Free Markets, Free People

The Narrative Continues To Build

I mentioned last week that there was a narrative building which could be quite detrimental to the Obama administration. That narrative started with the British press, in a snit about the treatment of British PM Gordon Brown during a visit to the White House, noting that the administration seemed “overwhelmed”. Supporters claimed that was normal for a new administration, and besides, this one had been handed a very difficult crisis as they came into power, one that would test the abilities of even the most seasoned of administrations. But that didn’t stop the narrative from continuing to form. Then we saw others, even among supporters, begin to wonder. Camille Paglia and Howard Fineman were concerned that things seemed “not quite right” even after 50 days. Was this new administration in over its head? Even Paul Krugman carefully mentioned that those things which needed to be addressed immediately weren’t getting the attention they needed or deserved.

A feeling of uneasiness seemed to be settling over even the Obama supporters. Yesterday, Michael Goodwin, hardly someone who would be identified as a rightwinger, wondered out loud if there may indeed be something to the building narrative:

Not long ago, after a string of especially bad days for the Obama administration, a veteran Democratic pol approached me with a pained look on his face and asked, “Do you think they know what they’re doing?”

The question caught me off guard because the man is a well-known Obama supporter. As we talked, I quickly realized his asking suggested his own considerable doubts.

Yes, it’s early, but an eerily familiar feeling is spreading across party lines and seeping into the national conversation. It’s a nagging doubt about the competency of the White House.

As I said then, when I first brought it up, this is a narrative that if it becomes established, then becomes “conventional wisdom”. Speaking of “eerie”, this is very similar to the narrative that developed and established itself about Jimmy Carter. Goodwin goes on:

The tag of incompetence is powerful precisely because it is a nondenominational rebuke, even when it yields a partisan result. It became the strongest argument against the GOP hammerlock on Washington and, over two elections, gave Democrats their turn at total control.
But already feelings of doubt are rising again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were never held in high regard, so doubts about their motives and abilities are not surprising.

What matters more is the growing concern about Obama and his team. The longest campaign in presidential history is being followed by a very short honeymoon.

Polls show that most people like Obama, but they increasingly don’t like his policies. The vast spending hikes and plans for more are provoking the most concern, with 82% telling a Gallup survey they are worried about the deficit and 69% worried about the rapid growth of government under Obama. Most expect their own taxes will go up as a result, despite the President’s promises to the contrary.

Goodwin is right – the GOP sits on the sidelines for exactly the same reason that the Obama administration and Democrats should be concerned about this building narrative. Voters questioned their competence. And, of course, Democrats hammered the issue. Reid, Pelosi and the Democratic presidential candidates all talked about George Bush’s incompetence, and, by extension, the competence of the GOP. The shoe is now on the other foot and the same charges are beginning to be made about Obama and the Democrats. Warren Buffet has chimed in with criticism. The Treasury Secretary is a Saturday Night Live punching bag. The nomination process has been a disaster.

And it isn’t just the circumstances of a difficult situation which is making this seem worse than it is. No, there’s much more to it than that as Goodwin points out in his conclusion:

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: the doubts about Obama himself. His famous eloquence is wearing thin through daily exposure and because his actions are often disconnected from his words. His lack of administrative experience is showing.

His promises and policies contradict each other often enough that evidence of hypocrisy is ceasing to be news. Remember the pledges about bipartisanship and high ethics? They’re so last year.

The beat goes on. Last week, Obama brazenly gave a speech about earmark reform just after he quietly signed a $410 billion spending bill that had about 9,000 earmarks in it. He denounced Bush’s habit of disregarding pieces of laws he didn’t like, so-called signing statements, then issued one himself.

And in an absolute jaw-dropper, he told business leaders, “I don’t like the idea of spending more government money, nor am I interested in expanding government’s role.”

No wonder Americans are confused. Our President is, too.

Confusion and contradiction are not what people expect from strong leadership. It is what they expect from weak leaders. Obama, to this point, has exerted little leadership. He let himself get rolled by Congress on the “stimulus” bill, eventually becoming a front man trying to excuse their excesses and trying to spin the enormous social spending as economic stimulus. He was again pushed forward to pretend that the omnibus spending bill was “last year’s business” and the earmarks were Bush’s fault. Even the most rabid of supporters have had difficulty swallowing that bit of nonsense. Goodwin is right, what the nation and world is presently seeing from this administration is not the stuff of confidence and competence. It is, instead, precisely what those who actually looked at his previous accomplishments or lack thereof said we should expect – an eloquent and likable young man with no executive experience, no leadership experience and precious little legislative experience who appears overwhelmed by the job. The contradictions and confusion are a result of being pulled hither and yon by competing interests among his advisors and Congress as they try to convince him to back their agenda.

There are no timeouts in the job he’s won. Running off to Chicago for a 4 day Valentine weekend doesn’t slow or stop the world or the events always in motion from continuing to unfold. There’s a reason we usually don’t elect legislators to the presidency. And that’s probably even more true about inexperienced ones.

Unless something drastic happens in which the Obama administration is able to blunt and change the building narrative, watch for it to continue to grow.


20 Responses to The Narrative Continues To Build

  • I have been saying here for months that the shyster, the Empty Suit, the naïve pr!ck in the White House should be called The Clown™. I had no idea that Camille Paglia and now Michael Goodwin appear to agree with me. I must have started something national or something.

  • And on Obama’s Report Card under the subject of Leadership you see before you from left to right – 1 through 5, the highest equals excellence.  But for Obama today you would have to go back and mark the box even farther to the left – the one listed as “Not Observed

  • Obama has made the presidency small and petty.
    Now he has lowered the presidency to whining about one companys bonuses.

  • “I don’t like the idea of spending more government money, nor am I interested in expanding government’s role.”

    The man is either out-and-out lying or he’s completely clueless as to the impacts of his own policies.  Obama campaigned with not much more than some vague ideas about a benevolent government that would babysit the people from cradle to grave and a hostile attitude toward business.  With that in mind, not one of his proposals is (or should be) surprising to anyone.  What is surprising is that he doesn’t even appear to understand them.

  • One point should be made: The accusations of “Bush incompetence” were not made because Bush was truly incompetent. They were made because they media/Democrats didn’t like what Bush was doing. They were especially annoyed that he did those things with a reasonable degree of competence. (Note the phrasing there, I choose it deliberately.) There are things I wished he did better, but the portrayal of a uniquely incompetent administration was more political than factual.

    It’s difficult to point at a truly bad thing that happened on Bush’s watch and lay it directly at the Republican’s feet. Certainly in hindsight I wish they’d tried harder to regulate Freddie and Fannie, but the Democrats would have gone nuclear to prevent it, with the same fervor they now disclaim all responsibility and blame those who tried to do something about it while being blocked by them.

    Obama’s problem is something else… actual incompetence. Note that Republicans are their usual behind-the-curve selves and aren’t pushing this line… it’s coming from blogs and Democrats.

    Looking at this from an abstract systems view, I am at a loss as to how the Obama administration is going to get out of this if the narrative really gets going, so (somewhat unfortunately) getting ahead of this needs to be their #1 priority. Obama’s entire presidency is at stake here. If he gets tagged with this, it’s going to be hell for him getting back out of it… especially if he really is incompetent. And if he doesn’t get out of it, he can kiss his entire agenda goodbye.

  • Well, what a freakin’ surprise!  A person with no executive experience, no business accomplishments, no “anything!” turns out to be incompetent at the job of POTUS.  Who woulda’ thunk it?   I just wish it was only the 52% of  morons in this country that voted for this empty suit that suffered the consequences of his election.  However, all of us are now suffering.

  • Rick:
    Obama has made the presidency small and petty.

    Much like the man who occupies the office.

    But at least his wife has toned biceps

  • Bitter Clingers aren’t you all? Neener-neener-neener We Won!

  • Indeed, Joe. We won, and I just can’t crow enough about how I was right and the dense righties around here were wrong. Even though none of them actually said Obama would lose, it just makes me feel so good to crow that I can’t resist doing it over and over and over and …

    Where was I? Oh yes, Obama is doing fine, and all you thick righties are just seeing the worst because that’s what you want to see. And I’m not either just seeing the best because I want to, so stop saying that! You guys are always projecting like that, and I’m rubber and you’re glue, so what you say bounces off me and sticks on you. I decree it.

    And Obama will end up cutting spending, you just wait. I can feel it when I look at him. That Christlike visage just inspires me, and since he thinks like I do, I know he’s going to do the right things, like getting universal healthcare.

    And that doesn’t either conflict with cutting spending, so stop saying that!! It’s a complex, political sciencey thing that dense righties just don’t get, but trust me, adding new programs is going to result in less spending. I decree it.

    So you QandO commenters need to stop paying attention to the front page posters around here, especially those ex-military basket cases McQ and Hollis. They’re obviously insane from their traumatic experiences. Why, did you see the way Hollis insulted me this weekend? As if I’m not the smartest guy who comes around here. So you just need to start coming over to my blog and reading real analysis, and engaging me in a real discussion, in which we can go back and forth a thousand times. I’d love that.

    Of course, you’ll never change my mind about anything because I’m always right, but discussion is the important thing. At least it is to me. I need to expose my brilliance for all dense righties to see, and I’m not either doing it because I’m a cowardly academic who desperately needs to prove he’s better than you guys, so please, please, please stop saying that!

    But if I’m wrong about Obama, I’ll come right out and admit it. As long as I get to decide what it means to be “wrong” of course.

  • During the 2008 presidential campaign, I asked Obama supporters why they believed he should be president.  What has he ever done to deserve our support?  What evidence do we have that he is qualified for the job?  What were his policies on the important issues.  No one could give a credible answer.

    We saw glimpses of duplicity such as “I’m not going to take away your guns”  followed by “they cling to their guns and religion.”  Telling unions in Ohio he would renegotiate NAFTA as his economic advisor was telling the Canadians it was campaign rhetoric.  The changing story of his relationship with Reverend Wright.  He proved that he lacked integrity, an essential quality in presidential timber.

    Aside from his mismanagement of $110M Chicago Annenberg Challenge, he had no experience running a business.  He did “organize” chaotic ACORN rallies to bully CitiBank into making risky loans. 

    As SShiell points out, Obama’s most glaring deficiency is his lack of leadership.  Leadership is giving your subordinates whatever they need to succeed – resources, direction, information, persuasion, incentive, reward or punishment.  They own success. Their failures are your responsibility. 

    When that phone rings at 3 AM, God help us all.

  • The tune “sometimes a fantasy” by Billy Joel is going through my head.  Most people are giving Obama high marks so far.

    But he will come down from the stratosphere of approvals from the Mid-sixties to mid-seventies.   Ronald Reagan was widely viewed as incompetent when his approval rating hit 41% by the end of his second year, but he turned it around.  Vacillations early are likely, but the real test is over time.  So far, though, I think Obama is turning Washington around, getting the old insiders a bit upset, but setting the right tone and policy priorities.   But hey, you guys can see what you wish to see, if you want.

  • If it were any normal period of time, the uncertainty he is creating would simply make him a mediocre president. Maybe some of his big ideas would work, and he would be a great president. (being generous there about them working…)

    The problem is we are in a time of severe economic crisis where uncertainty is a killer. Never mind the higher taxes, programs, new regulations, bail-outs, etc.

    People criticized Bush for not using the bully pulpit enough – for not defending his policies forcefully. I think we are about to see the reverse problem – Obama thinks he can paper over issues with speech. He thinks he can promise people moderation on the one hand, while not actually delivering. This can only work for so long. But he will keep doing it, I suspect, for much longer than he should.

    Erb is right that he may be able to adjust course. If enough criticism gets to him or they lose mid-terms, maybe he will change. But I suspect he does have some ideological bones that will not allow him to be pragmatic. 

  • I also would bet money that Obama thinks the press will cover for him. Some of the things he has promised and then broken are simply breathtaking.

    How can he imagine he can say one thing to one crowd and then another thing somewhere else unless he thinks the media will keep this stuff under the radar? In fact, I think he is correct, because we all saw how the MSM covered Bush’s failures and broken promises – relentlessly and for months. 

    Obama’s problems will come up from the grass roots and more slowly.

  • Obama is having problems with substance and style, with personnel, with administrative competence. Why can’t the White House chief of protocol be allowed to get the Gordon Brown meet wired up right? Obama walks and talks like a socialist, he proposes socialism, whether its with nationalizing, in one way or another, health care, or the green sillybusiness that will suppress economic recovery, or the new tax burdens that will hinder wealth creation, or the imbedded class warfare infrastructure that resonates in it all, the “women and girls initiatives,” or whatever Gramscian hoo-hah that’s been boiling in a back pot on the cultural Left’s stove, he’s a Planned Parenthood devotee (that’s the industrial abortion giant founded by the leader of the American eugenics movement), he’s a post-American, a citizen of the world. Doesn’t really know America, more a Father Pfleger/Howard Zinn American-hater.

    He’s very cool, you know, but so overwhelmed, the job is thankless and tiresome, the people ungrateful. This is a historic presidency. Why doesn’t anyone understand that? Watch out, Michelle might not remain proud of her country. Barack is going demand that you work. Get busy, you are the change that you’ve been waiting for.

    It’s all hitting the sidewalk, from fifty stories up.

  • Well I’m now filled with Hope for Changetm.. from this idiot.

    Who would have thought it possible that anyone could make George W Bush look good .. in this record time.

  • Up in comment 15 I wrote that Obama is “a post-American, a citizen of the world.”

    Well, today at FrontPage they had a feature on the new Obama “spiritual advisor,” Jim Wallis, who long ago founded a magazine called what?

    “Wallis founded an anti-capitalism magazine called the Post-American, which identified wealth redistribution and government-managed economies as the keys to achieving “social justice.”

    The magazine was renamed Sojourners and Wallis still edits it. I recommend the profile of Wallis found at the first link.