Where Obama went wrong

The candidate who inspired us with eloquent speeches has become a president who constantly fails to communicate, says Drew Westen in The New York Times

President Obama
(Image credit: Brendan Smialowski/ Getty Images)

"What happened to Obama?" asks Drew Westen in The New York Times. The Emory University psychology professor and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation bemoans that the candidate who promised change we could believe in and rode a wave of hope into the White House has become a major disappointment. On the campaign trail, Obama moved the nation with eloquent, impassioned speeches. As president, he has puzzlingly failed to offer Americans a clear, compelling narrative about how we got into this economic mess, who's to blame, and how we'll get out of it. "The stories our leaders tell us matter," writes Westen, "probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred." Here, an excerpt:

Barack Obama stared into the eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. ...

The average American had no idea what Democrats were trying to accomplish by deficit spending because no one bothered to explain it to them with the repetition and evocative imagery that our brains require to make an idea, particularly a paradoxical one, "stick." Nor did anyone explain what health care reform was supposed to accomplish (other than the unbelievable and even more uninspiring claim that it would "bend the cost curve"), or why "credit card reform" had led to an increase in the interest rates they were already struggling to pay. Nor did anyone explain why saving the banks was such a priority, when saving the homes the banks were foreclosing didn't seem to be. All Americans knew, and all they know today, is that they're still unemployed, they're still worried about how they're going to pay their bills at the end of the month and their kids still can't get a job.

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