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Barack Obama: Hope, change, and contradiction

Barack Obama is proving to be one of the most puzzling presidents. He bravely took out Osama bin Laden but hasn’t had the courage to tackle the deficit. And now he's picked a fight with Catholics – the majority of whom voted for him in 2008.

President Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Feb. 7, during the White House Science Fair.

Susan Walsh/AP Photo

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Barack Obama is proving to be one of the most puzzling and enigmatic presidents to evaluate.

He campaigned for the presidency with soaring oratory promising change and hope. But by many accounts his first term has been one of stagnation, leaving many voters who are enduring hard times in despair. It remains to be seen how an early uptick in the economy this year will improve his reelection prospects.

Mr. Obama campaigned against the politics of the old guard but has turned out to be very political, branding an admittedly inept Congress as the sole impediment to his ability to gain presidential traction.

At a few public roasts he has had some funny one-liners about Washington reporters and politicians, and even displayed a pretty good crooning voice. 

But he has not shown the same kind of chumminess with Washington insiders as Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, or Clinton did with such success. Indeed, congressional leaders complain that months go by without a phone call from the White House.

But it is some of Obama’s decisionmaking that is most perplexing.

Probably the most dramatic and epochmaking decision of his presidency so far was the call to neutralize Osama bin Laden. In making the call, the president must have known there would be a high probability of Mr. bin Laden being killed, rather than captured. 

It was a decision taken with the knowledge that if the mission failed it would rank with the ignominy attending Jimmy Carter’s abortive bid to rescue American diplomatic hostages from Iran. Obama faced a vote against it from his own vice president and doubt among some members of his inner circle. His order to go ahead was forceful and courageous.


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