We are now at the stage where comprehensive analyses of the Obama presidency are possible. Chuck Todd’s The Stranger is a not altogether complimentary account of Obama’s White House and the increasingly acrimonious climate of Washington in general, due partly to Obama’s inability and lack of desire for playing the “game” of Washington politics. Sometimes Todd’s criticisms are a little exaggerated. Todd criticises Obama for not attending certain media events, but who can blame him, after Todd’s description of how superficial and ultimately pointless they are? Todd here just reinforces how insular and easily slighted the media is. But Todd is probably on the money when he suggests that Obama’s cool is both an asset and a liability. Obama, it seems, tends to think that a level-headed discussion between two parties will work out differences, Plus, Obama campaigned on not doing things the Washington way, but Todd points out that this has created a problem now that he is in the centre of Washington.
It is also partly the fault of Republicans of course, who made it clear from the outset that they wanted the Obama presidency to fail, and a depressing aspect of this book is that the Republicans’ only goal now is making the Obama presidency fail so they can return to power. There’s no longer much of a pretence even for trying to compromise, in the interests of the country.
There are parallels in Australian politics – Tony Abbott came to power not because of specific policies, but because he promised to unite the party against the then government, and the policies would come second. And there is, in general, a climate of “us versus them”, which seeps into the culture at large, simplifies issues, heightens tensions and continues to contribute to overall disillusionment with politics.