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Four years ago, Barack Obama could do no wrong in the eyes of the mainstream media.
That was then, this is now.
Recent articles by a once-fawning media portray Obama as an egomaniac, obsessed with winning at all cost, convinced of his own self-perceived superiority and unable to admit his faults.
Even the mighty New York Times is questioning the former golden boy of American politics.
Even by the standards of the political world, Mr. Obama’s obsession with virtuosity and proving himself the best are remarkable, those close to him say. (Critics call it arrogance.) More than a tic, friends and aides say, it is a core part of his worldview, formed as an outsider child who grew up to defy others’ views of the limits of his abilities. When he speaks to students, he almost always emphasizes living up to their potential.
“He has a general philosophy that whatever he does, he’s going to do the very best he can do,” Marty Nesbitt, a close friend, said in an interview.
Mr. Obama’s aides point to the seriousness he brings to the tasks of the presidency — how he virtually never shows up for a meeting unprepared, say, or how he quickly synthesizes complicated material. When Mr. Obama was derided as an insufferable overachiever in an early political race, some of his friends were infuriated; to them, he was revising negative preconceptions of what a black man could achieve.
But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. “There’s a reinforcing quality,” he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I’m the best at this.
Politico notes that despite all the hype from four years ago, Obama turned out to be — at best — just a conventional politician.
The surprise is that a leader who arrived in office amid such unprecedented times and with such an unusual biography would infuse his presidency with such a relentlessly familiar style.
The expectation was that Obama represented a new brand of politics, marshaling ideas, language and tactics in ways that would constitute a break from Democratic orthodoxy. The reality is that Obama, so far, has presented no set of ideas that collectively represent anything that might last beyond his term as “Obamism.” His West Wing staff, and his governing agenda, have their roots deep in the traditional Democratic soil of Chicago and Capitol Hill.
White House insiders tell Capitol Hill Blue that Obama is “terrified” of being viewed as “conventional” or “normal” and that his ever-present ego is raging out of control.
“His convinced of his own superiority, his own intellectual dominance,” says one West Wing aide. “No one is willing to risk his or her job by telling him he’s wrong on anything.”
Aides describe a White House where even senior aides “walk on egg shells” and approach the President with caution. Obama’s temper tantrums, they say, invited comparisons with his predecessor, George W. Bush, another President with a massive ego whose tongue-lashings were legendary.
And in Obama’s mind, he is the best at everything he does.
“I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors,” Obama told his 2008 political director, Patric Gaspard. “I’m a better political director than my political director.”
The bottom line?
Politico’s Dyan Byers notes that articles like the recent critique in The New York Times reveal Obama as “a hyper-competitive egotist who often is not as good as he thinks he is at endeavors ranging from politics to poker.”