A year after electing Barack Obama president, and five years after his star turn at the Democratic National Convention, we are still trying to figure him out.
Is he a left-wing radical or is he a crowd-pleasing moderate? Is he a uniter? Is he actually religious? Is he a socialist? Does he hate America? And, in light of the confidence he projects, why can’t he seem to take criticism?
But we could, of course, write that first sentence another way: Only a year after electing Barack Obama president, and we are already trying to figure him out.
Rather than it being kind of late to attempt a rigorous analysis of President Obama’s psyche, his political philosophy and his managerial style, perhaps it’s a little too soon. Presidential personalities, after all, develop over time. And the famous saying is true that great leaders aren’t born, but made.
Nonetheless, because I’m too young for caution, and too old for fear, I’m more than happy to take a stab at it.
Let me first assuage the fears of many of my conservative friends and colleagues: Barack Obama is not a left-wing radical. He is not a socialist, a communist or a Marxist, and he’s not a black liberation theologist. He’s not un-American, he’s not an atheist, and he’s not a racist.
He is none of those things, because all would require Barack Obama to have a belief system, a worldview, a set of convictions about political philosophy, theology, and socioeconomics that he simply doesn’t have. He is, instead, empty. He is an empty vessel.
This will shock and offend his legion of admirers on the left, as it stands in stark contrast to the breathless, leg-thrilling declarations by liberal America that Obama is a deep-thinking, complex, contemplative scholar of soaring intellect, a new kind of leader, exquisitely built for a changing world, who knows the war isn’t between good and evil, but between silence and diplomacy, and for whom indecision is a mark of judicious caution.
But he’d done nothing to deserve those early accolades, of course. So all of that was pre-ordained and pre-packaged, the result of a coordinated and deliberate campaign by a coalition of marketers, politicos, and members of the press to brand Barack Obama as “hope and change” before anyone even knew what his selling points were, or if he actually had any.
The proof of his ideological emptiness is practically undeniable. He has been, over the short course of his political career, the great abandoner, ever-willing to denounce those ideals that were previously sold to his constituents as “his convictions.”
After 20 years in Reverend Wright’s church, he simply got up and left. The man who baptized his children, who was marketed (to black voters in particular) as Obama’s spiritual adviser, who was so integral in shaping Barack Obama’s adult life, that he publicly denounced him, and left his church altogether. And he also denounced black liberation theology, despite giving numerous interviews about the ways in which it had helped shape his religious worldview. After initially defending Rev. Wright, suddenly he and his brand of religion were chucked out the window of a moving campaign bus. He has yet to find a replacement, unsurprisingly, but his interest in evangelicals like Rick Warren and Carey Cash means he is open to the theological polar opposite of Rev. Wright.
The same sort of dance occurred with other politically inconvenient allies, like domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, Wright apologist Father Michael Pfleger, and convicted felon Tony Rezko. Obama distanced himself from all of them and then eventually dumped them altogether when it became politically necessary. Van Jones was merely a post-election victim of Obama’s willing abandonment. And there have been others.
So would a real radical disown his radical mentors and protégés? Would a real extremist and true-believer insist with a straight face that he didn’t really believe all that stuff? Would a real ideologue be persuaded by a public opinion poll to abandon whole ideology?
Actual radicals like Wright and Ayers and Jones defend their beliefs, regardless of the pushback and potential fallout. What Obama did, in contrast, was purely political. Because, despite the insistence by the left that Obama somehow transcends politics, that’s what he is – a politician. Nothing more, nothing less.
We can also look at the shift in his policy positions over the past few years. He was once quoted as saying that he supported a single-payer health care system. The best political decision now, however, was to abandon that for a more docile public option. Once that failed to garner the groundswell of support his advisers thought it would, he appeared altogether indifferent to it. If he were reallya radical, he’d be rallying us around universal health care right now, not some watered-down 1990-page bureaucratic hodge podge that is neither revolutionary nor practical.
His impassioned pledges to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” close Gitmo, bring troops home, end military tribunals, and myriad other promises, suddenly seem less like the stuff of real political conviction, and more like political headaches that require a clever exit strategy.
And his reaction to any kind of opposition – from the right, from the citizenry, from Fox News – is equally telling. If Obama’s agenda were based on conviction instead of political expedience and an unquenchable thirst for popularity, criticism would bounce right off him. Instead he seems frighteningly flappable. That’s because leadership without convictions is leadership of empty rhetoric. Convictions can be defended against criticism. Empty rhetoric cannot.
So why all the radical friends and the radical proposals and the radical rhetoric if he’s not himself a radical? Because his lack of conviction and his inability to forge his own philosophical and theological identity, have made him incredibly susceptible to external influence and pressure. He is easily led. He is, as such, the perfect prospect for someone like Bill Ayers or Reverend Wright, whose radical agendas require vulnerable recruits who are malleable and willing.
I don’t know if President Obama is a man of conviction, if he is a man of faith, or if he is the intellectual giant the left really wants him to be. He very well may be all of those things. But I haven’t seen proof of any of it yet, and neither have you, because there hasn’t been any.
The only thing we do know for sure, one year after anointing this relative unknown the forty-fourth president of the United States, is that he’s a politician, pure and simple. Calling him a radical gives him way too much credit.
S.E. Cupp is a write and co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right." She is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.