At home, Obama -- like many others and not just in his own party -- believed that economic distress would move Americans to favor government direction of the health care and energy sectors and to support sharply increased federal spending.
That intuition now seems unfounded. As does the intuition that the Senate would pass hugely important legislation on a party-line vote with not one vote to spare. That left Obama and his party hostage to the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase, and the chance that a special election would transform the 60-vote supermajority to a less-than-super 59. The bridge turned out to be too far.
Obama has picked some good people for important positions and has had some significant policy successes. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, after one misstep, came up with a stress test that has stabilized the big banks. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's competition program promises to spur useful innovation in schools around the country.
Our military forces seem to be on the verge of victory (though Obama doesn't like to use the word) in Iraq and seem to be making clear progress in Afghanistan. The president decided, thankfully, to dissatisfy those Democrats who would acquiesce in an American defeat.
But on what he identified as the biggest foreign and domestic issues, Obama's intuition has proved to be faulty. Things have not worked out as he hoped. And, while a president cannot micromanage everything, his deference to congressional Democratic leaders in determining the details of the stimulus, health care and cap-and-trade bills has proven politically disastrous.
Obama's two predecessors also suffered from failures of intuition. Bill Clinton recovered and got deserved credit for the 1996 welfare reform and the 1997 balanced-budget deal. George W. Bush recovered and deserves credit (though Joe Biden is claiming it now) for the success of the Iraq surge strategy.
Obama, too, may develop better intuition than he has shown so far. But first he has to acknowledge that a successful presidency requires more than the confidence conferred by a high IQ and fancy degrees.