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Obama's focus on the long term

Obama's focus on the long term
Published 22 Jan 2014   Follow @SamRoggeveen

David Remnick's latest profile of Barack Obama in the New Yorker, while generally sympathetic to the president, is also suffused with an air of disappointment and missed opportunity, as if the administration has already entered its dog days.

Remnick's travels with Obama, during which he witnesses the drudgery of presidential fundraising and glad handing, is a nice sub-plot to the piece.

The recurring theme is Obama's consistent (and to Remnick maddening) focus on the long term:

"I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right."

There is real wisdom in this, and yet, in terms of long range thinking, what's worrying about the piece is that the foreign policy focus is exclusively on the Middle East. There is no reference to the pivot to Asia or the rise of China at all.

It's not clear if this is Remnick's bias or the president's. The latter would be more worrying though in keeping with the second term agenda Obama laid out in the UN last year.

 Photo by Flickr user BU Interactive News.

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