If Denver was all about promise, Charlotte is all about patience. Whether Americans grant the 44th president a four-year extension will depend in part on his ability to reconcile the heady aspirations of 2008 with the messy results of the four years that followed. Remade by his time in office, the candidate of change will now argue for staying the course.
Although “he certainly seems more grizzled or hardened,” as his former economics adviser Austan Goolsbee observed, Mr. Obama expresses confidence that he has figured out how to wield power in an age of political polarization and economic stagnation.
The Limits of RationalityGood read on Obama.
A few months ago, Mr. Obama read “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman, about how people make decisions — quick, instinctive thinking versus slower, contemplative deliberation. For Mr. Obama, a deliberator in an instinctive business, this may be as instructive as any political science text.
Mr. Obama, the 51-year-old Harvard law graduate, sees himself as a rational thinker and came to office with what might be called the Reasonable Person Theory of Government. If he could simply sit down and talk with other political actors, whether they be Republicans from the House or mullahs from Tehran, he seemed certain he could work something out. His faith in his own powers of persuasion was deep.
But politics is often not rational, at least not as Mr. Obama defined it. The Iranians have proved immune to Mr. Obama’s charm, as have the North Koreans, the Taliban and Vladimir V. Putin. So have the Republicans and, for that matter, even some Democrats.
After a year of failed Middle East peacemaking, he conceded being too confident that he could cajole Israelis and Palestinians into resolving age-old disputes. “We overestimated our ability to persuade them to do so when their politics ran contrary to that,” he concluded at the time.
So, too, has his reliance on oratory diminished. At first, there was no problem, it seemed, that could not be solved by a presidential address. “Race problem? Speech,” one former aide recalled. “Afghanistan? Speech.” But speeches by themselves rarely generated the action he sought.