Quotes of the day

“At his November 12 press conference in Seoul, President Obama was asked the following question by CBS’s Chip Reid: ‘What was the number-one complaint, concern, or piece of advice that you got from foreign leaders about the U.S. economy and your stewardship of the economy?’

“Whereupon the president began his response with a complaint: ‘What about compliments?’ he asked. ‘You didn’t put that in the list.'”

“Why has Barack Obama failed so spectacularly? Is he too dogmatically liberal or too pragmatic? Is he a socialist, or an anticolonialist, or a philosopher-president? Or is it possible that Obama’s failures stem from something simpler: vanity. Politicians as a class are particularly susceptible to mirror-gazing. But Obama’s vanity is overwhelming. It defines him, his politics, and his presidency…

“David Remnick delivers a number of insights about Obama in his book The Bridge. For instance, Valerie Jarrett—think of her as the president’s Karen Hughes—tells Remnick that Obama is often bored with the world around him. ‘I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually,’ Jarrett says. ‘So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that they had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy.’ Jarrett concludes, ‘He’s been bored to death his whole life.’

“With one or two possible exceptions, that is. Remnick reports that ‘Jarrett was quite sure that one of the few things that truly engaged him fully before going to the White House was writing Dreams from My Father.’ So the only job Barack Obama ever had that didn’t bore him was writing about Barack Obama…

“Yet it’s important to remember that our presidents aren’t always this way.”

“More often, Obama projects a demeanor of unruffled cool: he can handle the pressures and demands of the job just fine (how could he suggest otherwise?), and he didn’t run for office ‘to pass on our problems to the next president or the next generation.’ But the issue is not Obama, it’s the office. Aides to George W. Bush make similar complaints about the demands on the executive. ‘It was a much different place than even during the Bush Sr. administration,’ says Joe Hagin, Bush 43’s deputy chief of staff, who also worked for Reagan and Bush 41. ‘There was much less time [under the second Bush] to catch your breath during the day.” He recalls the constant juggling of issues—from the wars to Katrina—often all at the same time. ‘There’s only so much bandwidth in the organization,’ he says…

“Can any single person fully meet the demands of the 21st-century presidency? Obama has looked to many models of leadership, including FDR and Abraham Lincoln, two transformative presidents who governed during times of upheaval. But what’s lost in those historical comparisons is that both men ran slim bureaucracies rooted in relative simplicity. Neither had secretaries of education, transportation, health and human services, veterans’ affairs, energy, or homeland security, nor czars for pollution or drug abuse, nor televisions in the West Wing constantly tuned to yammering pundits. They had bigger issues to grapple with, but far less managing to do. ‘Lincoln had time to think,’ says Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. ‘That kind of downtime just doesn’t exist anymore.'”