The word that best describes President Barack Obama is “finesse,” implying delicate skill, subtlety, and grace—all attributes that former President George W. Bush seemingly lacked. Obama is truly the great finesser: he has finessed his way through life. To exude this quality is to be the opposite of an ideologue – something that comes close to describing Bush. And being the opposite of Bush would seem a good thing, right? Wrong.
The greatest, most obvious mistake that American administrations make is to overcompensate for the flaws of the previous one. The pendulum should come to rest in the middle, not swing to the other extreme. Bush's fundamental mistake was in becoming the anti-Bill Clinton, rather than merely steering away from his predecessor's roughest edges. Clinton had been obsessed with Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, so rather than focusing on it to a moderate degree, Bush would have none of it at all. Big mistake. Clinton seemingly believed in nothing, so Bush would believe fervently despite the facts. Again, big mistake. Now it looks as though Obama is making a similar blunder. Finesse alone will not get him through the challenges ahead. He's got to become a bit more like Bush. He's got to make clear that he fervently believes in and cares about certain things, and he has to communicate that belief starkly: the challenges of health care, Israeli settlements, and particularly the war in Afghanistan demand no less.