Free Markets, Free People

Looking At The First 50 Days – A Lack Of Leadership (UPDATE)

Both Camille Paglia and Howard Fineman give an assessement (although not presented as a 50 day assessment).

Paglia says, “free Obama from his advisors“:

Yes, free the president from his flacks, fixers and goons — his posse of smirky smart alecks and provincial rubes, who were shrewd enough to beat the slow, pompous Clintons in the mano-a-mano primaries but who seem like dazed lost lambs in the brave new world of federal legislation and global statesmanship.

Heads should be rolling at the White House for the embarrassing series of flubs that have overshadowed President Obama’s first seven weeks in office and given the scattered, demoralized Republicans a huge boost toward regrouping and resurrection.

The advice he has received certainly hasn’t been the best, and Paglia makes the point eloquently. She primarily goes off on two things that have hurt the administration’s reputation – the “stimulus” bill and the mishandling of the Gordon Brown visit. Both poorly done. And she’s not at all impressed with, nor does she think anyone else has confidence in what she calls “a shrill duo of slick geeks (Timothy Geithner and Peter Orszag) as the administration’s weirdly adolescent spokesmen on economics” .

President Obama — in whom I still have great hope and confidence — has been ill-served by his advisors and staff. Yes, they have all been blindsided and overwhelmed by the crushing demands of the presidency. But I continue to believe in citizen presidents, who must learn by doing, even in a perilous age of terrorism. Though every novice administration makes blunders and bloopers, its modus operandi should not be a conspiratorial reflex cynicism.

Notice another assessment that uses “overwhelmed”. Paglia charitably tries to write it off as something “every novice administrations” goes though. But is it really?

Paglia interestingly uses the Limbaugh kerfuffle as the ultimate case in point of how his staff has let him down. But she notes he wasn’t particularly smart about it either:

This entire fracas was set off by the president himself, who lowered his office by targeting a private citizen by name. Limbaugh had every right to counterattack, which he did with gusto. Why have so many Democrats abandoned the hallowed principle of free speech? Limbaugh, like our own liberal culture hero Lenny Bruce, is a professional commentator who can be as rude and crude as he wants.

Another bit of grumbling is being heard from Howard Fineman.  In an article entitled “The Turning Tide“, Fineman notes “Obama still has the approval of the people, but the establishment is beginning to mumble that the president may not have what it takes.”

Not just the establishment -many in the big mushy middle who became enthralled with the cult of Obama without understanding the Obama agenda are now displaying a little buyer’s remorse.

But Fineman’s critique has to do with how the “establishment”, which he contends still holds enormous power, views the Obama presidency to this point. As with most of the elite media, he waves off the popular sentiment which is, for the most part favorable, and essentially claims it is the “establishment” which will make or break this president. By that, of course, he means the elite media, the money men and politicos. However, that said, his assessment is interesting:

They have some reasons to be concerned. I trace them to a central trait of the president’s character: he’s not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards—and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush—Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He’d have made a fine judge. But we don’t need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.

For all his rhetorical skill, that’s something Obama can’t pull off. He comes off as preachy, and with his lack of experience, no one with any sense would accept him as a coach who’s been there, done that and is now helping the rest of us achieve certain results. He just doesn’t have the authority of experience to sell that. And what is going on around him, such as the poorly handled nomination process, makes any attempt by him to assume that role even less authoritative. Even those he does have on board, such as the “shrill duo of slick geeks” as Paglia calls them, do more to hurt his image than help it.

Fineman goes on implicitly giving credibility to the belief that Obama may not be up to the job:

Obama may be mistaking motion for progress, calling signals for a game plan. A busy, industrious overachiever, he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can’t wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.

In the meantime events pop up and multiply, issues expand and reality barrels on. And the “establishment” is getting antsy. Because what the establishment isn’t seeing from their chosen son is something he’s never had reason or cause to display – leadership. What Fineman dances around with this “beau ideal of Harvard Law” and “blunt coach” characterizations is Obama doesn’t seem to understand the basic tenets of leadership. It has nothing to do with jetting around the country on the perpetual campaign, or excellent but basically empty speeches. It means taking charge of the process and spending less time in Columbus, OH and more time leading Congress and his cabinet heads in the direction he wants to see things go.

Instead he’s essentially turned foreign policy over to Hillary Clinton and his domestic agenda over to a Congress which simply cannot control itself while he and his staff pick rhetorical fights with talk-show hosts.

Fineman lays out a list of things to this point which aren’t playing particularly well among the “establishment”. Again, these are Fineman’s list:

-The $787 billion stimulus, gargantuan as it was, was in fact too small and not aimed clearly enough at only immediate job-creation.
-The $275 billion home-mortgage-refinancing plan, assembled by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, is too complex and indirect.
-The president gave up the moral high ground on spending not so much with the “stim” but with the $400 billion supplemental spending bill, larded as it was with 9,000 earmarks.
-The administration is throwing good money after bad in at least two cases—the sinkhole that is Citigroup (there are many healthy banks) and General Motors (they deserve what they get).
-The failure to call for genuine sacrifice on the part of all Americans, despite the rhetorical claim that everyone would have to “give up” something.
-A willingness to give too much leeway to Congress to handle crucial details, from the stim to the vague promise to “reform” medical care without stating what costs could be cut.
-A 2010 budget that tries to do far too much, with way too rosy predictions on future revenues and growth of the economy. This led those who fear we are about to go over Niagara Falls to deride Obama as a paddler who’d rather redesign the canoe.
-A treasury secretary who has been ridiculed on “Saturday Night Live” and compared to Doogie Howser, Barney Fife and Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone”—and those are the nice ones.
-A seeming paralysis in the face of the banking crisis: unwilling to nationalize banks, yet unable to figure out how to handle toxic assets in another way—by, say, setting up a “bad bank” catch basin.
-A seeming reluctance to seek punishing prosecutions of the malefactors of the last 15 years—and even considering a plea bargain for Bernie Madoff, the poster thief who stole from charities and Nobel laureates and all the grandparents of Boca. Yes, prosecutors are in charge, but the president is entitled—some would say required—to demand harsh justice.
-The president, known for his eloquence and attention to detail, seemingly unwilling or unable to patiently, carefully explain how the world works—or more important, how it failed. Using FDR’s fireside chats as a model, Obama needs to explain the banking system in laymen’s terms. An ongoing seminar would be great.
-Obama is no socialist, but critics argue that now is not the time for costly, upfront spending on social engineering in health care, energy or education.

Of course on the other side of these points are those that argue that the stimulus bill was poorly designed and will do nothing to stimulate the economy while ballooning the debt and inviting hyper-inflation as a result. They’d also argue that $275 home-mortgage-bailout rewards bad behavior and that when Obama claimed the pork laden, 9,000 earmark omnibus spending bill was the “last administration’s business” he gave up any hope of being in the same county as the “moral high ground”. Etc., etc.

In essence, the first fifty days can be summed up fairly easily in three words: lack of leadership. And leadership ability isn’t something the tooth fairy delivers one night along with the quarter for your tooth. That is what has the “establishment” mumbling in their martinis.

I had to laugh, however, at how Fineman ended his piece:

Other than all that, in the eyes of the big shots, he is doing fine. The American people remain on his side, but he has to be careful that the gathering judgment of the Bigs doesn’t trickle down to the rest of us.

Talk about “side-steppin'” and damning with faint praise.

But I have to wonder if Fineman’s title, “The Turning Tide” isn’t somewhat of a threat to the Obama administration if it doesn’t get its act together and do so quickly. As in-the-tank as the media was for Obama, they’re now realizing that it was their credibility they sold short if he isn’t successful. But there is only so much, in this era of the new media, they can do to spin what is happening positively. Fineman is issuing a warning of sorts – we can do this for a little while longer, but at some point it is going to turn, and it won’t be pretty.

The narrative that is now building is one of an administration overwhelmed, still in a campaign mode and rudderless. It began with the UK’s Telegraph last week and it seems to be gaining momentum.  Unless Obama and the administration can do some pretty fancy work over the next 50 days, he may emerge from his first 100 days with that being the conventional wisdom.  If so, he’s going to have a long 4 years ahead of him.

UPDATE: Interesting Gallup Poll – totally average:




30 Responses to Looking At The First 50 Days – A Lack Of Leadership (UPDATE)

  • If a Republican president had shown such stunning incompetence in the first couple of months, every major newspaper and TV news organization in the country would be tripping over themselves with thumb-sucking “analyses” of what went wrong and how the American people could have been so stupid to put him in office in the first place.

    The narrative would already be established. They would have combined the worst aspects of the ginned-up cartoon reputations of Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin.

    What I’m wondering is how long the mainstream media can continue to control the narrative and prevent Obama being tagged as Carter II. They’re clearly giving him all the room they can manufacture; their non-coverage of the Chas Freeman nomination is the most recent example.

  • Both Commentators are as wrong as they are right.  Paglia, like others in the left hold up Lenny Bruce as a cultural hero, but she fails to understand that he was only a hero to the left precisely because he was fighting against morality and decency (at least as it was defined at the time) The part about free speech is just not as important to the left.

    Fineman is too quick to assure us that Obama is no socialist. But of course he is and always has been. He says that Obama should take the time out to explain the finance industry.  But he would first have to have a clue about it before he could explain it.  Absolutely nothing in his education or history ever indicated that he knows the least bit about the business world.

  • I read the Paglia piece and felt that the shield the media have provided Obama is cracking.  She can’t bring herself (yet) to lay the blame where it is deserved: upon Obama.  She and Fineman are both nibbling at the edges, whether as a warning to TAO or in an attempt to be in the “I tried to warn you” crowd when this President really starts to falter.  Regardless, if Obama doesn’t do something dramatically different very soon, the media shield is going to continue to fracture.  The UK media will lead the charge, the US media (narcissicists that they are) will then pile on Obama so as not to look bad in their colleagues eyes.  Honestly, I could enjoy watching it go either way.  If Obama shows real leadership and becomes a rational centerist President, the country wins.  If Obama implodes and the next 4 years are more memorable for the jokes made about him than anything he accomplishes, I will enjoy that too.

    Sorry for the long post.  Best line ever: “Obama may be mistaking motion for progress”

  • free the president from his flacks, fixers and goons

    They must be kidding.  He would fall to the floor like a used “sex doll” making a hissing sound as he deflated.

    • You know .. Obama could deflate his critics id he held a presser without the cues, prestage reporter lists and teleprompters and winged it taking all questions till he left the reporters “spent”.

      But, of course, he would first have to ask himself .. <i> Do you feel lucky “punk” ?</i>

  • I feel a smirk coming on.

  • Notice another assessment that uses “overwhelmed”. Paglia charitably tries to write it off as something “every novice administrations” goes though. But is it really?

    Of course it’s not. She claims these ‘flubs’… her word… overshadow the presidency. Frankly, I don’t view it as overshadowing his first seven weeks in office so much as defining his presdiency. I suspect and suppose this is as good as they’re going to be, going forward.

    The idea that Paglia misses, as you would expect from a true beliver, is that like all new Presdients, he picks people with him he can work with and are of a mind like to his own on the issues of the day, and things like integrity, worldview and so on. Face it; All of these ‘flubs’ as Paglia calls them, are driven by the qualities of liberal politics… and particularly, the Chicago style of liberal politics Obama was steeped in. Add a generous dash of Soros money and Clintonista muscle, and I suspect what we see right now, is what we get, and that he’s not going to be any better than this for the next four years.

    I expect she’ll eventually come around, but it’s going to take a generous amount of face egg to get her to that point… and I have no doubt Obama will be providing it.

  • I have two things to say about the stories that Paglia and Fineman have done:

    1. Paglia only excoriates The Clown™ and His Clownettes™ for their stupidity over what they are doing to Rush Limbaugh; she should be spending more time realizing that The Clown™ has simply botched his first 50 days. No. he has not made mistakes – he has made massive errors.

    2. Fineman cons to say that “the people are with Obama.” Sorry, Howie, but a majority might be with him personally, but his policies are rapidly becoming more and more unpopular. And now he is at 56% job approval, most of which means that any Republicans he had are now opposed to him, and the next to go will be independents. Plus, if you listen to Fineman, he believes that The Clown™ is doing a fine job.

    To sum up, both of these people might have lousy things to say about The Clown™, but, in the end, they continue to support him. When Paglia goes, The Clown™ is in trouble. If Fineman ever went (I believe he would be the last to go), The Clown™ can start packing for his return to Illinois.

  • “mumbling in their martinis”
    Great image.
    Reminds me of a line in a Len Deighton novel, I think the Game, Set, Match trilogy, where Bernard walks into a cocktail party to find people “talking on an empty head.”
    Unfortunately there is a lot of the latter going on.

  • It is interesting to see these two being critical of Obama. Granted, they are giving him as much benifit of the doubt as they can. It is still interesting.

    I’ve always enjoyed Paglia, but she not someone I would go to for insight into economics.

  • Obama the charismatist didn’t translate well to Obama the executive.

    Who would have ever guessed?

    Things will have to get worse before he brings in someone to be White House prime minister. But don’t expect an administrative recovery of any magnitude. This is a White House with a failed business plan.

    Huge mistake making a slob like Rahm Emanuel the chief-of-staff. That’s the Rosetta stone for understanding why and how this administration is so gassed out already.

  • I read Fineman’s article yesterday via Hot Air and frankly scratched my head.  “Is this OBAMA he’s talking about?” He referred to TAO “swimming in the center”, buffetted both from the left and the right.  Has Howie lost control of his senses?  TAO is only slightly closer to “the center” that Hugo Chavez!

    Howie also spent most of his article discussing TAO’s alleged strong points, almost as if he can’t believe that they are neither adequate or even appropriate for the job: “… he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He’d have made a fine judge. But we don’t need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.”

    Earth to Howie: TAO has been quite… er… “blunt-spoken”.  Take a look at the Dow since he took office.  Every time TAO has been blunt-spoken – “crisis” seems to be his favorite word – the market tanks.  We need a bit LESS blunt-speaking from him, actually.

    Howie then conjures poll numbers (a favorite lib tactic), rattling them like rosary beads.  “But THE PEOPLE still support him.  Yeah, that’s it!  He’s a foul-up and a disappointment, but… but… but… 53% of the people can’t be wrong!”

    Sigh… I wonder if MiniTru ever imagined just how far they’d have to go to cover for their boy, and how hard it would get so quickly.

    Paglia asks, “Why have so many Democrats abandoned the hallowed principle of free speech?” The answer is really quite simple: they never believed in free speech to begin with.  They believed in the THEIR right to say what THEY wanted, not a universal right of free speech.

    Eric FlorackThe idea that Paglia misses, as you would expect from a true beliver, is that like all new Presdients, he picks people with him he can work with and are of a mind like to his own on the issues of the day, and things like integrity, worldview and so on.

    Excellent observation.  There’s truth to the saying that you can judge a man by his friends.  Given TAO’s penchant for picking tax cheats to staff his administration, I think we can say something about his respect for the law and the idea that it ought to apply equally.  We can also say something about how committed he is to sharing wealth. 


  • Who would have guessed?

    Around half the country, give or take.

  • Lets see…..OCarter signed the spending bill larded w/ earmarks….in private, after issuing a ” we’ll fix it for next time” statement.

    Yup. There’s your real profile in courage right there. 

    At least his wife has well-toned biceps

    • Hey, but at least he and Sheriff Biden went through it line by line, right?  And he’s gonna hold a presser in a day or so to call out all the members of Congress who put in earmarks, right?

      / sarc

  • I just read this and it makes me laugh.  Recall how Carville spoke of Rush on “I want the president to fail”

    On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, just minutes before learning of the terrorist attacks on America, Democratic strategist James Carville was hoping for President Bush to fail, telling a group of Washington reporters: “I certainly hope he doesn’t succeed.”
    Carville was joined by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who seemed encouraged by a survey he had just completed that revealed public misgivings about the newly minted president.
    “We rush into these focus groups with these doubts that people have about him, and I’m wanting them to turn against him,” Greenberg admitted.
    The pollster added with a chuckle of disbelief: “They don’t want him to fail. I mean, they think it matters if the president of the United States fails.”
    Minutes later, as news of the terrorist attacks reached the hotel conference room where the Democrats were having breakfast with the reporters, Carville announced: “Disregard everything we just said! This changes everything!”
    The press followed Carville’s orders, never reporting his or Greenberg’s desire for Bush to fail. The omission was understandable at first, as reporters were consumed with chronicling the new war on terror. But months and even years later, the mainstream media chose to never resurrect those controversial sentiments, voiced by the Democratic Party’s top strategists, that Bush should fail.

  • How interested in Obama in the job anyway.   This answers a lot

    It reminds me a little bit of my experience with him when he was president of the Harvard Law Review. You know, I hesitated to say a lot about this during the campaign because I really thought maybe it wasn’t fair. That maybe, finally, when he got to be President, this would be a job big enough to engage and hold Barack Obama’s sustained interest, because really, is there a bigger job out here?
    [W]hen he was at the HLR you did get a very distinct sense that he was the kind of guy who much more interested in being the president of the Review, than he was in doing anything as president of the Review.
    A lot of the time he quote/unquote “worked from home”, which was sort of a shorthand – and people would say it sort of wryly – shorthand for not really doing much. He just wasn’t around. Most of the day to day work was carried out by the managing editor of the Review, my predecessor, a great guy called Tom Pirelli whose actually going to be one of the assistant attorney generals now.
    He’s the one who did most of the day to day work. Barack Obama was nowhere to be seen. Occasionally he would drop in he would talk to people, and then he’d leave again as though his very arrival had been a benediction in and of itself, but not very much got done.
    So, you know, you see that and you think, gosh, maybe that’s the way the guy operates, hut then you figure ok, obviously he always had his eye on bigger and better things.
    But now he’s President…there really isn’t a bigger or better thing.

    • Capt Joe — Great quote! I guess the audio won’t be available until tomorrow on Hugh Hewitt, but I very much look forward to it.

      I wondered about the silence from Obama’s Law School classmates during the campaign.

  • McQ, McQ, McQ you mean spirited conservative poopy head.

    How can you be so unfeeling? At last, Obama has appointed a commission on Women and Girls!
    I, for one, welcome our new petticoated overlords.

    *rolling eyes*

  • Huge mistake making a slob like Rahm Emanuel the chief-of-staff. That’s the Rosetta stone for understanding why and how this administration is so gassed out already.

    A lot can be made about Obama using old party hacks and Clinton retreads, but in reality where else would he get the people for his administration?  I mean, where are the towering intellectuals, successful state leaders, and captains of industry that the Democrat party can trot out?

  • A lot can be made about Obama using old party hacks and Clinton retreads, but in reality where else would he get the people for his administration?
    That’s true, and expectations wouldn’t be high, but Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff indicates right off that Obama can’t distinguish between political people and managers. Putting Emanuel in charge of the White House is like making a pimp the head of housekeeping. The beds won’t get made, and the sheets will get dirtier. Eventually, even the whores will complain.

  • I have been astounded by some of the more obvious campaign promises broken that have not been slammed yet (except on blogs.)

    1.  5 days on-line for bills.
    2.  line by line
    3.  “not one dime” 
    4. no earmarks (this one finally hit Yahoo Headlines, though)

    I am sure there are more than these as well. These are simple statements that he has broken with, i.e. lies. (I guess no. 3 is not a lie, yet, but will be.)

  • If Obama was totally average, then I guess Reagan was slightly below average (nothing against Reagan, I actually have a positive blog about him today).  Obama’s done pretty well, I think.  Those who see incompetence are viewing it through partisan lenses — given the major crisis he’s facing at a time when he’s just starting (and all Presidents have early stumbles), I’m pretty impressed.  He’s also gotten most of what he’s wanted.  His pragmatism shows in his willingness not to do something foolish like pick a fight over a piddly amount of money in earmarks early on.   You do sort of remind me of the way the left was responding to Reagan early in his term.   I guess the partisans on each side are more alike than different.

    • To say that Obama has been average is to ignore completely the meaning of the word average.  Competence has not been visible from this POTUS from day one.  The success you atribute to him simply is the result of a virtual super-majority in both houses of legislature.  And he had to beg, borrow and steal just to get his all important stimulus bill through – and this even though he lost 12 Democrats voting against it in the House. 

      Early stumbles?  His Presidency has been 50 days of drunken staggering.
           He has yet to address the basis of the economic crisis of the day – the impending banking failure.  He has appointed a “tax cheat” to the position of fixing the problem and then walked away from it.  Any assistance provided to the guy he told to go fix it – NO.  Just tell someone to get it done and then walk away from it.  Once more a vote of Present.
           How many appointees have had problems simply paying their taxes, besides his own Treasury genius?  Vetting is not a strong point with this POTUS.  But then that is not hard to understand given that his own vetting process was virtually non-existent.
           Foreign Policy was acknowledged to be his weak area during the campaign but his treatment of the British Prime Minister is hard to believe of any President, much less someone as clueless as this one.   Reaching out to the “Moderate” Taliban?  Trying to make nice with Iran?  Writing love letters to Khameini?  And he is allowing Hillary to galavant around the world making one gaffe after another.  Reset button for Russia?  Reviling Israel?  Making nice with Syria?  Making nice with Hamas ($900 Million nice)?
           After Larry Summers led off with guidance for the Stimulus that rightly (in my view) steered the efforts to quick turnaround empetus building project, Obama then let Pelosi build a huge Democrat Spending Spree – neglecting the purpose of the bill, to stimulate the economy, in order to stimulate Democratic pet programs.  And Obama then did what he really does best – Campaign for the Stimulus Bill.  I will admit, he is a brilliant campaigner but so far that is the only thing anyone can say he has shown any competence at.
           And now his “There will be no more earmarks” bullsh*t is shown to be the lie it was when he spoke it.  Once again he has voted “Present” by allowing Pelosi to run the show with an omibus spending package that is full of earmarks.  It isn’t pragmatism he is showing but fear – fear of rubbing against the real power in our government today – Pelosi.

      So you are pretty impressed.  Give the men you have been impressed with over the years in this venue I can only say that it does take much to impress you.  And given that you have been a shill for Obama from the very beginning I shouldn’t be surprised you would say that.

  • Oh, face it, Erb…The One has been a disaster in ways that few have been before, or God help us, will ever be again. even the lefties that elected him are saying they’ve been had. All ecept the true beleivers, like Pags. Or, yourself.

    Difference is I have every reason to think she will eventually admit she was wrong. You,OTOH…..(sigh)

  • forgot… I’m on the Palm…sorry about any typos…

  • Erb sounds awfully self-satisfied. Perhaps he’s looking at Obama through those blood-colored glasses his father-in-law gave him.