty gloomy stuff, but I can't see the flaw in Bacevich's logic. (Which is based on the work of philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, principally his book Beyond Tragedy.) Because the American people cannot rein in our desires, American presidents are fated to put our military power into ethically indefensible wars against other nations, principally nations with oil assets. And a similar impatience with limits and process has turned our democracy into an enormous, endless popularity contest.

As Bacevich told Bill Moyers:

I think the troubling part is, because of this preoccupation with,
fascination with, the presidency, the President has become what we have
instead of genuine politics. Instead of genuine democracy.

We look to the President, to the next President. You know, we know
that the current President's a failure and a disappoint – we look to
the next President to fix things. And, of course, as long as we have
this expectation that the next President is going to fix things then,
of course, that lifts all responsibility from me to fix things.

One of the real problems with the imperial presidency, I think, is
that it has hollowed out our politics. And, in many respects, has made
our democracy a false one. We're going through the motions of a
democratic political system. But the fabric of democracy, I think,
really has worn very thin.

I love Barack Obama, but this is why I doubt he will be able to bring about fundamental change — because the same public desire to see one man fix all things, means that one man must fix all things, a task not only beyond the capabilties of any individual, but a task we have given him because we won't take responsibility for our own part of the problem.  

It's like what happens when Superman shows up in a story. Once he appears, all the other official good guys — the cops, the public officials, the soldiers — look small and almost useless. Why bother with them? Superman will fix the problem.

We want our President to be Superman. The bigger the challenge, the bigger our hope.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: