The Obama Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects. Edited by Bert A. Rockman, Andrew Rudalevige, and Colin Campbell. Washington: CQ Press, 2012. 352 pp.
It undermines Maureen Dowd's entire reason for existence, but one can construct a perfectly good model of the Obama administration with no reference at all to the personality of the chief executive. One draws that lesson from this volume, especially Christopher Foreman's essay on the administration's domestic agenda. Foreman sees the Obama administration as primarily a product of (1) crisis--the inheritance of two wars and an economic crisis; (2) ambition--the policy preferences of the Democratic Party; and (3) polarization--an intensely partisan context. The Obama Presidency has the usual assets and liabilities of its genre: the edited volume reviewing a new administration at midterm. Inevitably, some important events fall between publication and the reader's encounter, while others were clearly added in a hurry just before the book hit the presses. Robert Singh's essay on Obama's foreign policy must inevitably omit or give short shrift to three of Obama's leading accomplishments: the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the ouster of Muammar el-Gadhafi, and the formal withdrawal from Iraq. David Yalof's coverage of the judiciary could have benefited from the mounting evidence that Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan are reliable members of the liberal bloc on the Supreme Court.
Different authors bring different perspectives: Lawrence Jacobs' essay on the interest-group politics of the administration offers the opinion of those critics on the left who think Obama has compromised too often, while James Campbell offers a countering view that Obama has positioned himself too far away from a basically center-right electorate. From the conclusion by Bert Rockman, Eric Waltenburg, and Colin Campbell, one finds Obama's governing personality is characterized by a disciplined operating style and a resolve to enact the typical policy priorities of a center-left Democrat, even when purely political calculations might have dissuaded him. One does not find an Obama ideology or an Obama Doctrine or an Obama Treatment.
Obama famously ran as an agent of "change," but that change took different forms in the minds of different individuals. For many voters, "change" meant ending the Iraq War and restoring the economy to health. The first has been accomplished, the second much less so. For the American Left that provided much of Obama's...