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How President Obama could disappoint me

I feel like one of the laziest tricks in argument is the post hoc misrepresentation of one’s expectations. People often lie, particularly to themselves, when hindsight takes over.

So as a form of insurance, I’m going to write down some ways that President Obama could fail to meet my expectations. Then, a couple of years from now, I’ll be able to look back and see for myself whether the Obama Presidency is what I thought it would be.

Back in June, I linked to an article about good and bad process. It was one of those things that in a small way changed how I think about most everything. The basic argument is that process is under your control, outcome is not. Even the best process in the world can be outdone by bad luck or unforeseen events. The key to evaluating performance is to measure the effectiveness of a process, aside from the results that are ultimately achieved.

For example, had the Obama campaign failed, I still would have argued that their process was good, even if the outcome had not been the one I’d hoped for. In this case, the outcome vindicated the process, but the process was good regardless.

It’s in that spirit that I make this list:

  1. President Obama could decline to put an end to the regime of torture, extraordinary rendition, and imprisonment without charges that has defined the Bush administration for me. The President has almost complete discretion on these issues, and I expect a complete reversal of the Bush administration’s position on them.
  2. President Obama could extend the “imperial Presidency.” The Bush administration argued at every turn that the President is not accountable to Congress or to anyone else. Any new President will be tempted to maintain the power that he inherits. President Obama should give some of it back.
  3. He could govern narrowly. I expect President Obama to promote legislation that will be tough for Republicans to vote against. I don’t expect him to put through a lot of legislation that passes on party line votes.
  4. He could opt out of the standards he has set for himself with regard to transparency. If there’s one thing that worried me about the Obama campaign, it’s that it was not particularly open. I think that the secrecy of the campaign was a powerful tool, but I hope that the habit doesn’t follow Obama to the White House. He has talked about running a transparent White House. I sincerely hope he follows through. If he practices radical transparency, it will prevent him from making many of the other mistakes that could disappoint me. I’d hate for the Obama Presidency to be one where inexplicable decisions are made, and no explanations are ever offered.

That’s my stake in the ground. I’ll be able to look at it in the years to come and see if Obama lived up to my hopes as they were when he was elected.

I could make an alternate list of what I hope Obama will accomplish, but that would just be silly. He has his priorities and I have mine. I just hope he reacts intelligently to the problems he volunteered to take on, and that he makes progress in keeping the promises he made during his campaign.

10 Comments

  1. I’ve been reading you steadily over the last year or so. Always a pleasure. I had to comment this evening – for the first time, I believe – because I was just having a similar thought — that I worry about my high expectations not being met.

    But then I thought: Isn’t it a bit refreshing to actually have high expectations of a political figure?

  2. I have similar feelings (and made a somewhat similar post immediately after hearing the election results).

    My main concern is the Democratic Congress will feel the mandate to go too far, particularly into protectionism, and that Obama won’t hold them back.

    My secondary concern is that the right-wing opposition’s cries of “soft on terrorism”, “losing the wars that Bush had been winning (the surge worked!)”, etc. will push Obama into a foreign policy that is too far to the right. cf. JFK and LBJ and the Vietnam War.

    Combine this with the Democrats and the economy and China policy could be particularly ugly.

    I’m hoping that Obama will shut down Guantanamo very quickly after taking office. It will be a tricky move to pull off – he can’t be seen to be letting terrorists loose on the streets, but by definition these are people the Bush administration knew they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute. But it’s an easier task than fixing the economy or ending the occupations, and the symbolic impact would be huge. Obama has proven he’s good at putting together a team of experts to work out the pragmatic solution, so I’m hoping he’ll do that during the transition and have a solution ready to roll out very quickly.

    So for a specific disappointment, if Guantanamo is still holding prisoners without charge a few months into Obama’s presidency, I will hold that as a bad sign.

  3. Obama would disappoint me if he waits 7 years to use his veto. I hope that he realizes that he has the support of the people and doesn’t have to rubber stamp whatever Congress passes.

  4. I’m glad you mentioned transparency. There’s been a lot of speculation about who he’s going to put on his cabinet but I’m personally really interested to see who he picks as press secretary. I’d like to see Obama do regular, candid press conferences. I’m so sick of not knowing what the administration’s position is on anything until it’s too late to do anything about them. He strikes me as someone who could actually pull this off.

  5. I’d love to go back in time and get a similar list for Clinton. Obviously health care reform would have been on the list, and you can’t say he didn’t try. What other hopes for Clinton were unfulfilled?

  6. Robert Gibbs, who was the press contact for the Obama campaign a lot of the time and Obama’s Senate press secretary is going to be Obama’s press secretary.

  7. President-Elect Obama is THE MOST liberal senator in congress. He will intentionally make it hard for republicans to vote FOR legislation out of spite.

  8. Obama isn’t the most liberal Senator in Congress. And if he really is driven by spite, I really will be both surprised and disappointed.

  9. By the way, congratulations on now living in a blue state.

    I’m concerned that Obama will sink rapidly in the morass of Washington-pundit-conventional-wisdom, the Village as digby puts it, and forget that he came into power on a mandate for real change, that is to say, not mere tweaks but some seriously large projects involving seriously large budgets. Hope he doesn’t, but it seems like a disease of power, to be surrounded by people who are essentially paid agents of the status quo put there to flatter you and whisper into your ear against any substantive change. Anyone who runs for President is susceptible to flattery – after all the process is really about seeking approval from an entire nation – no matter how principled they are.

    But I’m hopeful he’ll remember how he got there.

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