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Potential For Greatness in Obama's Next Term
Recently re-elected President Barack Obama's first term was an underrated success, and he has a chance at greatness in his second term, according to three authors who have written extensively about the president.
"The drive now is greatness. He has the opportunity for it. That doesn't mean he'll reach it," said David Maraniss, associate editor at the Washington Post, speaking Wednesday at the Washington Ideas Forum. "He was in a learning process [in his first term]. He was also trying to find out where the traps were. At every step along the way, he's been trying to figure out where the traps are and how to beat them."
Jonathan Alter, contributing correspondent at CNBC and the author of a forthcoming book about the 2012 campaign, also dismissed talk that Obama is a left-wing ideologue.
"I always thought he was a pragmatist. His overall approach to issues ... it's pretty clear that he's not an ideologue. I always thought the idea he was a socialist was absurd," Alter said.
Alter pointed to a concerted campaign by the far right of the Republican Party to paint Obama as an extremist and socialist.
"There was a concerted effort, started before he became president ... to destroy him politically for the purposes of regaining power," Alter said. "There were a lot of people who had a similar interest in trying to paint him as something that he wasn't. It's amazing how far it moved into the mainstream."
But Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author of Confidence Men, criticized the president for missing the opportunity to seize the momentum he had created in the Democratic base in 2008.
"There is a gap between an election and governance. [The Obama White House] did not apply a great deal of energy or strategy to mobilize Obama's crowd from 2008," Suskind said.
Suskind said this left the president vulnerable to attacks from the right on his health care overhaul and other divisive issues. However, Suskind said he thinks the president has learned from past mistakes.
"He's gotten better at understanding of the dynamics of presidential power," he said. "It's not about a persuasive argument that will bring opponents over. It's about boxing them in and using the presidency."
Suskind also said that inheriting a litany of problems immediately constrained the president. "He had just a host of disasters from the Bush era, and some of them from earlier than that, that hit him like a tsunami," he said.
Alter said the president also has not gotten the credit he deserves for much of what he accomplished in 2009 and 2010, from passing health care reform to stabilizing the economy: "The idea that he had a first term where he didn't get much done is wrong."