Remember when liberals believed and conservatives feared that Barack Obama might become another Franklin D. Roosevelt? On its cover, Time depicted the president-elect smiling from the driver’s seat of a 1930s roadster, cigarette holder pointing toward the welcoming sky. That dream—or nightmare, for Republicans—of Obama as both a great reformer and beloved statesman was quickly extinguished by the toxic mixture of a stagnant economy, unending GOP filibusters, the health care legislative muddle, and the president’s own failure to use his rhetorical skills to empathize with troubled citizens and inspire the nation.
But Obama has fallen short of FDR in another, equally consequential way: Unlike the jaunty chain-smoker who swept four straight elections, Obama appears to have no strategy for creating a long-term majority—either for his party or for the progressive causes he believes in. For all his talk about “winning the future” (and his undeniable intellectual gifts), Obama seems to think that solving immediate problems is the key to political victory.