Free Markets, Free People
Howard Fineman opens his latest Newsweek article with this:
A Democratic senator I can’t name, who reluctantly voted for the health-care bill out of loyalty to his party and his admiration for Barack Obama, privately complained to me that the measure was political folly, in part because of the way it goes into effect: some taxes first, most benefits later, and rate hikes by insurance companies in between.
So, there it is – America, screwed by slavish loyalty to party and president. And the people? Well this was about politics, pure and simple, as this unnamed Senator admits. And only now he realizes the political folly – he and the party are screwed.
Pardon me if I don’t shed a tear.
The bill remains hugely unpopular, the people remain very uneasy and they are very aware of the fact that they were totally and unequivocally ignored while being fed absolute BS to justify this power grab:
Brown won in Massachusetts for a reason. The Democrats had failed to make their case for this reform to the American public. They pressed the case for some sort of reform, but that was easy: the country was already there. What the country dislikes is this particular bill, and the Democrats, intent on arguing among themselves, barely even tried to change its mind.
People struggle to understand how extending health insurance to 32 million Americans, at a cost of a trillion dollars over ten years, can be a deficit-reducing measure. If cuts in Medicare will pay for half of that outlay, as the plan intends, they struggle to see how the quality of Medicare’s services can be maintained–let alone improved, as Pelosi said again in her speech on Sunday. The CBO notwithstanding, the public is right not to believe these claims.
And that’s from a guy who was pleased the legislation passed. He thought it about time that the US joined the rest of the world in their rationed medical misery.
It’s a turkey and even Fineman knows it. 2/3rds in a USA Today poll say the bill goes too far. Tell me again there’s no market for repeal or, if not total repeal, drastic changes in the bill.
Party, president and politics were the three priorities that were put in front of the people. In November the people have their say about those priorities. And I think it should be clear to those who voted for it, despite all their happy talk about how wonderful this is, that they’re going to pay.
And that brings me to the latest nonsense passing as punditry – that by passing this Obama has increased his prestige and power. Maybe among Democrats – but among the rest of us, as poll after poll indicate, not so much. Obama’s made it abundantly clear through out this process that he’s not a man to be trusted, that he’s a pure partisan party hack who purposely alienated the opposing party and that he talks out of both sides of his mouth. He used every bit of his political capital to pass a health care monstrosity. Like the country he’s broke and he still hasn’t made the sale where it matters most. It is clear that during all of this, he and the Democrats have lost the independent voters who were so critical to their rise to power and they’re most likely not coming back. And he’s somehow “increased” his power and prestige?
With a result like that, I’d hate to see him “decrease” it.
As mentioned the other day, when I first heard Obama’s UN speech I wondered if I was just reading too much into what I’d heard. Then I saw Michael Gerson’s column and felt some relief about the fact that I wasn’t the only one which felt that way. Today I discover Howard Fineman, a pretty avid Obama supporter, is feeling a bit uneasy for precisely the same reasons Gerson and I did.
The president’s problem isn’t that he is too visible; it’s the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube. Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer. There is, at times, a self-referential (even self-reverential) tone in his big speeches. They are heavily salted with the words “I” and “my.” (He used the former 11 times in the first few paragraphs of his address to the U.N. last week.) Obama is a historic figure, but that is the beginning, not the end, of the story.
Even I didn’t count the “I’s” in his speech so it obviously bothered Fineman greatly. The speech apparently made the same sort of impression on him as it did others.
Additionally, Fineman notes something Obama is fond of using but that is beginning to wear very thin:
There is only so much political mileage that can still be had by his reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush. It was the winning theme of the 2008 campaign, but that race ended nearly a year ago. The ex-president is now more ex than ever, yet the current president, who vowed to look forward, is still reaching back to Bush as bogeyman.
He did it again in that U.N. speech. The delegates wanted to know what the president was going to do about Israel and the Palestinian territories. He answered by telling them what his predecessor had failed to do. This was effective for his first month or two. Now it is starting to sound more like an excuse than an explanation.
Remarkably, Fineman invokes – get ready for it – Ronald Regan as someone Obama badly needs to emulate:
The model is a man whose political effectiveness Obama repeatedly says he admires: Ronald Reagan. There was never doubt about what he wanted. The Gipper made his simple, dramatic tax cuts the centerpiece not only of his campaign but also of the entire first year of his presidency.
Obama seems to think he’ll get credit for the breathtaking scope of his ambition. But unless he sees results, it will have the opposite effect—diluting his clout, exhausting his allies, and emboldening his enemies.
And, as Fineman notes, that’s already begun to happen. Domestically his agenda is in a shambles, support is eroding faster than a pizza at a Weight Watcher’s convention and his political enemies are in full voice against him. Internationally, you can see the pack beginning to circle gauging how weak their prey is and what piece they can rip off of him before the bigger predators take their chunk of his hide.
Fineman’s other point is why that’s happening – Obama seems to think that if he appears enough times and says something enough times his words will carry the day. It is as if he thinks that constitutes leadership. If Obama does model himself after Reagan, it is only to emulate his communication ability while ignoring Reagan’s leadership abilities.
Fineman’s first paragraph really makes a worthy concluding one:
Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it. He’s a man with an endless, worthy to-do list—health care, climate change, bank reform, global capital regulation, AfPak, the Middle East, you name it—but, as yet, no boxes checked “done.” This is a problem that style will not fix. Unless Obama learns to rely less on charm, rhetoric, and good intentions and more on picking his spots and winning in political combat, he’s not going to be reelected, let alone enshrined in South Dakota.
So it isn’t just me, or those on the right who’re imagining things. In fact it seems our assessment was pretty objective. When the Howard Fineman’s of the world (don’t ever look for the leg-humping Chris Matthews or those of his ilk to have this sort of an awakening) begin to notice, it should be fairly obvious to everyone. If words were action, Barack Obama would be master of the world. But they’re not. The problem, as Fineman and other are learning, is Barack Obama has never had to put his words into action. That requires leadership – something he has never learned, never exercised and increasingly seems unwilling to take on (witness the delaying on A’stan while he sprints off to Copenhagen to do what he does best – talk – about the Olympics).
Fineman has defined the problem. But he can’t provide the solution. That can only come from one man. And to this point he hasn’t demonstrated he understands the problem much less the fact that he must provide the solution. In fact, as Fineman notes, he seems more caught up in himself and his words than ever. It could mean a long three years for both the Democrats and the country. And Fineman’s right, unless things change fairly rapidly, reelection is not something Obama should count on in 2012.
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: