Living on a Shrinking Island

Rob Meltzer

I’m in the process of reviewing a new history of the Obama Administration which is being published in November by a university press. The author is someone most people never heard of–hes a professor of American history at a third-tier college in the midwest. In his book, he addresses the issue of “Camelot,” the concept of how presidents being idealists into their administrations with the idea of changing the world. He notes that while Kennedy gets a lot of the credit for this phenomenon, it really started with FDR and the New Deal. The largest proponents of the mentality were FDR, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton. He refers to the W years as “the Return of Reaganlot.”  His main interest is that Obama, a guy who campaigned on change, youth, energy and progress appears to be the least intellectually curious president of the past fifty years; you have to go back to Eisenhower to find a president so seemingly disinterested in changing the world through policy. Obama may be a progressive, the author notes, but that’s only because his thinking is “circa 1920.” He dedicates his book to something interesting–during the W. years, a swarm of young policy wonks labored underground, thinking, writing, cogitating on health care policy, awaiting the return of the  Democrats, at which time they would return to the surface of the Earth, and implement sweeping reform. Instead, when Obama came to power, and wanted to change health care, he deliberately snubbed this group, and instead nationalized Romneycare, a creaky program that was signed by a Republican governor in a state in which hospitals and insurance companies had huge lobbying power to influence policy.

For years, I’ve been noting on this blog how the Administration has simply refused to meet with experts, thinkers, academics. This Administration appears, instead, to have adopted the W. program in its entirety, and to have gone beyond even W. This is discussed in some detail in both Dirty Wars and Rise of the Warrior Cops. But you can see glimmers of it as well in Walkable Cities, the Jeff Speck book in the urbanism field. I like this quote from page 183 where he writes that “many curbs in Oklahoma City have lost their parking spaces based on the assumption that terrorist bomber are afraid of getting a parking ticket. this line of reasoning is so patently ridiculous that it has been embraced by the federal government.” The same book also has some of the most scathing criticism of the misplaced environmentalism of the Obama years–like the inconvenient fact that electric cars are worse than other cars because they are powered by coal and steam rather than relatively clean internal combustion engines. I’m sure Speck voted for Obama, but all these guys are increasingly wondering how a president like Obama could have been in office for five years and his greatest successes seem to be the completion of the W. agenda.

Increasingly, Obama is living on a shrinking island. Other than those who have  knee jerk reaction to support and defend him, its pretty clear that the change he brought is not what people expected, desired, or appreciated.