What to Expect from an Intelligent President

Brace yourself. It's going get rocky soon. We are about to have a very bright man as our president. And we've been away from that territory for a very long time.

Barack Obama is what social scientists describe as "cognitively complex." He can accommodate within his views and values what others see as contradictions. He inhabits an abstract rather than concrete world. For the cognitively complex among us, the gray area is broad.

That's why he doesn't rush to a microphone to explain actions that generate controversy. He operates on this rule: "They won't remember you got it to them late so much as that you got it to them wrong."

He is more considered than cautious. If he were cautious, he wouldn't have invited Rick Warren to do the inauguration prayer. That decision likely came from a lengthy sorting out of the pros and cons. The same could be said of some of his cabinet appointments. He may have discredited experience during the election, but he has high regard for it now.

For a man intent on change, he relies heavily on the way he has made decisions for many years. He lines up the ducks. He looks past the obvious. He prioritizes. He contradicts in one sense in order to be consistent in another. That doesn't preclude change, it merely means the President-elect's avenue to it will not be newly paved.

He takes time to identify options likely to succeed in the long run or ones that serve his higher order goals. By necessity, therefore, some people are going to be disappointed early on in his presidency.

Even those people willing and able to entertain complexity on a host of issues are often unwilling and unable to do so regarding their passions. In other words, as Frank Rich has implied, Barack Obama may overestimate at times his ability to bridge differences, especially among people passionate about particular causes. They are likely to be very impatient if their issues are among the ones President Obama puts on the back burner.

As delighted as so many of us are to have Barack Obama's presidency right around the corner, we'll need to keep in mind the type of thinker he is. He may have begun his race for the presidency with the single concept of hope, but he will begin his presidency with considerably greater complexity. He may have captured us with his heart, but he will lead us largely with his mind.

We should brace ourselves for him to make decisions that seem at times contradictory to what he said during his campaign - not because he lied, but because he never got very specific. As the complex among us do, he left doors slightly open on major issues knowing he might need to slip through them to focus on more pressing ones.

We elected a complex man. If anyone expected he'd agree with any particular interest group on all issues, he or she wasn't paying attention. But if President-elect Obama thinks he can train all of us to think at his level, with openness and understanding, that we'll come around to his thinking even if he breaks our hearts, he may not have been paying attention either.

Only time will tell, but it's good to go into the New Year knowing our future president's preferred decision-making style. He grasps passion and has exuded it often, but he will be a thinking person's president. That is at once a terrain on which we'll stumble having not traversed it in some time and a welcome breath of fresh air.

Dr. Reardon also blogs at bardscove.