Free Markets, Free People
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Haley Barbour is necessarily a “good candidate”, I’m just saying, as Roger Pilon points out and Kyle Wingfield echoes, that his reasons for withdrawing from the race seem to me would apply to many people who might make a good president but never run the race because of the atmosphere and requirements of the race. Not necessarily the requirements of the job, but what it takes to get the job.
Gov. Barbour’s explanation for why he will not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — because a candidate today “is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” and he cannot make such a commitment — is not only refreshingly candid but points to a much deeper problem.
We are moving inexorably not simply to news but to politics 24/7/365. And what better example than our current part-time president who, with no primary challenger in sight, is already on the campaign trail (did he ever leave it?), when the election is 19 months away. Some of us are old enough to remember when elected officials served — and ran for office or re-election only around election time.
Part of the reason for the change is the need today for vast amounts of campaign cash. But the deeper reason, I submit, is because politics has taken over so much of life. When government was more limited, and we didn’t look to it to provide our every need and want, those who “governed” didn’t feel such a need to cater to us — and we had better things to do anyway than obsess over politics. Calvin Coolidge took naps in the White House — in his pajamas! Imagine that today.
There is no question to any objective observer that communications and technology today have radically changed the "atmosphere" of politics with the 24/7/365 news cycle. That includes the expansion of the pundocracy to include influential bloggers and the like as well.
Those changes have made it necessary for incumbent presidents as well as serious candidates to begin their runs for office well before an election to ensure they either remain prominent in the news cycle or at least appear with some regularity. It’s about name recognition and money. Without the first, you don’t get the second. And the best way to get the first is to be prominent in the media coverage.
But it seems it also has some fairly serious deleterious effects as well. For one it puts incumbents and candidates on an extended, some would argue “perpetual” campaign cycle. As Pilon notes, Obama is already campaigning for a second term 19 months before the election. As for the GOP candidates, how long have the candidacies of each of the supposed contenders been talked about? Literally since the last presidential election in 2008.
It also seems to have created a new class of politician – the celebrity politician. Instead of fairly anonymous public servants, we get this elite ruling class who think their every word is plated in gold. And that is a big part of the problem we have with our political class today.
Anyway, understanding the extended run today’s candidates must make to even be taken seriously, the present requirements obviously dissuade many clearly qualified candidates from taking on the onerous and time consuming necessities of running at all.
Who does that leave us with? Well the narcissistic, the overly ambitious and the professional politician who wants to be a celebrity pol. Seriously. The present occupant of the White House hits me as a combination of all three of those who loves the celebrity of the position he holds but apparently hates the job (and, frankly isn’t up to it).
In fact, it has begun to appear that achieving office is the priority rather than governing. How in the world does one explain Barack Obama except by saying he was the one with the best shot at winning despite the thinnest and least impressive resume of any candidate for the presidency in history?
Another problem is the job of president itself. The reason Coolidge was able to take naps is we had, in comparison to today, a very limited government. But we’ve expanded it to the point now that it would be almost unrecognizable to those of the Coolidge era. Wingfield hits that:
The presidency is too-large-for-life because the president is the head of a government that is simply too large. (The too-large-for-life factor also reportedly is why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who I’d place well above Barbour on my list, has been on the fence about running.)
Not to excuse bad decisions by any president, but I have to wonder who, exactly, could perform the job as it stands today, evolved and mutated in so many ways. And let’s not overlook that President Obama and his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, didn’t help matters with their efforts to expand the federal government and the president’s role in it.
In fact, I think the too-large-for-life presidency also reinforces the polarization of politics — which in turn further explains the “all-consuming effort,” in Barbour’s words, it takes to become and serve as president. A president invariably will disappoint or even anger his base with some of his actions. But, because he is responsible for so much, his supporters are often hesitant to object too strenuously, lest it weaken his ability to act on other policies on which he and they agree.
So, we got less self-policing of Bush by Republicans on the growth of government and spending — at least until the very end of his presidency, when the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore any longer. And now we get crickets from the mostly left-wing anti-war movement when Obama extends the war in Afghanistan and launches a new one in Libya.
I think he makes a good point. The expanded role of government, and thus the presidency, combined with the constant news cycle and the feedback from the partisan groups to their “people” added in has made it extremely difficult to govern – for anyone. When you then introduce incompetence or inexperience or extreme partisanship (or all three) to the office, it becomes impossible. And that’s pretty much the situation today.
As Wingfield concludes, “If we want a better president and government, we need to ask them to do less”.
And doing less may mean less onerous and intrusive campaigns which may again attract statesmen and leaders to undertake the job of the presidency instead of self-promoting, overly ambitious celebrity politicians without either the experience or the competence to do the job.
Of course that also assumes the American people have learned something about the mistake they made (and why they made it) this last cycle and are planning on fixing it in 2012.
Politico takes a look at the White House team in light of the recent revelations of a job offer to Joe Sestak to pull out of the PA Senate primary and now the emerging story about jobs that may have been offered to a Democratic candidate in Colorado to keep him out of a primary. Politico wonders how the crew which so deftly managed such a successful presidential campaign has lost their "golden touch".
Perhaps there never was a golden touch. Perhaps the inevitability of the win had little to do with their deft management. Perhaps it had more to do with historical timing and a historic first. That and an attractive candidate whose huge faults and thin resume were something people were obviously willing to overlook for the feel-good euphoria they got from him and his rhetoric.
Perhaps, as the Politico calls them, they always were always “one part Dick Daley, one part Barney Fife.”
It would explain their developing reputation as nothing more than machine Chicago pols. And their inability to spin and manage the multiple crisis enveloping the White House and the Obama presidency. It seems each and every day, events and actions by this group conspire to put the administrion in a bad light.
They undercut the Obama’s reputation on two fronts. Trying to put the fix in to deny Democratic voters the chance to choose for themselves who their Senate nominees should be is hardly consistent with the idea of “Yes we can” grassroots empowerment that is central to Obama’s brand. And bungling that fix is at odds with the Obama team’s image — built around the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Obama himself — as shrewd political operatives who know the game and always win it.
Democrats are now apparently complaining. They are of the opinion that the White House is unable to handle more than one major challenge at a time. And any student of the presidency knows that multiple challenges on a daily basis are the norm. Additionally, Obama’s recent forays into state races in support of Democratic candidates has been almost universally unsuccessful. Asks one Democrat:
“How one group of people can be so good at campaigning and so bad at politics?”
Answer? Experience. Campaigning, while it has multiple tasks, has only one goal. Obama has been campaigning his whole life. He knows how to do that. Governing has not only multiple tasks, but multiple challenges and goals. Obama has never run anything or governed anything. This is his first real job. That is the reason most rational people demand that those seeking high executive office have some experience somewhere in their life with the duties and responsibilities of an executive.
We’re now suffering the results of irrational thinking when it comes to electing a president. Timing and “historical moments”, coupled with good campaign theater should never replace the careful consideration of the bona fides of any candidate for office – even at the lowest level. But all too often it does, and, such as in this case, we suffer the consequences. The question, of course, is will we do what is necessary, as soon as possible, to correct the mistake? Or will we again be swept away by the hype and spin and glitz of the one thing this group seems to be able to manage?
I think Toby Harnden of the UK’s Telegraph describes pretty well what most of us have observed and concluded about President Obama:
Perhaps we should not be surprised that the land of the permanent campaign has produced a president like Barack Obama. During his White House bid, Mr Obama’s staff argued that his masterful oversight of the machinery that ultimately got him elected was his highest achievement.
In many respects this was true, though Mr Obama was more chairman than CEO. Even Republican political operatives acknowledge that the Obama ’08 campaign was a thing of beauty.
Essentially, however, Mr Obama won because of his persona – post-racial, healing, cool, articulate and inspirational. In a sense, therefore, his greatest achievement in life is being Barack Obama. Or the campaign version, at least.
Therein lies the problem. While campaigning could centre around soaring rhetoric, governing is altogether messier. It involves tough, unpopular choices and cutting deals with opponents. It requires doing things rather than talking about them, let alone just being.
Mr Obama is showing little appetite for this. Instead of being the commander-in-chief, he is the campaigner-in-chief.
I think this is best reflected in a number that’s been circulating recently – Obama has done 2 to 3 times more political fundraisers at this point in his presidency than did either GW Bush or Bill Clinton. While they were apparently concentrating more on the job at hand Obama seems unable, or unwilling, to drop the campaign mode and step into the governing role.
Consequently Afghanistan strategy is adrift, health care reform is leaderless and Obama flits around doing fundraisers and campaign-style townhalls.
Now, he is stumping for Democratic candidates in states he won last year but which are now in danger. Last Wednesday in Hackensack, Mr Obama took to the stage to proclaim: “Your voice can change the world. Your voice can elect Jon Corzine, governor once again of New Jersey.” Change the world? Mr Corzine is a former Goldman Sachs executive whose political career was launched when he spent $57 million of his own money on a Senate seat in 2000.
The rally was an attempted 2008 reprise. There was the spontaneous (or not) cry of “I love you!” bashfully acknowledged by Mr Obama with a “I love you back.”
There were the Obama-led chants of “Fired up! Ready to go!” and the ubiquitous “Yes We Can” signs.
And as he always does, Mr Obama blamed every economic woe on the Bush years, conveniently forgetting that Republicans are no longer in office and it’s been his mess for nine months now.
The “blame Bush” card, just like the race card, is wearing very thin. It is also worth remembering that the budgets that were passed by Congress during the last two years as well as the initial 700 billion bailout package appropriated by that same Democratic Congress all had Mr. Obama’s stamp of approval by way of his vote for each of them.
But, going back to the subject, it seems like every time it gets a little hot in Washington DC, Obama’s answer is to leave and rally somewhere as if doing so will somehow improve the other situation.
And then, in what one can only describe as a fit of stupidity that compounds the problem of perception, the White House picks a fight with a news organization with which it has issues. It ends up rallying the other news organizations to the side of the one it’s picking on and ends up looking both petty and vindictive.
Finally, it appears even the comedians have had enough:
“President Obama agreed to commit an additional 40,000 troops to help fight Fox News,” quipped NBC’s Jay Leno. “Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters that Fox News is just pushing a point of view. Well, yes, but at least they’ve got a point of view.”
Losing the comedians is usually an indicator of a loss public support. And all of them are now taking pot-shots, even the odius Bill Maher.
Mr Obama was elected on a promise of being post-partisan to Washington and transforming the country. Thus far, he has won the support of only a single Republican for his health-care plan and has shown himself to be as aggressive a Democratic partisan in office as anyone in the fabled Clinton war room.
Beyond the grand announcements, fine speeches and his eager acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr Obama has yet to achieve anything of substance. It is time for the campaign to end.
But it won’t. It can’t. And there is a very simple reason for that – Mr. Obama has never done anything of substance, nor has he ever run anything of substance. He simply isn’t equipped with the experience and know-how necessary to do that. He’s never been a leader, had to be a leader and doesn’t know how to lead.
He knows how to campaign. It’s that at which he is good. Campaigning is all “grand announcements” and “fine speeches” in which the campaigner never has to put up or shut up. Now that he finds himself in this rather awkward position of actually having to deliver on his “grand announcements” and “fine speeches”, he reverts to that he knows best. And that means a perpetual campaign.