Well after a couple day hiatus, I’m ready to go back at it. Sometimes you just have to take a couple of days off to clear the mind, enjoy the peace and joy of the Christmas season and reflect on the 2 inches of snow in you yard on Christmas day (first in at least many decades) and curse global warming. Heh.
Drove to Memphis and back yesterday – no not just to do it – dropped the wife off with her sisters. Snow flurries all the way through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Roads closed due to ice near B’ham. Had to reroute which cost some time. When I came back through they’d cleared it all out.
Cold as hell. It only got above freezing by a couple of degrees all day, but the wind – brrr.
Anyway, let’s sit back and contemplate the upcoming year politically, shall we? As it turns out, this one hasn’t been the best one for Democrats (although they’re now trying to claim it was outstanding due to the lame duck Congress). "Shellacked" in November the Democrats yield their majority in the House. That means that Republicans there will be writing next year’s budget (due around March) and Rep. Paul Ryan will be the man to watch since he now heads the House’s budget committee.
Question: will Republicans put forward a budget heavy on spending cuts or will they skirt the issue? My sense is that Ryan is going to put out an aggressive budget with significant cuts and the GOP is going to ask everyone to "make sacrifices" as they attempt to wean us from some of our dependency on government and other people’s money.
Of course I could be wrong and the Old Bulls could decide that controversy isn’t the way they want to go with 2012 looming – but that would be a mistake in my estimation.
Meanwhile it is reported that Obama is set to "shuffle his staff". Well, given the present one, it’s hard to imagine he could do worse with the shuffle. In many cases he’s been ill served by the present staff. That’s not to say he hasn’t made plenty of unforced errors himself, but these first two years have been marked by an aura of amateurism and a weaker president.
The first personnel change inside the White House is the arrival of David Plouffe, who managed Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. For the last two years, Mr. Plouffe has been one of the president’s closest outside confidants, but he is set to replace Mr. Axelrod as his chief political adviser, with a broad portfolio.
Frankly, I think Axlerod has been out of his depth in the White House. He was most at home campaigning/running a campaign, but never seemed to understand that the campaigning stops on Jan. 20th of the following year if you candidate wins. I’m not sure Plouffe will be much of an improvement.
At the final cabinet meeting of the year, on Dec. 8, the president renewed his request that if any members intended to step down, they needed to signal their intentions. White House officials said they believed that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is the only cabinet member who definitely plans to leave next year, although one other departure is possible.
This is one I have no idea about who the replacement will be. Many names have been bandied about, but this is a very critical position. My guess is Joe Biden is going to try to exert some influence here and we most likely are not going to be happy with the choice – nor is the military.
One departure that many will welcome – if it happens – is Bagdad Bob Gibson:
But at the midpoint of his term, several aides are considering new opportunities, including the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Mr. Gibbs will probably either become a senior adviser to the president or work outside the White House, defending Mr. Obama on television and beginning to define the field of 2012 Republican presidential candidates. The leading contenders for his job are Jay Carney, a spokesman for Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and Bill Burton, a deputy press secretary.
Now Gibson has been no worse than some of the worst press secretaries I’ve witnessed over the year, but there’s something about his manner that just irritates beyond the usual irritation level. Certainly I wouldn’t want to have that job in any circumstance, but if it is your job, you should at least bring some level of integrity to it, and I’ve not seen that at all during Gibson’s tenure. I have no idea if the 2 possible contenders would be better than Gibson in that area (maybe the job preclude integrity) but it would be nice to see if they would.,
Something as predictable as the dawn is going on within the administration as well:
Two months before the midterm elections, even before it became clear that Democrats would lose their Congressional majority, the president ordered a review of how the White House operated and how it could be modernized. The mission of the Reorganization Plan, as it is called at the White House, expanded after the sweeping Republican victory.
Pete Rouse, now the interim White House chief of staff, was already working on the plan in October when Rahm Emanuel stepped down as chief of staff to run for mayor of Chicago. The process has been a highly guarded secret even inside the White House, with Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser; Robert F. Bauer, the general counsel; and Mr. Axelrod also providing guidance.
The president was frustrated by the bureaucracy of the administration, aides said, and asked Mr. Rouse to recommend ways to improve internal communication and efficiency.
Yes, it must have been the organization of the administration that contributed to the “Republican victory” or, at least, the inability to ameliorate the losses. In fact, of course, it had little to do with the organization or the message. Instead it had to do with pushing an unpopular agenda at a time with the focus should have been on other things – jobs and the economy. It is one of the reasons that even while Democrats celebrate the number of “accomplishments” rendered by the 111th Congress their approval rate remains low. It isn’t about the “number” but the desirability of the accomplishments that count. Voters signaled most emphatically they were dissatisfied with that Congress’ “accomplishments” in a most damning way in November.
Of course a true bureaucrats answer to such a defeat is to tinker with the bureaucracy looking for ways to “improve internal communication and efficiency” even while improvements in both would be irrelevant to the real reason for they administration’s perceived failures the previous two years.
And, a new strategy is emerging which smacks of what? In a word, campaigning:
Mr. Obama intends not only to extend a hand to Republicans but also to begin detaching himself more from Congress and spending more time making his case directly to the American people.
He may find it harder to “detach” himself from Congress than he thinks, although if successful he might gain a few approval points. But if history is any teacher, the “detachment” will be an acrimonious one with the usual attempt at blame shifting common to the Obama presidency to this point. And the people have pointedly said any number of times that they’re tired of the president trying to blame everyone else for his problems.
And how about an imperial presidency? I have to wonder if the rabid left, who got so exercised about George Bush’s use of executive orders will find it within themselves to level the same criticism at Obama?
“In a world of divided government, getting things done requires a mix of compromise and confrontation,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “What are the things you can do without Congress? In some cases, that involves executive orders, but it also involves using the bully pulpit of the presidency to make a political argument about the direction of the country.”
Interestingly the man who was touted as the 2nd “great communicator” has been singularly ineffective in his first two years of effectively using the bully pulpit the presidency provides. Will he rally his supporters in the next 2 years with its use? Or will he remain the same ineffective communicator he’s been these past two years? Have the American people finally seen through this guy and his penchant for high sounding rhetoric? Can they again be seduced into voting for a guy who many (among those who voted for him) have come to consider an empty suit?
Stay tuned for 2011. It will indeed be an interesting year.