Greenstein likes to jump the gun

A few blogs ago, I offered some criticism and analysis of Greenstein’s take on President Bush. In it, I suggested that we must be careful in analyzing these most recent presidents, for there is much we may not yet understand (especially considering the fact he wrote the chapter before Bush was even reelected). Now, Greenstein decides to write a chapter on Obama to discuss his governing as President even before he is President, which is a bit difficult to do in my opinion.

That being said, and at the risk of hypocrisy and irony, I will now examine Greenstein’s take on Obama, and hopefully identify a few misperceptions of Greenstein’s that may further reveal the need for historical perspective, although I readily admit Greenstein appears to be right on many matters concerning Obama.

First public communication. Greenstein correctly lauds Obama’s oratory skills. Obama is a very gifted communicator, and successfully used this to his advantage during the campaign. But, I would propose that Obama has perhaps utilized his skills to a fault. His repeated nation-wide campaigning for support of policy measures and appearance on late night talk shows has upset many, and some view this latter measure as un-presidential, thus hurting Obama’s public communication skills. Thus, Greenstein’s presumptuous analysis is a bit off-base on this matter.

Second, organizational capacity. Greenstein offers little insight into Obama’s actual managerial skills, merely noting that the President assembled a national security team that would prevent group-think. This team is highly professional, and the debate over the war in Afghanistan proves the seriousness with which Obama considers both sides of the argument. This, along with Obama’s impressively organized campaign, and what I feel is a general sense of organization in his administration, contributes to a positive organizational capacity.

Third, political skill. This one, in my opinion, is a bit difficult to judge definitively at this point in time. Obama definitely tries to make overtures to people on both sides of the aisle. Furthermore, I think that he understands there will be serious political implications for his actions, and he tries to tailor his decisions accordingly. But we do see in Obama a failure to always accurately perceive these implications. As Mark pointed out before, expending political capital on Guantanamo Bay by setting an unattainable deadline was probably a mistake. And I would suspect that Obama underestimated the extent of the backlash against health care reform. And who knows what will happen with Afghanistan? On this issue, Greenstein is only able to dwell on Obama’s short time in the state legislature and Senate, and he paints Obama’s skill in a largely positive light.

On policy vision, Greenstein argues that Obama contains a clear vision that understands the political realities he is surrounded in. For the most part, I would agree with this assessment. Obama clearly defines his vision, and is not afraid to do so to the American people through major addresses. He also understands political realities, and shows a ready willingness to compromise and consider both sides. But, as I mentioned earlier, accurately perceiving implications is not always easy, and not always something Obama gets right.

Fifth, cognitive style. Greenstein is right on this. Obama is extremely intelligent and analytical. He actively considers both sides of the issues, and attempts to make decisions based on both strategic and political considerations (i.e. Afghanistan).

Finally, emotional intelligence. Greenstein is largely right, but Obama does exhibit emotion and frustration at times, most notably in his administration’s earlier exchanges with Fox News (for example, when he refused to grant the network an interview, despite the fact every other major cable news outlet got an interview). But the vast majority of the time, it is clear Obama is able to remain emotionally composed.


~ by aakort on December 5, 2009.

One Response to “Greenstein likes to jump the gun”

  1. I agree with a lot of what you have said here, but I also feel that Greenstein understood that a lot of what he wrote on Obama would be subject to change as well. Some of the characteristics such as political skill and organizational capacity can only truly be examined in hindsight, in my opinion, and I think it would be interesting to see if there is a change in Greenstein’s when the next version of his book comes out. But I also agree with you in your criticism on Greenstein’s take on Obama’s public communication. Although I applaud Obama’s policy vision and how he articulates it to the public, I think that it has been overdone in some senses, and the popularity polls have shown that. So many different speeches on different networks and broadcasts provide a wide range of criticism. But all in all I think that Greenstein’s book provides more of a context for us to analyze the presidency. It may have a few holes in it every now any then, but I still feel it does more good then harm

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