Monday, February 15, 2010

Is President Obama Too Thoughtful?

I remember, when I was a little girl, my grandfather saying that Adlai Stevenson had lost the election to Dwight D. Eisenhower because Stevenson was "too smart" for the American public to appreciate him.

We in the western world have always had an ambivalent attitude toward intellectualism. On the one hand we revere geniuses like Einstein and Shakespeare and Newton and are taught in school to emulate them. On the other hand, we have the somewhat comical images of the mad scientist and the absent-minded professor -- characters who are capable of amazing mental feats but generally incapable of dealing with the mundane realities of everyday life. We have Shakespeare's Hamlet, a thinker who becomes so paralyzed in the process of weighing the meaning and consequences of his actions that he cannot act at all. We are familiar with the question, "If you're so smart, why can't you (enter the appropriate common sensical act)?" We have the frequent portrayal of intelligent young people as nerds and socially inept losers who are never invited to the prom.

It is to America's credit that we managed to elect an intellectual to the highest post in the land. We proved that we really can choose a leader who doesn't fumble for words and wasn't a C student in school. We have overcome many of the stereotypes of the effete academic. This is progress.

Still, while I like and admire President Obama, I find myself impatient with what sometimes appears like an inability to act decisively. We need a leader who can not only expound on the necessity to move the ball down the field but the ability to get it through the goal posts.

When the president calls on us to reflect on our goals and aspirations he calls upon our highest and best selves. We are heartened and inspired. He invites us to reason and to act according to the most noble motives. Sometimes, though, we as a country must not only reflect but move forward decisively.

President Obama has said that among the many notable presidents our country has produced he most admires and tries to emulate Abraham Lincoln. There is no doubt Lincoln was a mental heavyweight. But he was not only a thinker, he was a fighter. He pulled no punches when he wrestled with his enemies and was not afraid to make unpopular decisions. No one wanted a bloody civil war less than he did, but when he was called upon to lead he moved forward with courage and determination as well as with grave doubt and apprehension and, yes, sorrow.

Our president believes strongly in the power of reason and civil debate. This is why, in large part, we have elected him to office. It is this sanity that appealed to so many of us during his campaign.

Now, though, it is time to take on those enemies who are determined to stall all progress and mire our legislative process in the mud. It's all very good to reach out to our adversaries and invite them to reason with us, but another thing entirely to let them bring our government and our society to a standstill. Every concession to the forces of inertia is a victory for the status quo, and a defeat of the change we voted so enthusiastically to enable.

It is time for President Obama to do more than speak softly and reasonably. It's time for him to step down from the professor's podium and fight.

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