It’s possible to be a celebrity and a serious politician at the same time: Barack Obama’s career proves as much. But Obama’s celebrity status is frequently a political liability, and he’s (usually) wise enough to know it. That’s why he plays the wonk as often as he plays the global icon.It's a comment that deserves further elaboration, because I think these two sides of Obama's coin both come up a negative in terms of actually governing.
His celebrity side has been thoroughly critiqued already: he's airy and meaningless, tossing empty phrases to the throngs of cheery fans who don't really care what he means so long as he represents something they think they like. Fame allows him to be hollow, to be invested with ideas he can't or won't carry out in practice. The fame obscures his inability. He becomes an avatar -- a projection -- of good governance, rather than its embodiment.
But his wonk side does not fill out the void, doesn't give Obama the weight to hold him down and ground him. Instead, it exacerbates his inability to lead. It makes him indecisive. It leads to his inability to press forward on Afghanistan, always waiting for one more expert opinion, always waiting for that one piece of information that will lead to an obvious answer. It leads to his getting so bogged down in the details of the stimulus bill and the health care debate that he ceases making sense, ceases to be able to articulate a broad vision of where he wants to go: the details become everything, the trees overwhelm the forest.
And that leads to a constant dithering, an inability to accomplish. The fame makes him push for tremendous gains on all fronts at once; the wonkiness means that he gets bogged down everywhere.