Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- The first however-many days of Barack Obama's presidency have been a study in amateurism.

Many suspected that Obama wasn't quite ready, but kept their fingers crossed. Optimistic disappointment is the new holding pattern.

What's missing from Obama's performance isn't the intelligence that voters acknowledged in electing him. It's the experience they tried to pretend didn't really matter. Experienced politicians, after all, got us into this mess.

Absent is maturity -- that grown-up quality of leadership that is palpable when the real deal enters a room. There's a reason why elders are respected. They have something the rest of us don't have -- yet -- because we haven't lived long enough. We haven't made the really tough decisions, the ones that are often unpopular.

There's also a reason why it's lonely at the top. The view is better, but the summit isn't so much a mountaintop as a deserted city.

Obama wants too much to be liked. This isn't a character flaw. In fact his winning personality and likability have served him well through the years. Growing up between two cultures -- black and white, American and Indonesian -- he had to learn how to get along. By all accounts, he became easy company.

But there's a price one pays in becoming president. Giving up being liked is the ultimate public sacrifice. This was the hardest lesson for Bill Clinton, who loved people and found the isolation of the presidency particularly brutal. Similarly, Obama wants to stay in touch with everyday Americans, as symbolized by his reluctance to surrender his BlackBerry.

There was a time last week when Obama looked younger than usual. Not youthful so much as not fully formed. He seemed out of place in his presidential role. In a word, he seemed haunted. Had he been visited by the ghosts of Christmas future?

Or had he looked across the table into the eyes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and realized that he was not among friends? Obama's lack of authority over the stimulus package has underscored the value of political experience and toughness -- and given weakened Republicans the leverage they needed to launch an aggressive attack.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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