What do historians really think of Obama?
Edward Klein is the former editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine. His latest book is "The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House
On the evening of Tuesday, June 30, 2009—just five months into his administration—Barack Obama invited a small group of presidential historians to dine with him in the Family Quarters of the White House. His chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, personally delivered the invitations with a word of caution: the meeting was to remain private and off the record. As a result, the media missed the chance to report on an important event, for the evening with the historians provided a remarkable sneak preview of why the Obama presidency would shortly go off the rails.
...I spoke to one of the historians who attended all three of the dinners [Obama has had with historians]. We met in a restaurant where we were unlikely to be seen, and our conversation, which lasted for nearly two hours, was conducted under the condition of anonymity.
I wanted to know how this liberal historian, who had once drunk the Obama Kool-Aid, matched the president’s promise with his performance. By this time, most of Mr. Obama’s supporters were puzzled by the sense of disconnect between the sharply focused presidential candidate of 2008 and the dazed and confused president of the past three years. The satirical TV show "The Onion News Network" had broadcast a faux story that the real Barack Obama had been kidnapped just hours after the election and replaced by an imposter.
“There’s no doubt that Obama has turned out to be a major enigma and disappointment,” the historian told me. “He waged such a brilliant campaign, first against Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and then against John McCain in the general election. For a long time, I found it hard to understand why he couldn’t translate his political savvy into effective governance."
“But I think I know the answer now,” he continued. “Since the beginning of his administration, Obama hasn't been able to capture the public's imagination and inspire people to follow him. Vision isn't enough in a president. Great presidents not only have to enunciate their vision; they must lead by example and inspiration. Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the individual. He and Ronald Reagan had the ability to make each American feel that the president cared deeply and personally about them....
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