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Excerpt: "Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama - and by extension the party he leads - believes on virtually any issue."

Litter, after an Obama-Biden train stop in Baltimore days before the 2009 inauguration. (photo: Todd Heisler/NYT)
Litter, after an Obama-Biden train stop in Baltimore days before the 2009 inauguration. (photo: Todd Heisler/NYT)

What Happened to Obama?

By Drew Westen, The New York Times

07 August 11


t was a blustery day in Washington on Jan. 20, 2009, as it often seems to be on the day of a presidential inauguration. As I stood with my 8-year-old daughter, watching the president deliver his inaugural address, I had a feeling of unease. It wasn't just that the man who could be so eloquent had seemingly chosen not to be on this auspicious occasion, although that turned out to be a troubling harbinger of things to come. It was that there was a story the American people were waiting to hear - and needed to hear - but he didn't tell it. And in the ensuing months he continued not to tell it, no matter how outrageous the slings and arrows his opponents threw at him.

The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred. Our brains evolved to "expect" stories with a particular structure, with protagonists and villains, a hill to be climbed or a battle to be fought. Our species existed for more than 100,000 years before the earliest signs of literacy, and another 5,000 years would pass before the majority of humans would know how to read and write.

Stories were the primary way our ancestors transmitted knowledge and values. Today we seek movies, novels and "news stories" that put the events of the day in a form that our brains evolved to find compelling and memorable. Children crave bedtime stories; the holy books of the three great monotheistic religions are written in parables; and as research in cognitive science has shown, lawyers whose closing arguments tell a story win jury trials against their legal adversaries who just lay out "the facts of the case."

When Barack Obama rose to the lectern on Inauguration Day, the nation was in tatters. Americans were scared and angry. The economy was spinning in reverse. Three-quarters of a million people lost their jobs that month. Many had lost their homes, and with them the only nest eggs they had. Even the usually impervious upper middle class had seen a decade of stagnant or declining investment, with the stock market dropping in value with no end in sight. Hope was as scarce as credit.

In that context, Americans needed their president to tell them a story that made sense of what they had just been through, what caused it, and how it was going to end. They needed to hear that he understood what they were feeling, that he would track down those responsible for their pain and suffering, and that he would restore order and safety. What they were waiting for, in broad strokes, was a story something like this:

"I know you're scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn't work out. And it didn't work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can't promise that we won't make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again." A story isn't a policy. But that simple narrative - and the policies that would naturally have flowed from it - would have inoculated against much of what was to come in the intervening two and a half years of failed government, idled factories and idled hands. That story would have made clear that the president understood that the American people had given Democrats the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress to fix the mess the Republicans and Wall Street had made of the country, and that this would not be a power-sharing arrangement. It would have made clear that the problem wasn't tax-and-spend liberalism or the deficit - a deficit that didn't exist until George W. Bush gave nearly $2 trillion in tax breaks largely to the wealthiest Americans and squandered $1 trillion in two wars.

And perhaps most important, it would have offered a clear, compelling alternative to the dominant narrative of the right, that our problem is not due to spending on things like the pensions of firefighters, but to the fact that those who can afford to buy influence are rewriting the rules so they can cut themselves progressively larger slices of the American pie while paying less of their fair share for it.

But there was no story - and there has been none since.

In similar circumstances, Franklin D. Roosevelt offered Americans a promise to use the power of his office to make their lives better and to keep trying until he got it right. Beginning in his first inaugural address, and in the fireside chats that followed, he explained how the crash had happened, and he minced no words about those who had caused it. He promised to do something no president had done before: to use the resources of the United States to put Americans directly to work, building the infrastructure we still rely on today. He swore to keep the people who had caused the crisis out of the halls of power, and he made good on that promise. In a 1936 speech at Madison Square Garden, he thundered, "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me - and I welcome their hatred."

When Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office, he stepped into a cycle of American history, best exemplified by F.D.R. and his distant cousin, Teddy. After a great technological revolution or a major economic transition, as when America changed from a nation of farmers to an urban industrial one, there is often a period of great concentration of wealth, and with it, a concentration of power in the wealthy. That's what we saw in 1928, and that's what we see today. At some point that power is exercised so injudiciously, and the lives of so many become so unbearable, that a period of reform ensues - and a charismatic reformer emerges to lead that renewal. In that sense, Teddy Roosevelt started the cycle of reform his cousin picked up 30 years later, as he began efforts to bust the trusts and regulate the railroads, exercise federal power over the banks and the nation's food supply, and protect America's land and wildlife, creating the modern environmental movement.

Those were the shoes - that was the historic role - that Americans elected Barack Obama to fill. The president is fond of referring to "the arc of history," paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous statement that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics - in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time - he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.

When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true and repugnant face in public.

n contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public - a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome it. But the arc of his temperament just didn't bend that far.

The truly decisive move that broke the arc of history was his handling of the stimulus. The public was desperate for a leader who would speak with confidence, and they were ready to follow wherever the president led. Yet instead of indicting the economic policies and principles that had just eliminated eight million jobs, in the most damaging of the tic-like gestures of compromise that have become the hallmark of his presidency - and against the advice of multiple Nobel-Prize-winning economists - he backed away from his advisers who proposed a big stimulus, and then diluted it with tax cuts that had already been shown to be inert. The result, as predicted in advance, was a half-stimulus that half-stimulated the economy. That, in turn, led the White House to feel rightly unappreciated for having saved the country from another Great Depression but in the unenviable position of having to argue a counterfactual - that something terrible might have happened had it not half-acted.

To the average American, who was still staring into the abyss, the half-stimulus did nothing but prove that Ronald Reagan was right, that government is the problem. In fact, the average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, "stick." Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would "bend the cost curve"), or why "credit card reform" had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn't seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they're still unemployed, they're still worried about how they're going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can't get a job. And now the Republicans are chipping away at unemployment insurance, and the president is making his usual impotent verbal exhortations after bargaining it away.

What makes the "deficit debate" we just experienced seem so surreal is how divorced the conversation in Washington has been from conversations around the kitchen table everywhere else in America. Although I am a scientist by training, over the last several years, as a messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders, I have studied the way voters think and feel, talking to them in plain language. At this point, I have interacted in person or virtually with more than 50,000 Americans on a range of issues, from taxes and deficits to abortion and immigration.

The average voter is far more worried about jobs than about the deficit, which few were talking about while Bush and the Republican Congress were running it up. The conventional wisdom is that Americans hate government, and if you ask the question in the abstract, people will certainly give you an earful about what government does wrong. But if you give them the choice between cutting the deficit and putting Americans back to work, it isn't even close. But it's not just jobs. Americans don't share the priorities of either party on taxes, budgets or any of the things Congress and the president have just agreed to slash - or failed to slash, like subsidies to oil companies. When it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans are united across the political spectrum, supporting a message that says, "In times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it."

When pitted against a tough budget-cutting message straight from the mouth of its strongest advocates, swing voters vastly preferred a message that began, "The best way to reduce the deficit is to put Americans back to work." This statement is far more consistent with what many economists are saying publicly - and what investors apparently believe, as evident in the nosedive the stock market took after the president and Congress "saved" the economy.

So where does that leave us?

Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama - and by extension the party he leads - believes on virtually any issue. The president tells us he prefers a "balanced" approach to deficit reduction, one that weds "revenue enhancements" (a weak way of describing popular taxes on the rich and big corporations that are evading them) with "entitlement cuts" (an equally poor choice of words that implies that people who've worked their whole lives are looking for handouts). But the law he just signed includes only the cuts. This pattern of presenting inconsistent positions with no apparent recognition of their incoherence is another hallmark of this president's storytelling. He announces in a speech on energy and climate change that we need to expand offshore oil drilling and coal production - two methods of obtaining fuels that contribute to the extreme weather Americans are now seeing. He supports a health care law that will use Medicaid to insure about 15 million more Americans and then endorses a budget plan that, through cuts to state budgets, will most likely decimate Medicaid and other essential programs for children, senior citizens and people who are vulnerable by virtue of disabilities or an economy that is getting weaker by the day. He gives a major speech on immigration reform after deporting a million immigrants in two years, breaking up families at a pace George W. Bush could never rival in all his years as president.

he real conundrum is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won't realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes - but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.

As a practicing psychologist with more than 25 years of experience, I will resist the temptation to diagnose at a distance, but as a scientist and strategic consultant I will venture some hypotheses.

The most charitable explanation is that he and his advisers have succumbed to a view of electoral success to which many Democrats succumb - that "centrist" voters like "centrist" politicians. Unfortunately, reality is more complicated. Centrist voters prefer honest politicians who help them solve their problems. A second possibility is that he is simply not up to the task by virtue of his lack of experience and a character defect that might not have been so debilitating at some other time in history. Those of us who were bewitched by his eloquence on the campaign trail chose to ignore some disquieting aspects of his biography: that he had accomplished very little before he ran for president, having never run a business or a state; that he had a singularly unremarkable career as a law professor, publishing nothing in 12 years at the University of Chicago other than an autobiography; and that, before joining the United States Senate, he had voted "present" (instead of "yea" or "nay") 130 times, sometimes dodging difficult issues.

A somewhat less charitable explanation is that we are a nation that is being held hostage not just by an extremist Republican Party but also by a president who either does not know what he believes or is willing to take whatever position he thinks will lead to his re-election. Perhaps those of us who were so enthralled with the magnificent story he told in "Dreams From My Father" appended a chapter at the end that wasn't there - the chapter in which he resolves his identity and comes to know who he is and what he believes in.

Or perhaps, like so many politicians who come to Washington, he has already been consciously or unconsciously corrupted by a system that tests the souls even of people of tremendous integrity, by forcing them to dial for dollars - in the case of the modern presidency, for hundreds of millions of dollars. When he wants to be, the president is a brilliant and moving speaker, but his stories virtually always lack one element: the villain who caused the problem, who is always left out, described in impersonal terms, or described in passive voice, as if the cause of others' misery has no agency and hence no culpability. Whether that reflects his aversion to conflict, an aversion to conflict with potential campaign donors that today cripples both parties' ability to govern and threatens our democracy, or both, is unclear.

A final explanation is that he ran for president on two contradictory platforms: as a reformer who would clean up the system, and as a unity candidate who would transcend the lines of red and blue. He has pursued the one with which he is most comfortable given the constraints of his character, consistently choosing the message of bipartisanship over the message of confrontation.

But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.

Drew Westen is a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of "The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation." your social media marketing partner


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+93 # Rita Walpole Ague 2011-08-07 20:42
Sooooo terrific to read an obviously brilliant phychologists' theories on the who, what, when, where's of being Oh Bomb Ah'ed - and even given food for thought on the difficult to answer 'why'.

Great job of enlightening us, professor. After all the karlrove style MSD (manipulation, spin, distraction) we are constantly being hit with, this article made me feel as if a window had been opened, with both sunlight and fresh air pouring in. Thank you.
+14 # freethegop 2011-08-08 13:32
I've recommended Drew's book, "The Political Brain" ever since it came out. The role of emotions (including religion/faith) in politics is key. That's why I believe the Left needs to get down and dirty in the political process itself and stop ceding ground to the right by believing that elected officials can by themselves take on the religious, political, and economic extremists and their corporate backers. WE have to be the backbone we demand Democrats have instead of letting even moderates like Gabby Giffords get picked off.

Please read my article, "Crusader Christianity, Tea Party Cult, & the Left" when you can:
+1 # George D 2011-08-09 20:29
I think it is so obvious what Obama needs to do. He needs to give the people what they want; And it's easier than any of us might imagine.
Believe it or not, military people WANT TO fight. They WANT a war. So announce that we will STAY in Afghanistan "until we win" or until there is not enough soldiers that want to fight anymore. BUT it HAS TO BE FUNDED by TAXES on DEFENSE CONTRACTORS and People that make more than $1 million/year. Cut ALL public employee retirement payments and revert their pensions to a lump sum IRA account, equal to what they might have accrued, based on their annual incomes, and time in service. They can earn the same interest on those accounts that the rest of us get and they can worry about how long it will last versus how long THEY last, just like the rest of us.

What were they going for? To save 2 trillion over ten years? How much PER YEAR do you suppose those two savings would amount to alone?

Leave Medicare and Social Security alone but go ahead and cap increases on them. As the economy slows down, we'll see more deflation and increases in those programs won't be needed for a while.

If you live in a state that has Congressional and Senate leaders that advocate for "smaller government" and cuts to the stimulus and other social programs, exempt the entire state from taxes and benefits that serve those programs.
+108 # coffeewriter 2011-08-07 21:26
Without question, Obama fooled a lot of voters. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me...

How the American voting public responds to this deception is what will set the course of history. It really is that important. Politicians are masters at manipulation - and stamina. They know that your anger and indignance will fade - and you'll be rattling on about the devil you know.

Here's a tip- you don't need to vote for a devil. Americans need to send politicians a message, a truth: that politicians work for voters, not the other way around. Obama is out of his depth and Mr Westen has provided an explanation for it - Obama lacks any type of real leadership experience. And it shows. The alternative to him is not the GOP - lose the mentality that if you don't vote for Obama you are voting for the Republicans. They too are at their weakest. Demand a new candidate stand up, show leadership and take control of both the party and the country. And demand that your current representatives start acting like your representatives - you 'employ' them, you can fire them.

Apathy is what will destroy America even faster than a weak President.
+27 # Patricia Chang 2011-08-07 23:34
You and I are on the same page. I have been saying this for months. A third party is risky. Instead, we need to demand a new candidate on the Democratic ticket. LBJ stepped down. So should Obama.
+24 # Gary E. 2011-08-08 14:04
I would like to see a Russ Feingold/Elizab eth Warren ticket challenge the Barak Obama/Joe Biden ticket in the Democratic primaries. How about the rest of you readers?
+8 # dicarey 2011-08-08 17:19
Gary E. Absolutely!! Feingold/Warren
+1 # mjc 2011-08-09 12:29
Don't think we have a chance at a primary, basically because we lack the kind of funds it would take. What I have been hoping for is someone to take up a call for a nation-wide write in. I would be happy to write in Russ Feingold's name, or Dennis Kuinich's name. Not sure if a vice president can be written in though. And in every district the write-ins are addressed by the counteers a bit differently, even in one state. I investigated this for New York. But perhaps someone can figure out a way to do this.
+5 # wwway 2011-08-09 16:31
the California Progressive Caucus passed a resolution to look for potential challengers to Obama. Feingold/Warren sounds good to me!
Time to stop complaining and get to work though.
0 # Darla Masterson 2011-08-11 13:55
YES YES YES! I admire both Feingold and
warren above all others!
0 # Darla Masterson 2011-08-11 13:56
Quoting Gary E.:
I would like to see a Russ Feingold/Elizabeth Warren ticket challenge the Barak Obama/Joe Biden ticket in the Democratic primaries. How about the rest of you readers?

YES! They are THE BEST of Democrats!!
+7 # Lisa D. 2011-08-08 16:40
Quoting Patricia Chang:
You and I are on the same page. I have been saying this for months. A third party is risky. Instead, we need to demand a new candidate on the Democratic ticket. LBJ stepped down. So should Obama.

Yes, LBJ stepped down, and look who we got, instead! ... can you REALLY stomach the idea of a "President Bachmann"? because that's EXACTLY what we COULD get (and maybe what we deserve ... )
+4 # drgulla 2011-08-08 22:27
Yes, but unfortunately, LBJ stepped down and we got Nixon. Teddy Kennedy threatened a primary challenge against Jimmy Carter, which divided the Democratic party and we got Ronald Reagan. I'd love to see a primary challenge from Hillary, but I don't think she'd do it. I'd love to be proven wrong about all this.
+2 # C. Price 2011-08-09 06:24
When LBJ stepped down and Robert Kennedy was assassinated, we got Richard Nixon. When Ford and Reagan fought it out, we got Carter. If Obama and some other candidate fight it out, we'll get the Mitt Romney type of uselessness. Division will make the Democrats losers, and the next Supreme Court justices will be more right-wing ideologues.
+1 # gueritaguera 2011-08-09 11:09
This reply to Drew's article is brilliant!!! What is the solution for people like us who want to get Obama out? As you say, the GOP is fragmented, but so are we.
+70 # lindasutton 2011-08-07 21:38
....which is why there must be a primary challenge from a truly progressive and POWERFUL leader.
-65 # Laura Larsen 2011-08-07 21:56
Give me a break, all of you. Mr. Obama is still the most brilliant, thoughtful president we have ever had. I am so tired of all the criticism from the right and the left. Just realize that this country is filled with over half of its population being Tea-party-like, stubborn, and belonging to the party of no. Obama is just trying to get the best for the most and there is no way he can be a progressive president with that many in opposition. He still has overseen the creation of a lot of legislation. He still is reasonable, which is more than i can say for most other public folks. Quit your griping and start working in your own areas to get the congress back to the Democrats. And for goodness sake, ignore the spoiler of all times, Ralph Nader when he suggests getting another Dem candidate. Won't that spread the vote!!! But then he has already done that... Onward, we can still achieve and survice, without all the negativity.
+14 # Anthony Skirlick 2011-08-07 22:51
is that all you got after reading this brilliant piece? you shill ass.
+25 # George D 2011-08-08 02:24
Brilliant; Call somebody names because they think Obama is an intelligent man.
Well, I thought he was too. And he may still be. But he certainly hasn't shown that to be the case.
But maybe you and I don't know the whole story. Maybe Obama, who thought he could come to Washington and, with the support of the American people, change things, found out that the American people are too friggen stupid to support him. Maybe that idiotic election of Teabaggers threw him. And all those economics experts told him "either do this or everyone gets screwed".

I've said it before and I'll say it again; Obama and the Democrats in charge couldn't play hardball with a used car salesman. It's astounding how they cave on the threats from the right. But then, if you saw an American public that acted the way most people are now, would you be motivated to help them?

Americans have become selfish, single minded fools and the Teabaggers punctuate that statement. The ones that are working (and there are a lot) couldn't give a rip about anyone else. The public workers with their 60-90% salary retirements for life, vote Republican to keep ALL of "their" money. Those "heroes" don't give a damn about the rest of us; Until they need us to save their friggen pensions.

Nope; America has the "leaders" they deserve. Obama isn't the problem. WE ARE.
+20 # Beth 2011-08-08 09:36
...your ridiculous lies about public sector employees (i.e., 60%-90% salary retirements for life, vote republican...)a re the types of garbage that place the idiotic tps in places of power - to use your own words "you, and your other uneducated, uninformed, selfish, lying tps have the leaders YOU deserve - obama isn't the problem, YOU ARE"

Enjoy the crash and burn George, enjoy the future you and yours have created. I've said it before and I will say it again, a tea bagger/republic an couldn't play fair with a preacher even if their grandmother was watching...
0 # George D 2011-08-09 00:01
Ah the familiar vitriol that spews from people when they see the mirror of truth held up to them. I've seen this a lot over the years.

Now that you've had your little rant, Beth, maybe people will see what I mean a bit clearer now.

I personally know of two police officers, three teachers, and two firemen that ALL "retired" with no less than 60% of THE HIGHEST WAGE THEY EVER MADE while working at the age of 55! BOTH firemen get 110% because they worked the system to go out on a medical disability. One for bad knees. Of course, the bad knees were caused by riding quads in the California desert, but the system doesn't know that.

Funny thing too; These people ALL voted for Bush and continue to send me right winger crap about taxes.

Now, I know that not ALL public workers get these great deals, but where do you think the private sector stories about great pensions are? NOWHERE! And what about the tight job market? I saw an ex-military guy on the news saying "I deserve a chance at a job because I fought for freedom". B.S!

These people are true Socialists and they don't even know it. Everything in THEIR life has been provided by the government but, "OH MY GAWD; Don't let Socialism take hold in America."

I guess I'm just tired of all the lies and the B.S. People need to feel the pain before they will change.
+3 # Paiten 2011-08-08 19:59
It took me some time to get to George D. Thank you for speaking with sense. I don't say common, because obviously "common" sense is rare. While I too wish sometimes that Obama wouldn't allow his willow to bend so far over, I do understand that he is in a yard of oak trees. But someone, You sir, has finally stated where the real problem lies. Like you, I have seen it I could have responded with a quotation or an aphorism. But I decided to respond by simply saying THANK YOU.
+3 # George D 2011-08-09 00:29
I'm a private pilot and, I happened to go to a very conservative doctor for my flight physical a couple years ago. He had a book by Tom Hayden, "Radical Nomad" that he pointed to and said "Obama studied under people like Hayden. Want to know what Obama will do? Read this book. He has been taught to negotiate and give in until he gets just the slightest victory. That's how he thinks you make progress. You just accept ANY amount of progress you can get".
He went on to predict what would happen to the Health Care Bill and, sure enough, he was right.

I failed to see that Obama had the desire but not the temperament to truly play hardball in these very high stakes political debates. Like it or not (and I don't much) the "intelligent" leaders in America have all failed and the dumbass leaders that had the balls to just force things down our throats, have prevailed.

LBJ, Carter, Obama; All cut from the same cloth I'm afraid. I think Gore is the same. Perhaps Bernie Sanders, Howard Dean, and few others would be the right choice. Or maybe Obama's intelligence will kick in if he wins a second term.

I sure wish we had an alternative!
+6 # Lucia B 2011-08-09 17:24
.... Obama isn't the problem. WE ARE.

Thank you, I agree!
+11 # DesignCreature 2011-08-07 22:54
Obama is gifted with the help of a telepromter. He seems thoughtful because he is intelectually lazy. He comes out of the dark hole to spread his false sunshine on those of us that gave him our hearts and trust what seems like eons ago, then rains on our parade. Ralph Nader was no spoiler, he pegged it. I am just sorry I didn't listen when I should have.
+11 # Sally Blakemore 2011-08-08 10:18
I agree. The dazzler we saw coming out of the chute is not the same man we saw embrace George W. Bush on the steps before he departed. We the People do not own this government. This government is sold out and needs to be totally eradicated. Ralph Nader is NO SPOILER. He has always been right on. I worked with him in 1979 and he impressed me then and the third party is the only way to wipe DC clean. We need the un-bought to represent citizens. And PLEASE don't call me a consumer. What a disgusting term. WRITE IN NADER.
+8 # drgulla 2011-08-08 22:32
Right. Because Nader's presence in the 2000 and 2004 elections was so helpful to the country.
+1 # George D 2011-08-09 10:23
Well, wait a minute now; Sally is right I think. You are too, but you need to remember that Gore actually DID win that election, even without a split in the Republican party and a Teabagger "third party" out there.
If there was ever a chance that a third party with real left leaning people at the helm could make it, now is the time.

I'd be OK with Nader as a V.P. pick but I like Howard Dean better I think.
+105 # Gordon K 2011-08-07 22:56
Nonsense. Obama promised openness and delivered an unprecedented attack on whistle blowers. He promised an end to torture but continues Bush's policies of extraordinary rendition, and refuses to order his Justice Department to investigate clear evidence of torture by the Bush cadre. In fact, his administration is defending Rumsfeld against private lawsuits from American citizens that Secretary of Defense allegedly ordered. He's surrounded himself with economic advisers who caused the crisis in the first place (as Westen has pointed out). And so it goes. Obama had control of both houses of Congress when he took office, and accomplished very little. He DID, however, make one of his first acts as president, the sealing of many presidential records, including those of GW Bush. It just goes on and on. Give up the myth of the progressive Obama. This emperor has few if any clothes.
+13 # Patricia Chang 2011-08-07 23:35
You are absolutely correct.
+7 # jwo 2011-08-08 09:35
Quoting Gordon K:
Nonsense. Obama promised openness and delivered an unprecedented attack on whistle blowers. He promised an end to torture but continues Bush's policies of extraordinary rendition, and refuses to order his Justice Department to investigate clear evidence of torture by the Bush cadre. In fact, his administration is defending Rumsfeld against private lawsuits from American citizens that Secretary of Defense allegedly ordered. He's surrounded himself with economic advisers who caused the crisis in the first place (as Westen has pointed out). And so it goes. Obama had control of both houses of Congress when he took office, and accomplished very little. He DID, however, make one of his first acts as president, the sealing of many presidential records, including those of GW Bush. It just goes on and on. Give up the myth of the progressive Obama. This emperor has few if any clothes.

Yes, he may be the "emperor with no clothes," but I am reminded of the Clinton campaign's assessment that he was an "empty suit." Sad.
0 # Wolfchen 2011-08-11 15:11
In my opinion, Obama seems to have few if any positions that he's unwilling to compromise and bargain away. Though he emulates King in his manner of speech, he seems to have few convictions for which he'd go to the wall. Our nation needs the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren at the helm. This is no time for sending in a Neville Chamberlain lamb to keep the rabid wolves at bay.
+6 # OldRedleg 2011-08-08 01:01
Did you even read the entire essay? If you did, then you should re-read it carefully because clearly you did not understand what Drew Westen is trying to convey!
-6 # Ralph Averill 2011-08-08 02:42
I agree, Laura. I am not at all disappointed in Obama. But then, I didn't expect very much. I knew he wasn't ready for prime-time. (I was a Clinton supporter. Still am.)
I also agree that it is, and should be, all about Congress.
To all you "progressive" Obama naysayers: You put Obama in the White House. The least you can do is stand behind him, and work hard to give him a Democratic majority in Congress.
Split the party or stay at home on election day and you risk turning the government over to the teabaggers. If that happens, you will be directly responsible for turning back progressive politics in this country a hundred years.
Grow up! All of you!
+17 # Lulie 2011-08-08 10:43
So because we made a mistake, we should KEEP making it?
+12 # Observer 47 2011-08-08 19:06
If I recall correctly, Obama HAD a Dem majority in Congress for two years, and he STILL caved on everything. As far as "turning the government over to teabaggers," don't look now, but they already HAVE control. What else do you think it means when John Boehner says he got 98% of everything he wanted?
+9 # George D 2011-08-09 00:16
I sure wish people would stop with the one-liner factoids that are complete B.S. A "Democratic majority" has been a false narrative for quite some time and I'm just really sick of hearing that. There may have been a "majority" of politicians with a "D" next to their name, but there was NEVER a majority of like minded people, in that "Democratic majority".

In the South and parts of the Midwest, there is only "Republican" and "Conservative Democrat". It's about ideals, not parties. And the ONLY way to get your ideals forged into law is by ramming it down people's throats (as GWB and the Republicans do) or by use of the bully-pulpit and gaining public support enough to scare the politicians into submission. Obama failed to do what he has a talent and gift for doing. And the American people are too disengaged and ignorant to even bother listening today anyway.

As Maslow has shown; The less intelligent respond only to fear, and pain. So fear allowed GWB to take us to war, and keeps people voting for Teabaggers and Conservatives and pain will get people waking up to reality. Too bad it will be too late for us all by then.
+5 # vitobonespur 2011-08-09 12:47
I don't think our not standing behind Obama is the problem. I think the problem is he isn't standing behind us. I was so thrilled when Obama was elected and Bush was sent packing. I had visions of progressive changes in America: restructuring the tax codes so the rich had to cough up, rebuilding our schools, getting the hell out of the middle east, whittling away at the it seems like the only difference from the previous administration is that we now have a president who is fluent in English, even though what he is saying might be downright lies!
+30 # Beth 2011-08-08 05:33
There was a time I may have stood beside you Laura - I HATE the idea that I wasted my voice and my time working to elect the "brilliant" Mr Obama - he may be brilliant and thoughtful, but he is certainly NOT a leader - he could have been a progressive president if he was a progressive - but he is NOT progressive, he could be a brave man, but he is NOT a brave man, he could have been a president of and an advocate of the people rather than an advocate of the wealthy, the bankers, the corporations and wall street - but he decided to NOT support the citizens - rather he caved on real health care reform, caved on real stimulus, caved on gitmo, caved on never ending war, caved on taxing the super wealthy and the corporations - caved, caved, caved while insulting and ignoring those who worked for him.

You have "chugged" the koolaid if you really really believe that progressives should "...quit your griping and start working get the congress back to the democrates..." - thanks, but no thanks (gosh, you sound just like Obama telling progressives to "stop whining" when he didn't keep his campaign promises...) - the dems are worse than the teabagging pubs - at least the baggers are open with their insanity, Obama is the great deceiver.

Onward, united, we CAN work on these many many problems...but NOT with the fake fool Obama...
+8 # Shaun M 2011-08-09 04:58
Half of the population is NOT filled with Tea-party like, stubborn, ignorant voters. That may be the narrative, but it is NOT the truth.

These hard core conservatives make up about 15-20 percent of the real electorate; the difference is that they are LOUD and well funded.

The tea party is mostly a fiction, propagated by the large corporations that want to make the US into a new slave state.
+2 # MidwestTom 2011-08-07 22:14
There is a good article on "Global Research" about the American political system and why it is broken.
0 # merrywriter 2011-08-09 08:26
There are many 'global research' results in google - who wrote the article?
+64 # Texan 4 Peace 2011-08-07 22:31
I'm SO glad to see that this piece was in the NYT, rather than just the usual "alternative" media outlets. It's what many of us have been saying for a while, but what the mainstream media seemed loathe to acknowledge. We need a progressive challenger to Obama now!
+34 # DPM 2011-08-07 22:32
Write to all of your Democratic congressional representatives and ask them to put up someone to challenge the president in the primaries.
I have.
+20 # rf 2011-08-08 07:10
How about Elizabeth Warren? She seems to have balls.
+5 # merrywriter 2011-08-09 08:27
She would have been the best defender of the public, and the Repubs knew it, that is why they made Obama, yet again, cave in and not put her in the consumer protection agency she would have been so good at heading.
+81 # Edie Booth 2011-08-07 22:46
After about 36 hours digesting the disgusting display by Congress and the dismal performance by our President of Hope and Change, I had an epiphany. He does, indeed, have an abhorrence of confrontation.. .. he simply will not engage. It struck me that until this moment, I had not believed that our country's history of racial prejudice and struggle to achieve equality would affect our President. But I now think his actions, or rather lack of them, have everything to do with our country's racial history. I think Mr. Obama is so anxious to be the civilized man in the room as he continues to fight a stereotype of the African American man that he cannot even recognize that that is not what is called for by the jackals that he faces. He does not understand how they work, nor, as the Professor pointed out, that you do not compromise with bullys. He just does not get it, and I think it is because of his background. He has spent his life avoiding confrontation and apparently he cannot change that. Just having the word compromise in your vocabulary with some of these people means you have lost... straight out the gate. Lost. It is sad for all of us who had so much hope. More than sad.... I am crushed by the loss of finances. Thank you for your perspective.... doesn't make me feel any better.
+21 # SteveM 2011-08-08 03:32
Quoting Edie Booth:
After about 36 hours digesting the disgusting display by Congress and the dismal performance by our President of Hope and Change, I had an epiphany. He does, indeed, have an abhorrence of confrontation.... he simply will not engage. It struck me that until this moment, I had not believed that our country's history of racial prejudice and struggle to achieve equality would affect our President. But I now think his actions, or rather lack of them, have everything to do with our country's racial history. I think Mr. Obama is so anxious to be the civilized man in the room as he continues to fight a stereotype of the African American man that he cannot even recognize that that is not what is called for by the jackals that he faces. He does not understand how they work, nor, as the Professor pointed out, that you do not compromise with bullys. He just does not get it, and I think it is because of his background. He has spent his life avoiding confrontation and apparently he cannot change that. Just having the word compromise in your vocabulary with some of these people means you have lost..

All true, in my humble opinion, and all-the-more reason for a primary challenger such as Russ Feingold to begin a 2012 campaign run.
+4 # 2011-08-08 04:40
It strikes me that most people have fallen into the trap of painting Obama as "the first black president". He is bi-racial, as his mother was white, as were the grandparents who helped raise him.I think this duality may be why he's trying to play both sides as "the appeaser". He is not willing to see himself as one who will not only draw a line in the sand, but not allow it to be crossed without consequence.
-1 # merrywriter 2011-08-09 08:31
I always wondered why he never identified publically with his white half. No balls I guess, and that is what happened with letting the foxes, Geitner and Sumner, redesign the hen house. I think knew he wasn't up to the job and is preparing for the rest of his life in a super wealthy manner by appeasing the jackals.
-6 # DesignCreature 2011-08-07 22:47
Today, I watched a clip of an interview with Dennis Kucinich and it made me wonder why I ever thought this guy has what it takes to be presidental material. He is NOT someone I would even want on any ticket, ever. He lost me long ago when on a plane trip with Obama on Air Force One, he caved to the president, shoving his morals and beliefs out the window for a ride on a special aircraft. So much for taking a stand.
Then, today, he was made to look evasive and dumb, by a LOCAL interviewer. He'd be chewed up big time with someone that really knew what they were doing.
That said, if you feel you can trust him, go for it with a write in or whatever. But, please do research and WATCH interviews with this guy. We don't need any more Obamas.
+37 # Exotikat 2011-08-07 22:58
Personally, I feel very uncomfortable blaming president Obama for the failures of this country. In 2008 I was a volunteer for the Obama campaign and remember listening to other volunteers wondering what they were going to do in the days following. I remember warning them that the hardest part of supporting Obama was yet to come. I said the Republicans would be at his throat from day one. I said the brainless media would join the Republicans in criticizing his policies, thereby making him look weak. I said we don't have a true democracy in this country -- it is run by corporations who have bought our politicians and our media. We have no idea who holds a gun to the president's head, metaphorically speaking; being the leader of the free world is no cake walk and every day he has to face down powerful interests. I said it is still up to us to move the country and our politicians in the direction we want. I was in New York City with one million protesters against the Iraq war in 2002 and that got us nowhere, so our efforts have to be huge and interminable. Look to Wisconsin! It was in Massachusetts that apathy elected Scott Brown, and apathy elected the Tea Partiers. It is too easy to sit around dispensing blame; we need to get out on the street and make noise!
+34 # OldRedleg 2011-08-08 00:30
I don't blame Obama for the failures of this country. I blame him for HIS failure to lead this country out of those failures. I blame him for HIS failure to to create and express any strong, coherent national policies and goals, and recognizing the strength of the Republican attack against those policies and goals. I blame him for HIS failure to lead and represent the people who voted him into office rather than the corporate interests that obviously have bought his support. I blame him for HIS failure to continue Howard Dean's 50-State policy for support from the DNC for all the local elections but instead returning to the old failing ways of just supporting those who looked as if they were competitive. THAT stupid policy is what lost control of the House and nearly the Senate.

I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Obama has failed completely as the leader of this Nation, the Democratic Party, and the agent of "change we can believe in."

We can get out in the street and make all the noise in the universe but without a strong leader, we are just rabble and easy prey for the very organized corporate/Repub lican machine!
+10 # 2011-08-08 04:52
I am a life long Democrat, but I didn't vote for Obama or McCain. I wrote in another name instead for the first time ever. My dad was a political scientist, and we both did not like certain features of Obama, one of which was the people he surrounded himself with (Axelrod in particular).I did not trust his rhetoric, and saw his debates showed less stable side.However,on ce he was elected,I have supported him,and understand his enormous challenges.He has to get over trying to be the negotiator;that is a job for Secretary of State.He has to be a forceful executive,and so far,he's either ignorant of his role, or unwilling to step up to the plate.
+4 # C. Price 2011-08-09 06:47
Secretary of State's job involves international affairs, and the President's job is to establish a policy that the country will follow, both on the domestic and foreign fronts. The person in charge (the president) must be the negotiator, not the Caveman.
+8 # rf 2011-08-08 07:09
To make an effort would have meant nominating a progressive administration from the beginning...he gave us Geithner. quit making excuses for a man that has not marshaled his party and has spun right on every occasion. It would have been better if he had not signed the extension of the tax cuts even if it cost him...but he is a rich man too...
+1 # merrywriter 2011-08-09 08:34
apathy did not elect teapartiers. You have to give them credit for taking the election by the horns and rallying their troups. They believe in what they think, whether someone else does or not. They are simple minded in thinking that to stop spending will get us out of the hole we are in. It won't. Only wresting control away from the Big Money will do that, but fat chance.
+4 # Savvylady 2011-08-07 23:02
Excellent article!
+13 # angelfish 2011-08-07 23:09
I certainly sympathize with most of you and agree with a lot of what's been written, but, I'll be DAMNED before I let Mitch "Aunt Blabby" McConnell and the REST of the Fascists SUCCEED in making this man a one term President without seeing if he can pull the rabbit out of the hat! God knows he's made mistakes, but there seems to be NO ONE else willing to leap into the breach for 2012. He's broken my heart with his Neville Chamberlain approach in dealing with the THUGS, but I HAVE to believe that the man who ran, can and WILL rise to the occasion. He MIGHT decide NOT to run... who knows? It's a way to go before Election Day 2012. We have no other alternative until that day, other than to see if he can redeem himself. Trashing him for the next 18 months is a useless occupation and only fans the flaming rhetoric of the THUGS.
+7 # beeyl65 2011-08-08 11:41
"I HAVE to believe that the man who ran, can and WILL rise to the occasion."
Why? What part of your mind or reality will come asunder if you stop fantasizing about this president magically reinventing himself and accept the overwhelming and clear evidence about who he is?
+4 # Lulie 2011-08-09 08:48
I WISH Obama would decide not to run. Even LBJ -- who was a MUCH more skillful politician than Obama -- knew when it was time to bow-out.
+21 # JD 2011-08-07 23:13
This is always a tricky thing because even if you are disappointed in President Obama (like I am) I will still vote for him because one of the legacies of any president is who he selects for the Supreme Court. We can't afford any more Roberts or Alitos. We just can't.
+13 # SharonToji 2011-08-08 11:54
Quoting JD:
This is always a tricky thing because even if you are disappointed in President Obama (like I am) I will still vote for him because one of the legacies of any president is who he selects for the Supreme Court. We can't afford any more Roberts or Alitos. We just can't.

Hillary Clinton was not perfect, either, and they would have attacked her, and she is certainly not such an inspiring orator (although she can speak for a couple of hours, intelligently, without notes). But the Clintons are fighters. She would not have, in my opinion, backed down, and she made almost every promise Obama made, and then some -- her health care and education plans were far superior, for instance.

The sole excitement I felt for Obama was because he was mixed ethnic background. I thought of it as a wonderful statement on a major step forward in our political culture.

I did not expect him to be more than mediocre, but I did not expect him to be what he evidently is -- so well described by the writer of this essay. It was eloquent, and tragic.

But the Supreme Court is one thing he has done well. A Republican would be a disaster on that front. There are three reasons to re-elect him, "Supreme Court, Supreme Court, and Supreme Court." Can we nominate and elect a challenger. History says "no." Look at what happened to Teddy Kennedy.
+13 # banichi 2011-08-07 23:20
This article parallels other writing that I've read recently. I have counted myself a Democrat for my whole life, but not any longer. I am a progressive with a bone to pick with traditional politics as it has been practiced by both Republicans and Democrats. I intend to find a candidate who will not hesitate to bring down the hammer on every single one of the ones who caused this travesty of the Constitution to be perpetrated on me and my fellow citizens. A real FDR type, not a conciliator or compromiser who can't find his or her balls when they need to fight for those of us who elected them.

I am not a Democrat any more. Appeasement is for cowards who don't know what they are there for. I want to find a candidate I can trust to know the difference, and I will go to work for them to get them elected.
-12 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:21
Do us a favor...DON'T VOTE
+3 # MainStreetMentor 2011-08-07 23:23
Betrayal is born of aged perfidy and nourished by inherent deceit and is always delivered by a traitor.
+6 # pagrad 2011-08-07 23:39
Last month, I emailed my friends:

Only President Obama, himself, can save the Republican Party, by giving in to them, by allowing to compromise with them –which would lead to the decline of democracy in America. We KNOW that Obama did not learn American History, let alone European History. We have not learned the lessons of “appeasement” (the Munich Pact of 1938, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Adolf Hitler).

It may be possible to have John Kerry, Joe Bide or Nancy Pelosi as opposing candidates.
Can you think of anyone else?
+2 # Activista 2011-08-08 10:34
"t may be possible to have John Kerry, Joe Bide or Nancy Pelosi as opposing candidates."
I believe that all above have TOO much baggage (history). What about Kennedy (strong on environment and not dependent on military).
Obama is at 40% - even with Republicans - Obama should resign for the good of the country and World (his militarism).
+3 # DesignCreature 2011-08-08 11:09
Please spare us John Kerry or Joe Biden. I think I really would leave the country if either of those two got the nomination and went on to become president. Joe is more than ready for retirement. John Kerry may have learned not to trust his advisors and that would be a good thing. They ruined him with their advise last time. And he allowedit. Nancy has what it takes. A combination of Nancy and Elizabeth Warren would be a shaker the guys nuts. Too bad it couldn't happen.
+17 # Blast Dorrough 2011-08-08 00:16
President Obama knows exactly what he is doing. He CHOSE not to take the political path of what is true, good and right as mandated by the Preamble to the Constitution that he swore to uphold. He chose to forsake any semblance of principle when making the "Grand Deal" with unscrupulous GOPers masked as "Republicans" and "American Citizens." He should have eloquently pointed out that GOP politicians are what is false, evil and wrong with our government of, by and for the Corporatecrafte rs to the egalitarian and economic injury of WE THE PEOPLE. The Corporatecrafte rs blatantly and shamelessly plundered U.S. revenues and resources with impunity. Then they deceitfully blamed the invented debt crisis on the pensions of teachers, law-enforcers and fire-fighters. What audacity coming from the real parasitical slimeballs of our society. We have a revenue crisis because of the cancerous greed and corruption of these parasites and common criminals, all of imagined nobility of hereditary privilege and "entitlement" to plunder their "kingdom" and exploit the lives of their serfs. President Obama chose not to represent the egalitarian and economic interests of the people as he swore to do in tune with the letter and spirit of the Preamble to the Constitution. Who knows why. It is still time to lead and do the deed in behalf of WE THE PEOPLE. Follow the lead of FDR.
+10 # stonecutter 2011-08-08 00:16
Great piece of writing and trenchant analysis. It reads, sounds and "smells" like the truth. Let's see if it has any legs in the corporate media, if it gains any traction among Democrats, progressives and independents, or if, despite its presence in the Times, it disappears into the black hole of well-intentione d op-ed's that are ignored or forgotten a few days after publication, because it wasn't written by a leftie echo chamber insider, like Krugman or Dowd or Blow or Herbert or Rich.

On the other hand, if it does have legs, it could light a fire under a lot of people, including the Obama re-election team. We'll see.
+5 # beeyl65 2011-08-08 11:45
Krugman is a leftie echo chamber insider? Do you even know who he is? Have you heard him speak in the last month? How can you compare him to blowhards like Dowd?
-1 # stonecutter 2011-08-08 16:52
I don't know who you are, but I assure you I know who Krugman is. I have a lot of respect for him, but whether you want to acknowledge it or not, he is perceived as a member of the leftie echo chamber by all the reactionaries out there, notwithstanding his academic credentials and his Nobel Prize. It's my view that Obama has essentially ignored his public and likely private advice precisely because his views are polarizing to the right, and since Obama's game plan and predisposition has been "bipartisan" solutions at all costs, Krugman's advice would be an impediment, while guys like Geithner, Rubin and Summers have his ear. I agree that he's several intellectual levels above Maureen Dowd, but when you're a liberal in this nuthouse, your're a liberal.
+15 # giraffee2012 2011-08-08 00:26
The article pointed out what we all feel. It is easy to blame President Obama for not being a FDR president and for not following through with the HOPES we had in him. But he is the most brilliant and conscious President we've had in a very long time.

Here's part of my thought for President Obama's "centralist" actions for bi-partisan or lack of blaming the Bush (and Reagan) administrations ---

1. The birther and racist attacks are real. My family has wondered if he fears an assassination. That is how vile the remarks from the right have been. The Turtle openly stating "his only goal is to make Obama a 1 term president -- when he should be passing legislation for JOBS" is surreal"

2. Never has the filibuster been used to stop the majority as it has in these 2 1/2 years.

3. I personally do NOT want another Republican president. A second term president is usually stronger than in his first term. I do not buy the "idea" that he is sold out to the GOP.

4. He is not a king and we expect him to demand.

5. He does not blame although we ALL know he inherited a depression that was far worse than he (and we) were told.

I've run out of room.
Get registered and get mail-in ballots and Vote in 2012.
+2 # DesignCreature 2011-08-08 11:17
Obama is not briliant except maybe at basket ball. Read his resume' as I should have done before supporting him. If he is conscious he does a great job hiding it. Without this telepromter he cannot really get his thoughts out. Watch sometimes and you'll notice two different Obamas. I am tired of hearing how he inherited such a mess. It may be true but he's had enough time now to have made SOME inroads to drag us back from the canyon we were headed for but he hasn't. He has continued to be so Republican he out does George in some areas. Time for him to go back to Harvard and resume teaching something.
+14 # Dave45 2011-08-08 01:15
Westen's nutshell description of America's "Obama predicament" is one of the best out there. It is particularly refreshing to hear someone offer a critical perspective on the weaknesses of Obama's rhetoric. Obama has shown himself to be neither an intellectual nor a utilitarian pragmatist. It has been nothing short of jaw-dropping to see how little he seems to understand of economics and finance as well as Washington politics. Even more alarming has been the apparent ease with which he has closed his heart to those currently suffering in America, preferring instead to lust after acceptance by the old boy, financial elite of this country. Add to this the attendant tragedy that is the Democratic Party, a relatively spineless group of political hangers-on whose approach to governing offers little in the way of guidance to one of their own whose moral and spiritual compass swings wildly about as he flails away at one issue after another. America is broken.
+13 # bradley emden 2011-08-08 02:55
Currently I could not vote for a republican. However, I will not vote for Obama again, nor Debbie Wasserman Schultz whom I have voted for numerous times. These folks just cave in on the do not cave in third rail stuff. Maybe Obama is just not quite old enough to understand what a man of his intellect would understand if he were a few years older. Give me Al Gore, or Russ Feingold, if not give me a real progressive third party. I wish Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders looked more presidential. That darn appearnance thing. But Russ or Al, should challenge Obama. He has been a major disappointment. He has irrevokeably lost my vote.
+9 # bradleybear 2011-08-08 03:08
Someone as brilliant as Obama who was a little older might be a little more principled than pragmatic. I would like to see Obama challenged by someone more progressive, either Russ Feingold or Al Gore. Or someone yet unknown with charisma, character, and a highly principled progressive. Obama has lost my vote. I cannot vote for a republican as their party has completely gone wacky. They ignore facts. Unfortunately Obama does not know how to play poker, because the Right wing is bluffing him right out of history. I also can no longer vote for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom I have voted for many times. The party has lost their ability to stand up for principled third rail issues. I did not vote for a democrate to put my mothers social security and medicare on the line. I could have voted for a republican for that. I will take a new progressive party, or a truly more progressive democratic party. The truth is today's progressive was yesterday's centrist. There is no truly liberal, progressive left wing remaining. The center is now being defined as progressive, liberal and left wing. We should be demanding 20 percent raises, full employment, more social security and medicare for all. No compromise. Please have someone teach Obama how to play poker.
-14 # nordlie1 2011-08-08 03:16
Because the President surrenders to our domestic leaders (terrorists) it
seems plausible that he would surrender to foreign terrorists too.
+12 # Robert Nicholas 2011-08-08 06:13
I think that the Congress as a whole have caved to Corporations and the Rich. Our Congrssional Leaders have become so dependant on "Careers" they forget the reason for their terms, so they could leave and new blood can take over leading this country. Obame did a lot wrong, but Congress allowed it, and by extension, the American people. Remember, "Government for the people, of the people and by the people", the last being the most important. Be the people, tell congress what you want and expect, if you do not receive it, toss them out at election time. As it was meant to be and is written in the Constitution of the United States.
+6 # ABen 2011-08-08 09:51
Robert, well said! Good citizen voters put the House in the hands of teabaggers, not Obama. The good citizens of Wisconsin made a similar mistake and are in the process of correcting that mistake. We can do the same thing with the House and Senate!
+8 # Citizen Mike 2011-08-08 06:18
+19 # MarciaH 2011-08-08 06:34
This is an excellent article and puts my deep sense of disappointment- -no, make that betrayal-- by this President into context.

Obama is an Establishment man. Isn't Progressive. Never has been. And never will be. But he's a great blank screen upon which to project one's hopes and dreams.

As a former Psychologist myself (and not really a very classical one at all), I'd like to add one more piece of the puzzle to understanding him and his so-obvious-to-e veryone-else weaknesses: his father left him as small boy. And now, Obama seeks to fill that void by being accepted and loved by the Father figures in the room, the Authoritarian Repugs. He'll never get their love, of course, but he wouldn't be the first person with the "idiot hope" that he will succeed at it. If only he does everything right. This is no excuse for him, just another piece of information.

Obama has done far more to alienate me from my the political system than anyone could have. Bush was horrible. And his horribleness woke me up and brought me in to fight back. But Obama's betrayal of me-- and all of those who worked so hard to get him elected-- is unforgivable. I have never felt so seduced and abandoned, so disenfranchised .

Bush compelled me in. Obama drove me out.
+12 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:19
get a clue...Only through voting in real progressives in House and Senate will any liberal agenda get passed
Elect Democrats in 2012 and take back the country

Dispair is not an option
+5 # SharonToji 2011-08-08 12:01
Yes, I think that is correct. I have been sending what little money I have to Wisconsin, and urging my Democratic Club members here in "darkest Republican Orange County, CA" to do the same, or to make phone calls. All politics is, indeed, local, so let's start locally. If our own communities are hopeless, then send your money, or spend your time in communities where we can elect a reasonably progressive Democrat, and send them to statehouses and to Congress. Obama will not be brave enough, assuming we can slip him in again, to veto the legislation that a progressive Congress sends to his desk. It's our only hope.
+5 # Beth 2011-08-08 12:19
interesting position SoCalJohnie - CLEARLY MarciaH got the clue! There are very few democrats that are "real progressives" or liberals (yes, they are actually different). Any progressive (or liberal) who believes that voting for dems will "take the country back" are completely deluded...

Dispair may not be an option, but pretenting that Obama in '12 will bring a progressive or liberal agenda back are complete fools...get a clue!
0 # beeyl65 2011-08-08 11:52
Excellently well said. And I think your penultimate paragraph comprises the best answer to Democratic Party Loyalists who argue that, "as bad as Obama is, imagine how bad McCain would have been?"
Given the choice between a Republican corporatist and a Democratic corporatist, I'll choose the former every time - because at least with them, the entire Democratic Party would be unified against their corporatism. With Obama a registered Dem, he can count on the majority of Dems to support him regardless of his behavior.
+1 # EMcCoy 2011-08-08 06:58
What Happened?

We were bamboozled. Nothing has happened to Mr. Obama. What's happened hashappened to us. We now know what we didn't know before: Obama's Opportunism comes in an eloquent package.

Prof. Westen says: "But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics - in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time - he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation."

On the contrary, Mr. Obama understands "bully politics" very well. He has exploited these dynamics as a means to support his own messianic image oh himself. I believe Mr. Obama is not conflict averse but rather, "above the fray" with the kind of self-aggrandizi ng ego that sees itself as (conveniently) "better" than mundane politics. The Bully is Obama's perfect foil - a counterweight to his own now-revealed opportunistic manipulations that parade as "balance."

Prof. Westen does us a great benefit by reminding us that, as disappointing as Obama is - as a man and as a president - he is NOT typical. There are good people and dedicated, ethical polticians... REALLY! Obama may have burdened MKL’s “arc of justice" but he cannot break it - he's too much of a light-weight.
+9 # Glen 2011-08-08 06:59
We are living in a time of unimaginable propaganda and change that began developing a few decades ago - not that there hasn't been a lot of that, but much more today.

Obama was always a part of the agenda, not an upstart who would shake up the system. We no longer have "leaders" who are not part of that long term agenda to change the control of this country, turning it over to private ownership and reducing the population to powerless individuals being led into a future unknown.

Reagan's administration developed all this and it developed further as the years passed, blossoming under George W. Check carefully and you will find that no president was randomly elected, without the approval of genuine power players, and Obama is on that list.
+5 # rf 2011-08-08 07:05
I think it says a lot about Obama that he taught at U or Chicago which is the university that spawned trickle down. Obviously not a very realistic or progressive university and certainly not one that has a diverse economics dept. I'm not a lawyer but I've heard it is one of the most conservative law schools around.
+9 # jsrw 2011-08-08 07:15
Dr. Westen does seem to hit the nail on the head no matter which explanation one accepts. But the answer is not a third party candidate which will elect one of the clowns the Republicans will nominate. We must elect a Democratic Congress for that is really where the power is and always has been. Remember it was the 2010 elections when rational people seemed to stay home that exacerbated the problem.
+6 # dupagedem 2011-08-08 07:50
The arc of history bends toward justice, and the history of Obama's Presidency has not been written yet. If we restore Democratic majority in House (buyer's remorse for 2010) and beef up Senate, his second (lame duck) term could be outstanding. Whatever it is will be better than returning government to Republicans who don't want to govern and don't care about anyone but the 400.

I noticed the Inaugural speech as being less inspiring than his campaign speeches, and I figured it was for two, he was speaking to entire country and world, those who liked him and those who didn't. But, more importantly, he couldn't come out swinging like FDR, who was white and didn't have FOX News screaming about his illegitimacy 24 hours a day. Ask yourself what the consequences of that could have been. Some of us won't stop holding our collective breath until after someone is inaugurated in Jan. 2017.

Finally, was anyone paying attention to what happened on 7/25/11? I'm sure President Obama was. He asked the American people that Monday night to contact their Congress if they agreed with him, their President. The American people crashed the D.C. system with their calls and emails.

Liberals are disappointed and right-wingers are still crazy. But, the majority of Americans understand and admire the President.
+2 # texpaz 2011-08-08 09:27
I don't agree that he should have been so constrained because of FOX news attacks. He needed to push back on that issue.The fact is that his dad had many wives and Obama was conceived before his mother and dad were married. It likely was not a legal marriage. That is certainly unique among our presidents. Of course people made calls to DC, but huge numbers in opposition to a policy has never been a guarantee that their voice will be listened to. Remember the millions marching around the world opposing W's wars? Nobody listens to the people anymore. They just need our votes and once they have them....forget it. And why did Obama not put on those marching shoes and go to Wisconsin?
+10 # kbojar 2011-08-08 08:04
I understand Westin’s disappointment with Obama. But Westin ignores historical context. FDR had a Democratic congress; Obama had one in name only—all those Blue dogs.

Also globalization has changed the game. It is much harder for national governments to have an impact on their national economies. Obama is facing a capital strike right now with corporate interests sitting on mounds of cash they refuse to invest. The say it’s because of uncertainty; many of us think they are waiting for a Republican President and what they see as a more favorable investment climate—more tax cuts etc.

There are so many more constraints on Obama than there were on FDR. This is not meant as justification of Obama’s tepid responses, but let's be fair about what he’s dealing with.

+5 # SharonToji 2011-08-08 12:06
There was a Blue Dog Congress, because President Obama's chosen Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, wished it to be so. He shut out progressive Democratic candidates, even when they might have won. President Obama did not need to choose Emanuel. He could have chosen someone who would have pushed a progressive voice in Congress as his "arm twister." There were huge constraints on FDR. He went out, swinging, against them. He crafted Social Security, for instance, in the White House, then sold it to the people, THEN, sent it to Congress. The people got it passed. The opposition did not have a chance, although they had fought hard to destroy it.
+3 # fredboy 2011-08-08 08:40
Same here. This guy--who I supported with my vote, my calls, and my bucks--is a cloud. A very thin cloud.

The only real answer for America is truth. And truth is gone, destroyed, the enemy.

Without truth there is no trust.

Without trust there is no nation.
+5 # texpaz 2011-08-08 09:19
I worked hard to get Obama elected. i was disappointed early on and confused about his actions. Then I read something about his early life in Indonesia, where it is a common cultural practice to tease and taunt kids.So somehow, he learned to tolerate verbal abuse and ignore it. In his book he describes his confusion about who and what he is. So I think, psychologically , both these elements have stayed with him. And in retrospect, we ignored his political background because of his eloquence on the campaign trail. We were so eager to be rid of dumb old George and get a smart Dem in there. And besides, who tells his supporters to "make him" do what they want him to do once in office? Didn't we just work our butts off to get him elected President? What more did he want? I have expressed my disappointment to him via the White House webpage. We need a Dem to primary him. I supported Kucinich once and I would do it again.
+4 # drgulla 2011-08-08 22:51
I was disappointed in Obama when he picked the homophobic Pastor Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation. It signaled that he was willing to reach all the way over to the right for his bipartisanship- and he's been doing it ever since.
+5 # ABen 2011-08-08 09:43
I think many of the comments listed miss one of the key points of Westen's very thoughtful article; the importance of narrative. I concur with those who feel that Obama is brilliant, kindhearted, and well-intentione d man. He has fought for and gotten passed (with the help of mostly Nancy Pelosi) many good pieces of legislation. But he does not seem to understand the power or importance of narrative. This has debilitated the Democratic party in two ways. First, Obama and Dems were not prepared to counter the onslaught of anti-Obama rhetoric pushed by the right-wing, Fixed Noise in particular, from the moment he was elected. Second, he and his admin didn't understand how much the populace needed to hear a narrative about both balanced sacrifice AND a calling to account for those who attempted to break this country financially and ethically during the Bush administration. If he doesn't learn how to use the power of the bully pulpit in the next 6 -8 months, he will be challenged in the primary. However, for Liberals and Progressives to trash him for not being all they wanted him to be is to tacitly accept the anti-Obama, anti-American narrative being pushed by the rabid Right-wing. Let your elected officials know how you feel and vote for real Democrats!
+5 # wleming 2011-08-08 09:44
obama..... is the trojan horse. ran as a progressive, and turns out to be in the opposite camp. countries economy in melt down... reinstalls the same people who, geitner, summers, greenspan et. al. led the charge to oblivion. fattens military budgets while cutting services to the poor, women, children. an imperial presidency over seen by an "anti imperialist.?"
+5 # MarciaH 2011-08-08 09:49
Obama made a grand miscalculation. Right from the start. He believed that balance (an admirable goal) can be achieved in one go. If you've ever watch a balancing scale in action, first it tips to one side then to the other. And on and on until equilibrium is struck.

After 8 years of radicalism perpetrated by "W" on this nation, a big correction was called for. The scale NEEDED to tip to the other side and to right some of the wrongs on the previous misadministrati on. Instead, Obama chose a bland middle path that was impossible (given the fact that his opponents in Congress know only the word "NO") but also because it was not a true correction. The People wanted CHANGE, not namby pamby, nicey nicey bland middle-of-the-r oadness. It was time for an infusion of true Democratic principles back into the discourse. And instead, he turned right and placated the very side whose "principles" screwed us in the first place.
+6 # wwway 2011-08-08 09:55
What we all want and what Obama needs is a CLEAR majority in the House and Senate so that the accomplisments we all hoped for from Washington CAN be made.
I had a pitty party with my friends last night...cried over pizza and beer. Now we're actively preparing to replace our congressman and if there's a better Democrat to run against Obama that might be good to but have your "pitty party" then stop whining and get out there and join your Central Committee, chair a fundraiser...bu t STOP whining!
+3 # Activista 2011-08-08 10:40
"Obama needs is a CLEAR majority in the House and Senate "
he had it first two years and extended Bush cut for the rich - to get his billions for re-election propaganda?
Obama militarism is like Bush - no end to it. Chance that we, US will bomb Syria or/and Iran are almost 100% under Hillary AIPAC.
+4 # wwway 2011-08-09 16:19
He didn't have the CLEAR majority but yes, I share your concerns.
We have to get rid of Republicans, Teas and Blue Dog Dems. It was the Blue Dogs that didn't give Obama help. Max Bacus is a Blue Dog and he has got to go. He's the one who didn't allow consumer groups in the Health Care committee hearings. The California Progressive Causus has passed a resolution to look for a progressive Dem to compete with Obama for the Democratic Nomination. that's why I say, quit whining and complaining and get involved in your local Democratic Central Committe and get to work. Freedom isn't Free you know.
+3 # SteveM 2011-08-11 11:49
Quoting wwway:
He didn't have the CLEAR majority but yes, I share your concerns.
It was the Blue Dogs that didn't give Obama help. Max Bacus is a Blue Dog and he has got to go.


Thanks for less-than-nothi ng, Harry Reid.
+8 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:06

2000- Gore LOSES Florida to Bush after 97 thousand votes go to Ralph Nader’s 3rd party and Bush WINS Florida and election
Economic collapse
Housing market collapse
Labor market collapse
Banking system is dysfunctional

Save US auto industry
Fair Pay act-Equal pay for equal work
Restored scientific integrity in government
Ended Bush stop of embryonic stem cell research
Children's Health care-insured 11 million
Ended don't ask don't tell
Phase out unneeded F-22 fighter
Ended stop-lose-soldi ers can’t be kept longer than enlistment
Restarts nuclear nonproliferatio n talks
Sotomayor and Kagan to Supreme Court
Funding for student loans and pell grants
Tax credit for 95%
Extended unemployment benefits,
0 # D Rubes 2011-08-11 19:31
Thank you for some rational thought. How many of you actually speak to people who disagree w your point of view? Do you know how many places there are in our great Country that ONLY get Fox noise as their ?news provider? There is so much hate fomented by the corporatocracy that getting as much done as he has is amazing. As said, democracy is a slow, messy, frustrating system; but it is the best thing on the planet. Please don't split the vote & let a Bachman or Perry in out of a need to voice disapproval - REMEMBER 2010, DON’T have history repeat itself. Some of us have been around long enough to put this in perspective. Focus on what HAS been accomplished against all odds & $ against

Think & VOTE.

Thank you all, keep us in the right direction, but not to the point of self destruction.
+3 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:12
I'm with WWWay....

Stop Whining...!!!

This is not a dictatorship...
Money bills originate in the House of Representatives
Then go to the Senate
Get a clue people...
People who didn't come out in 2010 are to blame, not Obama
They let baggers in and now more BS to clean up
All those who call for a 3rd us a favor
DON'T VOTE...You and Ralph Nader gave us Bush...
That didn't cause many problems,did it?
+3 # Beth 2011-08-08 13:04
Try to get your facts straight - misinformation, like yours, is totally not helpful and will ensure continuation of the crap we are dealing with today.

Nader DID NOT give us Bush in 2000 - a stolen election, chicken/dem senators - including someone named Gore, (On January 6, 2001, a joint session of Congress met to certify the electoral vote. Twenty members of the House of Representatives , most of them Democratic members of the Congressional Black Caucus, rose one-by-one to file objections to the electoral votes of Florida. However, according to an 1877 law, any such objection had to be sponsored by both a representative and a senator. No senator would co-sponsor these objections, deferring to the Supreme Court's ruling. Therefore, Gore, who presided in his capacity as President of the Senate, ruled each of these objections out of order..) and the US supreme court GAVE US BUSH...

Don't criticize progressives for "whining" - we were lied to, we compromised our values/belief systems by working very hard to get a fraud in power...we have every right to be very angry and to call truth about us demanding that most dems admit that they are really repub lights? – they certainly are not progressive or liberal in any way shape form
+5 # Patch 2011-08-08 10:14
This was an excellent piece with wonderful insight about President Obama. Afterwards I thought that the President provides a clear example of the Peter Principle in action.

I think it is very important that we do more than just add our comments here. We need to write to the President and our representatives and tell them how we feel about their behavior. I sent a letter to President Obama yesterday telling him how I felt and asking him to be a progressive or announce that he will not seek a second term. If he receives millions of letters, it will have an impact.
+4 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:14
I think right-wing trolls are at work...
+3 # Tee 2011-08-08 10:17
We psychoanalyze Obama and the democrats to much.The present political climate is based on money. Who can raise the most to appeal to the bloodsucking donors who later will demand apound of flesh from the government.

Obama is only concerned about We the people come November 4th, 2012.He could have raise the debt ceiling by using the fourteeth amendment and the people would have been behind him. But his main donors, Goldman Sachs, wants cuts in entitlements.

Obama doesn't care about you the people. You can't give him the money he wants. He only wants your votes later on.
+2 # Sally Blakemore 2011-08-08 10:29
Our progressive mass "projected-hall ucination" of Martin Luther King over the brilliant campaign of Barack Obama has bitten us in the ass. When someone comes out of nowhere like Obama did, a red flag antennae should fly up in the haze of the projected expectations. He was handpicked by someone over Hillary Clinton. Clinton may have balanced the budget but he ruined our economy. There are no heroes in the political corruption of America. This whole government is corrupt to the core and has been since Reagan and the Iran Contra, since LBJ tampered with the votes...We believed an American Dream along with the Mexicans flooding the border. Advertising is spin. Branding is spin on acid. If all the products come from the same plant, there is no brand. Let's halt money to candidates. Allow adverts just two weeks before the vote and a grass roots right-in campaign is the way to go. NO MONEY for politicians.
+3 # SoCal Johnnie 2011-08-08 10:45
I am not a child Weston...
I don't need "daddy" to tell me what is right...
or what I should do...
The republican/ t-baggers are the cause of the current
economic, labor market, housing, banking collapse...
with help from clinton's free-trade agreement and the removal
of the "up-tick" rule-by republicans- which would have stopped short seller trading in 2008...
With the help offered to the baggers by you, Obama will be
For me...I passed my civics classes...If O. had pressed the case against the criminal banksters and those that condone torture..NOTHIN G to help regular people would have gotten done...He would still be stuck in a quagmire of political BS.
Elect Democrats in 2012...take back the House, keep the Senate and Obama and press our case in the second term...
If not...good luck to us all..because we will need it...
+3 # CB 2011-08-08 10:54
With the American penchant for day to day amnesia the President still has time to somehow remake himself into the image and reality of the leader he was elected to be. May he take this article not only to heart but use it as a template for what he must accomplish in order to save our Union. After watching the recent series on Lincoln I came away with the feeling that he was not in and of himself as great a president as we have been led to believe. Instead he had greatness thrust upon him as he rose to the events taking place and took both moral and pragmatic stands that held. Even as the tide of the war was turning, he doubted his own reelection. This seems to suggest that his priorities lay more with the future welfare of the country than with his own. President Obama, take heed.
-5 # Edwin J. Perkins 2011-08-08 11:35
I believe Obama and Biden should resign and turn power over the House Republicans. It's already their policies in action. Then a more aggressvie Democrat can run in 2012 on a platform of raising taxes on the rich.
+3 # shirley kressel 2011-08-08 14:49
The problem is not just Obama. The Democratic leadership (with a handful of exceptions) has converged with the Republican Party on all significant issues. Clinton's triangulation is the father of Obama's bi-partisanship .

We need a third party, to clean up the political process and reestablish a democracy that serves the public rather than the corporations and the uber-rich. This won't happen by swinging back and forth from "hope"-ful Democrats to "No Deal" Republicans.

After decades of dutiful loyalty to Democrats, I've faced the fact they have abandoned progressive values, they have abandoned the people of America, and it's just all electioneering theater now. I've registered with the Green Party. And if you want to send your elected officials a message, don't petition and email and march and blog -- they don't care about any of you; they know you'll hold your nose again and vote for the "lesser of two evils." Go register Green Party. A few million of those registration shifts and they'll start paying attention. If the Greens put up a candidate, vote for him/her! If they don't, write in Nader. Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them what you want to tell them, and tell them what you've told them. Then things will "change."
+5 # Broger 2011-08-08 11:44
This was why we had tax legislation that taxed the wealthy heavily, to keep them from stealing our elections by corruption of our institutions.

Still we hear someone complaining that Nader spoiled it
for us, and make sure not to vote for someone like Nader.
He might have shown us over the decades how much integrity he has, but that doesn't mean anything to people who are ill informed or paid shills. Who pays these people to keep the real patriots out of the system? Corruption money? Everyone has his price. Does Nader? See the documentary "Ralph Nader: an unreasonable man" and get an idea about where integrity comes from. Make sure to see it to the very end where they show how much good and necessary legislation was passed by this man and his organization and you'll see why we should have bucked the system a decade ago and got a third party in the mix. We might have lost one election but the powers that be would have had their work cut out for them trying to corrupt another whole party.
+3 # shirley kressel 2011-08-08 14:57
Broger, you are totally right. We blew it then, but let's not blow it again. We have to get a third party, one that is not bought by the corporations. Until then, we won't get anything else.

I've joined the Green Party. They have the right values; now we have to build them up to have the power of numbers.

I've been reading Nader's books; he is an incredible intellect, historian, activist and human being, and we were lucky he would even run -- and the voters threw him away. He could have made this country such a better place, for all -- families, communities, businesses, everyone.

Ben Franklin, when asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had given us, said, "A republic, if you can keep it." Now we see what he meant....
+1 # GGmaw 2011-08-08 12:05
Granted that Roosevelt was the greatest American Pres. of the 20th Century. But I think we have to remember that FDR had advantages not enjoyed by guys like Carter, Clinton, and Obama such as huge majorities of allies in both houses of congress through much of his terms and even the worst Repugs were afraid of him. The atmosphere had not been poisoned by a bunch of Tea Baggers and there was no FOX Noise at the time.
+2 # fletch1165 2011-08-08 13:19
Its all about Boehner passing unlimited corporate campaign financing last November. Obama has no choice but to capitulate or lose the funding he needs for re-election. Really it is that simple. He serves corporations right now and not us.
+3 # shirley kressel 2011-08-08 14:59
There you have it. And he's not the only Democrat serving corporate paymasters. And it started well before Obama...
+6 # goodsensecynic 2011-08-08 13:48
As a external sympathetic observer of the USA, I urge you all to understand that "leaders" are like ocean surfaces. They can be pretty "white caps" or destructive waves crashing on the shore. They are more often the flotsam and jetsam atop deep waters.

Mr. Obama seemed like a pretty white cap. Sarah bin-Palin was more like an oil slick. Michele Bachmann's a toxic chemical spill.

Whether benign or malign, leaders merely hint at the direction of the powerful currents below.

Invisible, yet determinative, currents have names such as "the mode, means and relations of production," "hegemonic ideology," "overarching technology."

No leader can reverse them, but strong, humane organizations can modify their effects.

Though a genuine 3rd-party alternative could give electoral politics some meaning in the USA, you might at least gather together as: environmentalis ts; peace activists; anti-poverty coalitions; women; aboriginal peoples; farmers and consumers; cultural organizations; and what's left of the one-proud trade union movement and take back the Democratic Party.

The T-baggers showed what can happen when the margin overwhelms the mainstream. In the case of the GOP, it's a disaster for principled conservatives. For the authentic Democrats, it could mean redemption.
+4 # shirley kressel 2011-08-08 15:02
Can we really take back a Party whose leaders look to corporations and the super-rich for campaign funding? I think we know the answer to that.

Let's focus on the third party. Difficult -- but do we have a choice?
+2 # Foxtrottango 2011-08-08 13:49
What happened to Obama?

Five words will say it all: "all foam and no beer!"
+4 # Lucius 2011-08-08 14:09
Prof. Westen nailed it. The first piece of print mass media opinion I’ve seen that ties Obama's apparent capitulations and spineless inaction (the Justice Dept comes to mind) with the lack of any narrative that would make sense of his decisions.

What happened to Obama is that he is in thrall to Wall St., the plutocratic corporatocracy and the Pentagon. The arc of his presidency has been to serve them at the expense of the now vanishing working and middle classes.

Obama wants to govern from the middle and be above partisanship, but he was elected to clean house and straighten up the place. The Democratic sweep of 2008 was entirely partisan, but, turns out, the Dems couldn’t make it happen. And now, with his silent partner, the GOP, Obama has proven that he has stealthily adopted the Bush neo-con agenda in both foreign and domestic policy matters. And that is what happened to a guy who never really wanted a fight.
+7 # Louis 2011-08-08 14:35
I supported him, but he has been nothing but smoke and mirrors. For his sake, and for the sake of the American prople, he needs to read this article.
+1 # Inland Jim 2011-08-08 15:57
We know what happened to Obama. He's the man on the stair that wasn't there. And he wasn't there again today...
+7 # futhark 2011-08-08 16:57
Obama has always been aware that the number 1 most important thing in the Universe is...Barack Obama and that his ego-tripping path to the White House has relied more than anything else on the backing of big corporations.

Barack Obama, 2012: "Give up hope of anything other than stagnation." "Yes, we can!" has given way to "Maybe we can't!"

If the man had an ounce of integrity he would have declined to accept that unearned Nobel Peace Prize pending the actual performance of action that promoted peace. To use his acceptance speech as a platform for justifying military aggression insulted the Prize Committee and all previous honorees, including Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Dr. Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela.
+2 # Doug600 2011-08-08 17:03
Apparently, Obama believes in nothing, except maybe "SCH" ("Surrender," "Capitulation" and "Hiding Under His Desk").
I just hope he has to really depend on Social Security and Medicare in a few years, and they won't be there, because of his cowardice.
Also, apparently, to become a Democrat, you have to turn in your balls.
+2 # billy bob 2011-08-09 00:23
"Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama - and by extension the party he leads - believes on virtually any issue."

Hasn't Drew Weston been paying attention? Actions speak louder than words. It doesn't matter what the President has said. He's a stealth repugnican. If you want to know what he believes on any given issue, just ask john boner. The answer will be the exact same. The only difference is that boner will tell you up front - well, sort of.
+3 # seeuingoa 2011-08-09 03:31
Brilliant article, thank you.

Four commentaries:

Too much hate.

Roosevelt quote "they are unanimous in
their hate for me--" and later
"Americans hate government"
The difference between Europe and America
is, that in Europe the politicians disagree with each other and the people
disagree with government, where as,
in America the republicans and the democrats in congress hate each other and the people hate government.

Too much stupidity.

The Americans are stupid!
Don´t forget that they voted for Busch
the second time, and don´t forget that
they seriously have considered Palin, Bachman and Donald Trump as presidential candidates.

Too much Obama.

Say after me:
Nobels peace prize,
treatment of Bradley Manning,
taxcut for the rich.

Poor America!
The healing process would start with people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
+6 # DavidinParis 2011-08-09 04:20
Drew Westen's piece needs to be read by President Obama. He has the intelligence and wisdom to contemplate seriously the remarks here, and to reevaluate and recalibrate his political and personal position on leadership and change. Our greatest chance for establishing greater economic justice in the country is to help the president regain his confidence to take what may seem like unpopular but necessary stances. Many of us would have preferred a one-term president with the strength of conviction.
+4 # Puro Mestizo 2011-08-09 06:58
What happened to Obama? Nothing. He has acted (or not) as according to the script given him by his corporate masters. He surrounded himself with the darlings of Wall Street and continued the war mongering policies of G.W. Bush.
He sold out our Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits rather than to rally the people against the reactionary Tea Baggers. In short Obama conducted himself like the true corporatist that he is.
Solution? The time is ripe for organizing and building an alternative to the two party trap we currently have.
A party that will not accept corporate bribes and one that will advocate and defend our civil liberties and rights along with our Constitution. Are YOU ready to help out with this?
+3 # wrodwell 2011-08-10 16:30
I keep noticing the use of the phrase "take back" as in "take back America", or "take back Congress". This and other platitudes are spoken ad nauseam indicating people are more comfortable using cliches rather than their intellects. All we seem to want to do now is "take" something. Does this mean we no longer have anything left to "give"?
+2 # Tee 2011-08-10 21:26
Obama either has a gun to his head held by the ruling elite, solded out the people, our political system serves the purpose of using our politicians to give us the illusion that we are a representative while in reality the monied few really run the country.

Do you notice how so many of us point to Obama to get something done? This was the purpose of assassinating individuals like King, Malcolm X, John Lennon, the Panthers, and other radical groups in the sixties.

We must forget Obama and empower ourselves like their doing in Egypt, Israel, London, and countless other places in the world.
+1 # ben kagan 2011-08-11 15:43
Comments The best analysis of why Obama has failed to fulfill his and our greatest aspirations I have ever read. It should be read, reread, and passionately embellished by every one who supported Obama-especiall y those who still refuse to see that the Emperor has lost his inspirational clothes and his leadership resources by his complete refusal to confront the resurgent Robber Barons and their immoral minions, no matter what lies and evils they perpetrate. MOST OF ALL IT HAS TO READ AND REREAD BY OBAMA AND HIS TRUSTED ADVISORS SO THAT HE CAN STILL BE REBORN AS THE GREAT HEROES HE ADMIRES- ABE LINCOLN, TEDDY ROOSEVELT, AND DR.KING.
-1 # rtrues54 2011-08-17 15:48
We MUST get a REPLACEMENT for Obama NOW!!! BERNIE SANDERS is the OBVIOUS CHOICE. The Media has already ASSUMED that Obama is the Democratic Nominee. We MUST DISABUSE THE MEDIA OF THAT ASSUMPTION... NOW!!!!!!!!!!!
0 # Magginkat 2011-08-29 13:36
And I want to know when it became law that if one political party elects a president and he chooses to run for re-election, even if he is a total bimbo, that he cannot be replaced by a more suitable candidate?

Who declared that a George Bush or a Barack Obama had the God given right to
run unopposed by anyone else in his party?

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