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Obama's Lack of Maturity Shows

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Feb. 9, 2009Watch President Barack Obama's full first prime time news conference in office. Video by AP

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By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The first however-many days of Barack Obama's presidency have been a study in amateurism.

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Many suspected that Obama wasn't quite ready, but kept their fingers crossed. Optimistic disappointment is the new holding pattern.

What's missing from Obama's performance isn't the intelligence that voters acknowledged in electing him. It's the experience they tried to pretend didn't really matter. Experienced politicians, after all, got us into this mess.

Absent is maturity -- that grown-up quality of leadership that is palpable when the real deal enters a room. There's a reason why elders are respected. They have something the rest of us don't have -- yet -- because we haven't lived long enough. We haven't made the really tough decisions, the ones that are often unpopular.

There's also a reason why it's lonely at the top. The view is better, but the summit isn't so much a mountaintop as a deserted city.

Obama wants too much to be liked. This isn't a character flaw. In fact his winning personality and likability have served him well through the years. Growing up in multiple cultures -- black and white, American and Indonesian -- he had to learn how to get along. By all accounts, he became easy company.

But there's a price one pays in becoming president. Giving up being liked is the ultimate public sacrifice. This was the hardest lesson for Bill Clinton, who loved people and found the isolation of the presidency particularly brutal. Similarly, Obama wants to stay in touch with everyday Americans, as symbolized by his reluctance to surrender his BlackBerry.

There was a time last week when Obama looked younger than usual. Not youthful so much as not fully formed. He seemed out of place in his presidential role. In a word, he seemed haunted. Had he been visited by the ghosts of Christmas future?

Or had he looked across the table into the eyes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and realized that he was not among friends? Obama's lack of authority over the stimulus package has underscored the value of political experience and toughness -- and given weakened Republicans the leverage they needed to launch an aggressive attack.

In the midst of it all, Obama and his wife went to an elementary school to read to second-graders, a now time-honored presidential release valve. Clinton read to children during his impeachment hearings. Bush, eternally and infamously, will be remembered for reading "The Pet Goat" to an elementary school class as airplanes were slamming into the World Trade Center towers.

Obama said they were "just tired of being in the White House." Oh, just wait.

Other manifestations of Obama's political greenness include his apology for picking lax taxpayers for prominent positions, his campaign-like tour to Elkhart, Ind., on Monday and his ponderous first news conference later that evening.


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