It is rare that a leopard changes spots. It is also rare that a re-elected President of the United States emerges in a second term with a new and different persona. This may be a moment for an exception to the rule.
Obama emerged in 2004 as a young, untested, relatively inexperienced Senator from Illinois. He had tried and failed in an initial run for a Congressional seat. Then when he took on the challenge of a Senate seat, he got lucky. Both of his two main contenders blew up and were eliminated. He coasted into his sudden seniority in the political system at a young age with little experience.
He was and is smart, cool, ambitious and capable of sensible self evaluation. When his speech in Boston at Kerry’s convention in 2004 propelled him into national stardom well ahead of his expectations, he began to see that there might be an opportunity for the Presidency in 2008. He hit the jackpot in offering the right antidote in the aftermath of the W Bush years of failure: he sold hope.
He got lucky when Hillary could not get out of her own way. He got even luckier when McCain, a true fighter pilot hero, got the nomination and he got even luckier when McCain picked Sarah Palin as his VP running mate.
Perhaps you are getting my drift. When Obama was elected in 2008, despite his reputation for being aloof and even arrogant, he may (probably did) have heard some inner voices say, “Wow, how did this community organizer from Chicago get so lucky? Is this a dream? Can this be real?”
If he did hear some such voices, most likely his intelligent, rational reaction would likely have been to do just what he did. He was accommodating (many say to a fault). He was cautious, with exceptions like health care. He rarely, if ever, attempted strong arm political tactics in the tradition of Lyndon Johnson and FDR.
He hoped to be a post-partisan and post-racial President, but those two goals were probably his most serious miscalculation. Neither really is a Presidential program. Rather, they might be an historian’s observation after the fact of his Presidency.
So what does all that big windup have to do with today’s new second-term Obama?
He probably has forgotten those early days of doubt and tentativeness. He took office in a moment of turmoil and panic. He made mistakes along the way as all Presidents inevitably do. His insecurities were masked in aloofness, seeming indifference and allowing others. such as the leaders of Congress. to take the lead in crafting details of many of his policy proposals.
But, boy, did he learn a lot (or at least we all hope he did), dealing with a wallowing economy, unwinding two wars and a population that had invested a lot of hope in him.
On this November 7th as he headed back to the White House he must have heard those little voices again. “Yes, I guess I am still lucky. But this time it had little to do with luck. They had good cause to question conditions today. I did make the case that things were getting better and this was not the moment to change course. A nice majority of folks saw through all the rhetoric and saw the progress we have made. So I am not a lucky accident this time. This time I have had a lifetime of experience in four years. This time all eyes everywhere were fully open and they picked a now grey-haired, old community organizer to be President again because they trusted me. Now I have every reason to trust myself and go full out to deliver everything! And, it helps not to have to think about another election. Better get rolling fast!”
The scenario imagined in this piece obviously is by no means provable. Yet it is easily supported by plain, old fashioned good sense.
Whether he can now escape his bubble enough to hear vital feedback from a wide range of people (as he did during the 2008 campaign) remains to be seen. Whether he can lift enough beers and slap enough backs to make new friends in Congress is also unclear.
His personal habits may be too ingrained to accommodate changes. Despite that, he did wake up enough to hear his critical advisors after his somnolent first debate. That is grounds for hope!
And, perhaps it also does not hurt to suggest this scenario, because, even if he did not actually hear those voices, hearing about such voices now might just offer some useful inspiration.