Noemie Emery: Too brilliant to fail 

An irresistible force is meeting an immovable object on the field of perception, and causing an odd sort of storm. The irresistible force is the growing idea that Obama has failed as a leader on a number of items: "Engagement" has failed; our allies are angry; the oil keeps gushing, his ideas are job killers; the recession goes on.

His party lost three big elections under his guidance and seems poised for a drubbing. The harder he pushes the country's laws leftward, the more its politics bend to the right.

David Brooks says, without fixing blame, that Obama has blown the most promising hand ever given a president. In the Hill, A.B. Stoddard is even more caustic: "Seventeen months into office, Obama is increasingly isolated -- from his party, from American voters, and from the world." People are losing their faith in his leadership, he is "so toxic in battlegrounds" that he cannot campaign for his candidates. "The country is more polarized than ever and Washington is even more a target for voter anger than it was under President Bush."

The immovable object is the conviction on the part of some who are also his critics that he is the smartest man who has ever held office, and is therefore too brilliant to fail. Citing his "shimmering intellect," Richard Cohen is at a loss to explain why he hasn't done anything with it.

"Obama, for all his brilliance, has no real, felt understanding of management structures," says Tina Brown, describing the failure to handle the oil disaster, without explaining what, beyond talking, Obama has been brilliant at. He can talk up a storm (though of late this has faltered), but so far his shimmering intellect has led him to think that aggressors can be tamed by making concessions; that he should expand the welfare state just as it is proving unworkable (and very unpopular with the American people); and into replicating to an exact degree every mistake made by George W. Bush in handling Katrina in 2005.

Jonathan Alter blames this on Bush, while Cohen calls Obama a "sphinx," and blames his unsettled childhood. No one advances the more likely conclusion: That Obama seems so much like their idea of brilliance that they assume it of him without too much evidence; or that their perception of brilliance -- often no more than a verbal facility -- isn't much use in the world.

Nor are degrees from the very best places. Presidents George Washington, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln had next to no formal schooling, a failed haberdasher from flyover country saved West Europe from Josef Stalin, and one of the two most important presidents of the 20th century was an "amiable dunce" from Eureka College and Hollywood.

There have been many good presidents, and their backgrounds are varied. But none has been a blogger, a pundit, an editor of the New Yorker, or a writer for Vanity Fair.

When and how then does this president's intellect shimmer? At meetings.

He does seem a genius at chairing a forum, as at the "nuclear summit" in April, where the Washington Post claimed that he shone as a teacher, "calling on leaders to speak, embellish, oppose, and offer alternatives," coaxing consensus and forging agreements among 45 countries at hand.

The problem was that the value of these things was limited, as the attending countries weren't menacing anyone, while Iran and Korea, who were not in attendance, went on happily building their bombs.

He isn't a sphinx, he's a seminar leader who's out of his element. And more and more out of his depth.

Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to the Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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