Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
Opinion Top of the Ticket

Would Obama be a better leader for France than for the U.S.?

Sen. John McCain, who demonstrated questionable political acumen by picking Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate in 2008, has joined other Republicans in blaming Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea on what McCain sees as President Obama’s limp-wristed approach to foreign policy.

The implication is that a different, stronger, more resolute American leader would have so intimidated the Russian tough guy that he would not have dared to snatch off a piece of Ukraine. This assertion is dubious in at least three ways.

The first is that Obama’s predecessor, a man who swaggered around the world starting wars and acting “resolute,” was also the guy who said he looked into Putin’s eyes, saw his “soul” and came away rather smitten. Who was bamboozled there?

The second is that when Soviet leaders barged into neighboring countries – Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979 – other American presidents also found they lacked the leverage to undo those invasions. Does anyone believe the Soviets sent their tanks rolling on those occasions because they thought the man in the White House was a wimp?

Which brings me to point three: Just like Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev, Putin was driven by nationalist imperatives. The macho of the American president – or lack thereof – was not a factor.

Nevertheless, Obama’s leadership style does not exude the Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry directness that many Americans prefer. Some have called him a “post-imperial” president. He opts for drone strikes over boots on the ground, multilateral action over unilateral projections of American force and private diplomacy over hot public rhetoric. 

In the long run, Obama’s approach may be prove wiser than the muscular militarism of George W. Bush, who mired the nation in two lengthy wars with not much to show for it. Obama ended those wars (while ordering the hit on Osama bin Laden), and no one, including 99% of Republicans, wants to start another conflict over Crimea. 

Would perceptions of Obama improve if he more fully embraced the theatrics of the presidency? He is a decent, rational man with a quick intelligence and a street-smart attitude. His talents include giving a great speech and throwing a hard elbow on his way to a layup. But he doesn’t look as if he loves his job, the way Bill Clinton did. Nor does he have the stagecraft of Ronald Reagan, who fully inhabited the role of president and, for many people, embodied the right look and style of an American leader.

Even if Obama wanted to change, a shift in style would be coming too late. Democrats who once had the loftiest of hopes for his presidency are now disheartened. The achievement gap is wide between all that was anticipated in the heady days after the 2008 electoral triumph and the subsequent years of gridlock. The relentless rain of slander from the right during those years has not helped Obama’s leadership image either. The conception of Obama that many Americans hold in their minds is so far from reality that it is impossible to think of anything the president could do to alter that faulty perception.

He is who he is – a cool customer. Many of us still appreciate his sophistication; plenty of others think he is better suited to run a snooty, has-been country like France. All can agree he is not a flawless leader. On the other hand, we could have done much worse. Vice President Palin, anyone?

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Mitch McConnell smacks down tea party PAC's 'House of Cards'

    Mitch McConnell smacks down tea party PAC's 'House of Cards'

    A weekend of binge-watching fictional Vice President Frank Underwood scheme for power on the Netflix political drama “House of Cards” has put me in a frame of mind to think Mitch McConnell is probably right about something. The leader of the Senate Republicans has accused a political action committee...

  • D.A. takes right step in reviewing cases

    D.A. takes right step in reviewing cases

    Even if the Board of Supervisors had rejected Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey's request for funding to establish a unit to review the integrity of questionable criminal convictions, Lacey would have done the county a service in merely acknowledging the possibility that her office may, on occasion, charge...

  • Privilege makes them do it — what a study of Internet trolls reveals

    Privilege makes them do it — what a study of Internet trolls reveals

    The British government just put up a website with advice on how to fight back against Internet trolls. Popular Science magazine decided "trolls and spambots" were shouting down scientific debate; Christianity Today also ended online comments on its news and features, and the news service Reuters...

  • France's toxic mix of demographics, terrorism and a presidential election

    France's toxic mix of demographics, terrorism and a presidential election

    If you think immigration is a poisonous issue in American politics, spare a moment of sympathy for France, where demographics, terrorism and a presidential election have collided to produce a truly toxic mix.

  • Supreme Court should strike down Texas' unnecessary abortion law

    Supreme Court should strike down Texas' unnecessary abortion law

    The Supreme Court's decision Tuesday to allow nearly a dozen Texas abortion clinics to stay open while it considers whether to review an an onerous new antiabortion law was not just a welcome course of action for women in that state. It was also a promising indication that the court is concerned...

  • George Takei: How to bend social media to your will

    George Takei: How to bend social media to your will

    Back in 2011, a friend suggested I start a Twitter account. In those days, social media wasn't yet a "thing." Few actors, let alone those of my generation, were active online. I was known primarily from my supporting role on a television and film franchise that had first aired more than 40 years...

Comments
Loading