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The Obama Presidency: Hope, Change, and Reality


  • My thanks to Rick Waterman for his helpful reading of the article.

Direct correspondence to Bert A. Rockman, Department of Political Science, Purdue University, Beering Hall, 100 N. University St., West Lafayette, IN 47907-2098 〈〉.



The purpose of this article is to assess specifically whether President Barak Obama has been a transformational leader and, more generally, the utility of the concept of transformational leadership.


The article explores the differences between the aspirations of leaders, their rhetoric, and the hopes of leaders’ passionate partisan followers and the much harsher contextual constraints influencing what leaders, and especially U.S. presidents, can hope to achieve.


The Obama presidency, in particular, has shown significant sensitivity to its contextual opportunities. In general, it has seized the opportunities it did have to achieve outcomes that it defined as important but these opportunities have been sharply constricted as well.


The notion of transformational leadership, and the rhetoric that accompanies it, is massively asymmetric. Leadership takes place when strategic opportunities arise, and these more frequently than not are rare.