Obama took a calculus

In search of the Barack Obama phenomenon

"The need to see something big in Obama was unmistakable - it came just when American confidence was at a low point. For millions of people, George Bush was a national and personal embarrassment."


Writes David Remnik, and the German author agrees. But then he says that Obama failed miserably. He did not tackle the reforms heartily enough and, according to Philipp Schläger, repeatedly gave way to the conservative opposition.

"With him, the Americans experienced a president who wanted to dare to hope and who ruled hesitantly. 'Hope' and 'Change' were in the election campaign. 'Fired up, ready to go!' is nobody anymore. The party is long over. "

Tuesday's election results seem to prove that thugs are right. One could therefore think that Remnick's book is out of dust because it only describes Obama, the candidate, but not Obama, the president. But the opposite is true: the American's gaze leads further and deeper than the German's. Remnick's work is at the same time a portrait, a sensitive and critical portrayal of American society. Philipp Schläger's book, on the other hand, is a rather woodcut-like outline of the first two years of government. If you want to know why the left is disappointed by Obama, you can get the motivation from Schläger. But the author sees everything very well through European glasses that are also colored green and red. Obama is not really understood and is not put into American society, with its otherness and with its many breaks and contradictions.
In addition: The German author is assuming a wrong basic assumption. He writes:

"President Barack Obama had no shortage of crises. But he left them all unused and went on the defensive. Instead of real change, a transformation of American society for which he had won a majority of the population, Obama soon moved after his election to the political center. "

That is simply wrong. Obama was elected, but not his reform agenda. Immediately after the 2008 presidential election, the first polls showed that most Americans still think conservatively and distrust radical reforms. Like Philipp Schläger, you can only argue if you say goodbye to a space capsule and create an artificial fantasy world up there. Schläger does not hide Obama's real difficulties, the devastating economic situation, the tough conservative opposition, the hatred of the right-wing Tea Party movement. But he does not put them into an overall picture. It is only with David Remnick that one begins to understand why this self-confident Barack Obama repeatedly comes up against American conditions.

"Obama's confidence was largely based on his belief that he could go in and relate to any room with any sort of people, and even convince them that his views were correct. Jim Cauley, a former Obama campaign leader, believed that Obama trusted himself to be able to win a room full of skinheads for himself. "

It is an irony of history: This president, who believed he could move mountains, is now experiencing the limits of politics with all his might - and his own scope for action. And of all people this first black president must now announce to his people that the golden times are over and may never come again. The signs of American misery are visible everywhere: two wars, ailing infrastructure and a distressed economy. Philipp Schläger also mentions these problems. But he forgets what kind of superhuman effort it takes to solve them. America has long denied reality and told itself like a prayer wheel: "We are number one, number one, number one!" Now Obama should fix it - immediately. Patience is not an American virtue. Schläger is right: Obama has made concessions and, for political reasons, has refrained from some reform promises - such as the climate protection law. Unfortunately, the Guantánamo prison camp also still stands. But the German author suppresses the fact that only an Obama willing to compromise could enforce general health insurance and tougher financial market rules. In his short time as President, he has handled more than most of his predecessors. Barack Obama has always been a pragmatist looking for a compromise, one who dreamed of a coalition of common sense early on and preferred to listen first than to rush forward with a firm opinion. You can find out all of this from David Remnick. He makes the complex phenomenon called Barack Obama alive and understandable.


Remnick, David: Barack Obama, Life and Ascent. Berlin Verlag, 976 pages, 34 euros. ISBN 978-3827008930 and
Schläger, Philipp: The disenchanted president. Barack Obama and his politics. Rotbuch Verlag, 192 pages, 9.95 euros. ISBN 978-3867891134