Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Barack Obama Anti-American or Simply Mediocre?

President Obama, eager to keep his own, is going to give a jobs speech. Liberals are urging him to go big; others, bipartisan. But will anyone even see the speech apart from lawmakers?

House speaker John Boehner snuffed out Obama's plan to go head-to-head with the Republican debate at the Reagan library on September 7. Obama capitulated. As usual. So what's he going to announce in his jobs talk, which really amounts to his first campaign rally, albeit with hostile onlookers in the audience? His funding of a solar firm called Solyndra, which Obama himself visited, is a debacle. The company has declared bankruptcy, the Washington Post reports today, leaving taxpayers holding $500 million in loan guarantees, part of the stimulus package that went awry.

Obama's biggest problem, at least in terms of his speech, is that he will be confronting the opening of the National Football League season. Sometimes Obama just can't seem to win no matter what he does. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Shelby Steele chalks it all up to Obama's hostility toward American exceptionalism. According to Steele,

Mr. Obama came of age in a bubble of post-'60s liberalism that conditioned him to be an adversary of American exceptionalism. In this liberalism America's exceptional status in the world follows from a bargain with the devil—an indulgence in militarism, racism, sexism, corporate greed, and environmental disregard as the means to a broad economic, military, and even cultural supremacy in the world. And therefore America's greatness is as much the fruit of evil as of a devotion to freedom.

This sounds reminiscent of a column by Norman Podhoretz a few weeks ago, also in the Journal, that claimed Obama was a product of the 1960s, a hardened anti-American radical. It may be emotionally satisfying to pillory Obama as simply another McGovern democrat intent on appeasing the rest of the world. But this overly complicates the president, who came of age, not in the 1960s, but, rather, a generation later.

What he gives every indication of is being something else—a creature of the Ivy League, someone who went to Columbia and Harvard, earned some street cred in Chicago, taught at the university, without producing anything of substance, then saw his political career get fast-tracked. Now that Obama has become president, his most ardent detractors are, in any case, starting to come from the left, which sees him as a mere opportunist without any real convictions.

The truth is that none of this probably should be all that surprising. Most American presidents tend to be mediocrities. The surprising thing is when a good one pops up—Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan. The lackluster ones abound.

Obama has some successes on his scorecard. He may get reelected. But at this point his record, as he himself knows full well, is headed toward disaster. He has not delivered change that even his most ardent supporters can believe in.