The President is Just Like…

It is notoriously difficult to judge a presidency mid-stream.

It is notoriously difficult to judge a presidency mid-stream.  Yes, sometimes we know what we are seeing, but more often than not we have a great deal of difficulty predicting how a situation will turn out.  Reagan was in big trouble in his first two years—and even going into 1984 convention there was not a clear sense of the landslide victory that was to come, indeed there were some signs for concern (see, for example, here and here).  George H. W. Bush was, early in his administration, seen to be a shoe-in for re-election as surely as Bill Clinton was going to be a one-termer.  George W. Bush was The Most Popular President ever—indeed, the new Reagan who was going to usher in a new permanent GOP majority, and so forth.

As such, I found it amusing this week to see President Obama compared both to Vladimir Putin and Jimmy Carter (not to mention various references to “Chicago style” politics as well as talk of shakedowns and whatnot).

On the Putin front, we have the Economist: Obama v BP

The collapse in BP’s share price suggests that he has convinced the markets that he is an American version of Vladimir Putin, willing to harry firms into doing his bidding.

Such a comparison suggests an authoritarian application of executive power to strong-arm BP in a way that was, at best, extralegal and rife with threats, implied and otherwise.  Certainly the “Chicago shakedown” approach is in this vague vicinity as well.

On the other end of the comparison spectrum (or, at least, on a very different portion thereof) comes the Jimmy Carter comparisons, which are supposed to evoke an anemic and incompetent executive (or, more charitably, a less than forceful executive and certainly no Vladimir Putin).  For example, Erick Erickson at RedState about a week ago: Barack Obama Embraces His Inner Jimmy Carter and then there was RCP’s video log:  MSNBC Trashes Obama’s Address: Compared To Carter, “I Don’t Sense Executive Command”.

Quite frankly, I am not sure what to make of the whole thing at the moment, save that Putin and Carter make quite a juxtaposition in analogies.

I will say that when it comes to the BP escrow fund that inspired the Putin comparisons, I tend to be in the same camp as Daniel Larison: “It appears that the corporation responsible for the spill is attempting to take responsibility for the consequences of its negligence, and it doesn’t appear that much coercion was involved.”

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    He’s exactly what I thought he would be. Smart. Cold. Ruthless in the sense of not deviating from his own goals. Politically moderate. Conciliatory. Indifferent to electoral politics. Unflappable, with a very long view.

    I think his core weakness is his coldness. He’s Spock in a nation of McCoys. He doesn’t really get that sometimes the job requires a bit of acting. He sees his job as fixing problems within the limits of practical politics. He believes that if he continues to be himself, the country will come around. In that he’s an optimist.

    I think he has too high an opinion of people combined with a very high opinion of himself. I think it reads as arrogance, but I think it’s just an almost eerie self-confidence, and a rather touching faith in the people.

    His weakness isn’t any of the things his critics say: he’s not naive, he’s not corrupt, he’s of course not a radical, he’s not weak, and his management skills seem a bit above par relative to most recent presidents. His problem is that he’s doing the job at a technical level, but refusing to engage emotionally with a sentimental, emotional population. He’s a service provider, not an entrepreneur. He does things the “right” way, but he doesn’t bring the crazy that sometimes propels a president to greatness.

    Verdict obviously still out. He’s exactly what I expected, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be successful.

    I would note, however, that no one with any sense of honesty can argue that the increasingly erratic, cranky, hypocritical, ill-informed and desperate John McCain would have been the better choice.

  2. Beth Donovan says:

    Michael Reynolds – can I please have some of whatever you are drinking? In what imaginary world do you see President Obama in this light?

    But then, I’m not a fan of Progressives. Obama, like Carter, like Putin, is a Progressive. That is why it does not leave me with a feeling of cognitive dissonance to see him compared to both.

    My larger worry is that I see his administration acting thuggish – from Ramh’s finger-pointing in Congressional showers to the President’s embrace of Hugo Chavez.

    I don’t see the President having any kind of respect for the rule of law. His words seem to indicate that he thinks he is above the law, and that he doesn’t need to follow the Constitution or the laws of the USA.

  3. Pete says:

    His weakness isn’t any of the things his critics say: he’s not naive, he’s not corrupt, he’s of course not a radical, he’s not weak, and his management skills seem a bit above par relative to most recent presidents.

    He is naive
    He is not corrupt
    He is a radical at heart
    He is not weak
    His management skills cannot be accurately judged by you or most others on the outside.

    Likely a fine man and father with a flawed vision for America.

  4. the President’s embrace of Hugo Chavez.


  5. Pete says:

    For Michael Reynolds:
    From Doc Zero:

    “Obama is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent. He’s totally useless in the face of foreign aggression, or a domestic crisis like the Gulf oil spill. His behavior has led state governors to the same conclusion as the passengers on the Underwear Bomber flight: if you want to survive, forget he exists and fend for yourself. His incompetence is partially a result of his single-minded focus on what he views as his true mission: increasing the power of the State, without reason or purpose, discussion or accountability. It will take a spectacular President, following a disciplined Republican Congress, to undo the damage Obama has done… and we need them to do more than that. We need them to address the systemic flaws that would have detonated our unsustainable entitlement state only a few years later, if Obama had never come along.

    This is a job for leaders with vision, and the passion to convey it to a frightened and confused electorate, who will need to pull media wet towels off their faces to vote against the Lightworker. It will require a level of motivated support you can’t get by stalking disinterested moderates and flattering them until they pause their iPods and sigh, “Okay, David, what-eveeeerrr, I’ll go to the prom with you, but one dance and then I’m out of there. Now go take a cold shower or something.”

    The Tea Party is composed of people who have no desire to reach a reasonable accommodation with comprehensive ruin. They have accepted the difficult responsibility of showing their fellow citizens that the Big Government narrative of the past four generations is a fraud heading into a devastating collapse. They understand that justice and prosperity require the elevation of reason over emotion, which will require an electorate composed of adults. They believe the American people deserve to be addressed as adults. “

  6. grampagravy says:

    Progressive: favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are. (we can do better)
    Conservative: disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. (things are just fine like they are)
    “I’m not a fan of Progressives.”
    Without the progressives of history, we would be living in caves, hitting each other over the head with clubs, worshiping a pile of rocks on the nearest hill, and hoping the dried berries last til spring.

  7. Max Lybbert says:

    Just remember: he’s the only thing standing between the CEOs of major companies and the mobs with pitchforks. That ought to count for something.

    Oh, and running for President prepared him for running things like this. You know, it gave him executive experience so that he would know how to solve the world’s problems. In fact, I seem to recall he was specifically meant to heal the oceans.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    “Obama, like Carter, like Putin, is a Progressive.”

    I think the better question is, what are you drinking?

  9. Really, Vlad is the poster boy for progressive politics now? Where have I been? Paul Wellstone is rolling in his grave.

  10. Seth owen says:

    “Obama, like Carter, like Putin, is a Progressive.”

    “I’m not a fan of Progressives.”

    Here’s your mistake. This is not the proper definition:

    “Progressive: favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are. (we can do better)”

    What they really mean is:
    “Progressive: favoring things I don’t like. “