But apparently, Barack Obama still thinks it does. Unfortunately, for him, many Democrats in Congress don’t agree. Mary Landrieu for one:
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said health care reform “is on life support, unfortunately,” and the president should have been more specific with how Democrats should move forward.
“He should have been more clear, and I am hoping that in the next week or two he will because that is what it is going to take if it is at all possible to get it done,” Landrieu told reporters. “Mailing in general suggestions, sending them over the transom, is not necessarily going to work.”
Obama’s been mailing it in for a year. Leadership in this particular case is when someone takes the lead in giving direction to the legislative product and process so when it ends up in Congress, the kinks have been worked out on both sides before they vote and enough are happy with the product that it is able to pass both chambers. Presidents have been involved in that sort of leadership since there’s been a presidency. However, it seems it’s a foreign concept to Mr. Obama. It appears he believes that Congress should take his nebulous and sometimes contradictory musings and mumblings and put a coherent bill together which is satisfactory to all sides. The “from on high” pontificating that apparently some scribes at lower levels are supposed to faithfully record and from which they are to somehow fashion acceptable legislation that will quickly pass doesn’t seem to be working, does it?
That’s not how presidents in the past have lead and it certainly doesn’t appear the Obama brand of non-leadership is having much success. Landrieu is trying to be as tactful as possible with her “mail it in” comment, but it is apparent that they have seen nothing in terms of presidential leadership on this issue (or others). So they keep wandering in circles fighting among themselves (something else a leader would attempt to stop vs. standing at a podium and chastising them for his lack of leadership) and have produced a monstrosity of a bill which they can only pass via parliamentary tricks.
The “sidecar reconciliation” is one such trick which, unfortunately for them, seems to have a show stopping Catch-22:
“Neither the House nor the Senate have figured out how to pass a reconciliation sidecar first,” one senior Senate aide says. “We are being asked to pass a piece of legislation that amends another piece of legislation which does not exist yet. We are having problems with the CBO and parliamentarian on that front.”
Got that? The House (Democrats) doesn’t trust the Senate (Democrats) to fix the Senate bill they are currently being pressured to pass. Therefore the House wants the fix passed first so the Senate can’t renege on it. But, you can’t pass a fix on something that doesn’t yet exist. So here they sit, in a parliamentary stew of their own making and with presidential leadership simply not present – except for speechifying and berating everyone else but himself for the failure of his leadership.
It’s an amazing performance.
An address that has become popularly known on blogs and Twitter as the SOTU. In the case of the one scheduled for tonight, some think it should be abbreviated as the STFU address, but then there are always some who’d prefer silence to the usual nonsense that takes place at the Capitol.
So what will we hear tonight? Well as we get closer, more and more is leaking out. One thing that leaked earlier than the rest is the spending freeze we’ve written about. 25 billion a year for three years. Make sure you listen for what the president talks about spending tonight to balance it against that huge spending freeze. As mentioned, we do many more times that amount of deficit spending each month. If that is the sum of his plan for addressing the deficit, he’s not at all serious about it.
The NY Times has an interesting paragraph in their preview of the SOTU.
When Mr. Obama presents his first State of the Union address on Wednesday evening, aides said he would accept responsibility, though not necessarily blame, for failing to deliver swiftly on some of the changes he promised a year ago. But he will not, aides said, accede to criticism that his priorities are out of step with the nation’s.
First, he will accept the “responsibility” but not necessarily the “blame”? How’s that work? If you’re responsible for something and it doesn’t get done, who else is to blame? Another in a long line of indicators that this guy is not a leader. One of the first things any company commander makes clear to a new platoon leader is the platoon leader is responsible for everything that does or doesn’t happen in his platoon. And that platoon leader knows exactly who the company commander will blame. The same is going to happen here. Obama may decide he’s not going to accept blame, but he’s really not the final arbiter on that, is he?
However, if that’s the Obama game plan, it will be interesting to hear to whom or what he tries to shift the blame. Bush, of course, is in for a round of finger pointing (perhaps more obliquely than usual, but I’m sure it will be there). One thing to remember when he begins that is the Congress – the branch of government that appropriates and spends money as well as making laws (and regulations) – has been in Democratic hands for the last 4 years.
I’d bet he’ll also set his sights on blaming “obstructionist” Republicans. Of course to buy into the “obstructionist” argument you have to again be ignorant of the fact that Democrats have enjoyed overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress to include, until recently, a super-majority in the Senate. So it is unclear who he can credibly blame, other than himself, for not passing his agenda items except, perhaps, the leadership of the Congress. And we all know how that would be received.
Then there’s the sentence that Obama refuses to “accede to criticism that his priorities are out of step with the nation’s”. Pure arrogance. Pure hubris. Poll after poll have made it clear the majority of Americans do not want this monstrosity of a health care bill specifically and in general they want government’s size and expenditures reigned in. And the sooner the better.
Obama and his team still haven’t recognized the fact that the entire political landscape changed with the financial crisis. He seems to think if he gives that crisis enough lip service while proceeding with an agenda ancillary to it, he can still do the agenda. No. Not true. All one has to do is read the Pew survey I posted yesterday to understand where the public’s attention is and where the public wants government’s attention focused. Almost without exception it’s the economy and jobs. All the rest is simply not important. The bunch in DC better figure it out and do so quickly or, as has been promised, they’ll get someone who will – beginning this year with the mid-terms.
So in effect, doubling down on an ineffective and unpopular decision doesn’t make one a strong leader. Instead, in the face of what those who put him in office want him to focus on, it makes him seem more of a petulant and stubborn adolescent who refuses to change because the adults want him too.
As Mr. Obama navigates a crossroads of his presidency, a moment when he signals what lessons he has drawn from his first year in office, the public posture of the White House is that any shortcomings are the result of failing to explain effectively what they were doing — and why. He will acknowledge making mistakes in pursuit of his agenda, aides said, but will not toss the agenda overboard in search of a more popular one.
That’s incredible. It is the very same fallback Democrats took when they lost the presidency in 2000. It wasn’t the message, it just wasn’t properly conveyed. For them it is never the message, even after poll after poll tells them it is. The man gave almost 30 speeches on health care and the public still has said – repeatedly – “no”. What part of “no” doesn’t he and the Democats understand? Which again brings us to the last sentence and the petulance I describe above. It also points to a man who has yet to understand what I pointed out previously – the political landscape has irrevocably changed since he introduced that agenda on the campaign trail. In politics those who can’t adapt “die” electorally – and that is precisely where he and the Democrats are headed.
Finally, it gives lie to the contention that Obama is a pragmatist. If what the NYT is claiming is true, he’s the very antithesis of a pragmatic politician. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue who will not give up his ideological agenda regardless of the hand reality deals him. And that sort of ideological intransigence will cost him politically. While I can admire those who try to live their ideology, I don’t particularly care for those who try to force it on others. And that’s precisely what he is attempting here.
I’m sure there will be some surprises tonight. I’m interested to hear his “pivot” toward jobs and the economy. And I’m sure the speech will be eloquent. But we’re over the awe of his eloquence. It’s means zip anymore. Those 30 eloquent speeches on health care delivered what? Nothing. Even though I’m quite happy about that, it makes the point that he’s all speech and no action. He is “just words”.
Speaking of words, I’m trying to get an idea of what the over/under is on how many times he’ll say “I”, “me” or “my” tonight. This is the first SOTU for the most self-absorbed president in my lifetime and I can’t help but believe the count will be high.
It is so obvious it frustrates me that others are too ideologically or politically blind to admit it. The reason the Democrats are in the shape they’re in today has to do with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and his obvious lack of leadership.
Let me give you the latest example found in a Politico article today. It is, in fact, all about why the legislative agenda is in trouble and Democrats are skittish.
Congressional Democrats — stunned out of silence by Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts — say they’re done swallowing their anger with President Barack Obama and ready to go public with their gripes.
If the sentiment isn’t quite heads-must-roll, it’s getting there.
Hill Democrats are demanding that Obama’s brain trust — especially senior adviser David Axelrod and chief of staff Rahm Emanuel — shelve their grand legislative ambitions to focus on the economic issues that will determine the fates of shaky Democratic majorities in both houses.
And they want the White House to step up — quickly — to help shape the party’s message and steer it through the wreckage of health care reform.
Shorter version: “Where’s the leadership from the President?”
It is the same question the Democrats have been asking all year. Left to their own devices, Congressional Democrats have made a hash out of this legislative year. But they’ve been given no choice. Other than a general agenda, Obama has mostly been AWOL when it came to the details of his policies and the direction Congressional Democrats should take. Consequently the process has been left to the very disparate Democratic caucus to formulate and attempt to pass legislation. No leadership on what the legislation should and shouldn’t contain, no attempt to win over those who may or may not agree, no direction and help in fashioning and passing the bills.
And now you have Democrats asking, out loud, for the sort of leadership they require to pass this president’s agenda. And they’re simply not getting it. In fact, the White House’s reaction is classic:
The problem, from the perspective of the White House, is that fractious Democrats provide all the political direction of a nine-needled compass — and often send contradictory messages about how they want him to proceed.
Good Lord! Leaders don’t wait for those they lead to tell him or her “how they want him to proceed”, followers do. What part of “you’re in charge” doesn’t Obama get? They’re sending “contradictory messages” because there’s a leadership vacuum and no one is stepping forward to fill it.
The so-called leader is waiting for those to whom he is supposed to give direction to give him direction. Leaders step forward and give direction. They don’t wait on it from those they’re supposed to lead.
And you wonder why this year has been a disaster for Democrats?
Don’t expect it to get any better – it appears Obama, or “the White House”, actually feel this is what leaders do.
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.
It is all fine and good to have a discussion and even a debate about future strategy in Afghanistan. But probably not 6 months after you’ve announced your former strategy. For some reason, dithering has a tendency to be interpreted as a weakness, not a strength. In war, weaknesses are attacked and exploited. And that may be exactly what we’re beginning to see:
Several thousand foreign fighters have poured into Afghanistan to bolster the Taliban insurgency, the country’s defense minister said yesterday as he called for more international troops.
The remarks come as the United States debates whether to substantially increase its forces in Afghanistan or to conduct a more limited campaign focused on targeting al-Qaeda figures – most of whom are believed to be in neighboring Pakistan.
The minister’s comments hit on a key worry of the United States – that not sending enough troops to Afghanistan will open the door again to al-Qaeda. They also suggest that the Afghan government is nervous about the U.S. commitment amid talk of changing the strategy and a surge in violence in recent months.
This isn’t a Senate debate where you can take whatever time you need and if it’s not finished by the nearest recess, you put it off until you come back. Wars can’t be tabled. A war continues with or without a decision made by either side. And, in many cases in history, wars have been lost because decisions were delayed or not made in a timely manner.
The fact that foreign fighters are pouring in now has to be viewed in a particular context. You can’t snap your finger and produce “foreign fighters” in Afghanistan. They have to be recruited, transported, trained and then gotten to A’stan. So for the enemy to have these fighters showing up now would indicate, at least to me, that they have sensed some form of weakness in the American committment (and make no mistake – there is no NATO Afghanistan mission without the US) and they have been able to sell recruits on the idea that they’re about to turn everything around there and win. And note this: the Taliban won’t have any esoteric conversations about whether or not running us off is a “victory” or just “success”. They’ll trumpet to the world that they kicked our butt while they then barbarically subdue, punish and seek revenge on anyone who worked with us. They don’t care how it happens – force of arms or us just pulling out – it is still a victory. And everyone likes to be on the winning side:
“The enemy has changed. Their number has increased,” the defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, told lawmakers in a speech. He said that about 4,000 fighters, mostly from Chechnya, North Africa, and Pakistan, “have joined with them and they are involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.”
The longer the administration continues to dither, the easier it is for the radicals to sell their cause and claim the indecision by the administration indicates that, as they’ve always said, the US hasn’t the political will to finish much of anything that extends over a year or two. Bush would actually be seen as the exception.
Unless and until a decision is made and made rather quickly, recruiting should be good for the radicals.
And of course, good recruiting for them means more losses among our troops. Sure we usually have a high ratio of Taliban kills to every soldier we lose, but that’s not the point. The point is indecision emboldens the enemy and that ends up killing our soldiers.
There is absolutely no reason that a decision could not be reached within a week or two. One of President Obama’s primary jobs is that Commander in Chief. It’s time he started acting like one.
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.
I saw this on CNN’s Political Ticker this morning about NY’s Gov. David Paterson:
A new poll suggests that nearly three out of four New York State voters like Gov. David Paterson — but don’t think he’s getting the job done.
The Siena College Research Institute survey released Tuesday morning also indicates that more than six out of 10 say Paterson doesn’t have the leadership skills to be governor and feel he’s not effectively dealing with the problems facing New York.
The irony is the guy who has told him he shouldn’t run for the governorship seems to be thought of in much the same vein, not that you’d ever read that here. But the Brits, even in left-wing papers like the Guardian, aren’t at all shy about making the charge:
Many leaders and supporters are beginning to wonder what is causing this growing gap between the Barack Obama that many people saw on the campaign trail, and the Obama they see in the White House? Beyond Obama’s oratorical skills, which excited not only American voters but people all over the world, he is mostly untested as a politician. His previous experience was only a few years in the US Senate and a few years more as a state senator. A sinking feeling is arising among many that President Obama may not be up to the task, that he may not possess the artful skills needed to accomplish even his own goals.
Suddenly the left discovers his lack of experience and realizes he has absolutely no leadership experience and has demonstrated no leadership skills since assuming office. Wow, where have they been?
But the sparkling speeches have continued, haven’t they?
Of course, being a left-wing rag, the Guardian tries to make excuses for Obama by citing the Senate as a reason Obama has been able to move his agenda. Apparently the author is unaware that the Senate has been around since the creation of the government and other presidents have managed to get their agendas passed.
Yes, we’re back to the leadership question (or lack thereof).
But, back to the point, you have to appreciate the delicious irony of one liked but ineffective politician telling another liked but ineffective pol not to run for office. You can’t help but wonder, assuming things continue on the path they’re now on, if such a message will be conveyed by someone to Obama in 2012? Perhaps it will be delivered by Hillary Clinton when she throws her hat in the ring?
For those of us who predicted that, we may as well keep quiet because when we pointed out all the reasons Barack Obama wasn’t qualified for the presidency, we were waved off as people not understanding his exceptionalism.
Barack Obama was the one guy who didn’t need the seasoning or experience most would deem critical for such a position. Barack Obama was unique among men because he didn’t need to have “run” anything, or, for that matter have “done” anything. A stint as a community organizer, a short time as a state Senator and an even shorter one as a US Senator were all this fellow needed to pick up the reigns of the presidency and lead brilliantly his sycophants said. As for leadership, he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review, you know – even if he himself never published a thing.
Pointing that out was simply a waste of time given the reaction of his followers. They were positive none of that mattered and, many still maintain that posture today. But some of those he wooed overseas are starting to take a more objective look at the man and they’re not particularly thrilled with what they see:
Regimes in Moscow, Pyongyang and Tehran simply pocket his concessions and carry on as before. The picture emerging from the White House is a disturbing one, of timidity, clumsiness and short-term calculation. Some say he is the weakest president since Jimmy Carter.
The grizzled veterans of the Democratic leadership in Congress have found Mr Obama and his team of bright young advisers a pushover. That has gravely weakened his flagship domestic campaign, for health-care reform, which fails to address the greatest weakness of the American system: its inflated costs. His free trade credentials are increasingly tarnished too. His latest blunder is imposing tariffs on tyre imports from China, in the hope of gaining a little more union support for health care. But at a time when America’s leadership in global economic matters has never been more vital, that is a dreadful move, hugely undermining its ability to stop other countries engaging in a ruinous spiral of protectionism.
Even good moves are ruined by bad presentation. Changing Mr Bush’s costly and untried missile-defence scheme for something workable was sensible. But offensively casual treatment of east European allies such as Poland made it easy for his critics to portray it as naïve appeasement of the regime in Moscow.
I disagree on some of the particulars of Edward Lucas’ assessment but not the overall point – lack of leadership and lack of experience equal weak and clumsy foreign policy and disastrous domestic policy. The only reason I can’t at this point say “disastrous” in terms of foreign policy is the foreign policy disaster just hasn’t happened yet. But it will.
Mr Obama’s public image rests increasingly heavily on his extraordinary speechifying abilities. His call in Cairo for a new start in relations with the Muslim world was pitch-perfect. So was his speech in Ghana, decrying Africa’s culture of bad government. His appeal to both houses of Congress to support health care was masterly – though the oratory was far more impressive than the mish-mash plan behind it. This morning he is blitzing the airwaves, giving interviews to all America’s main television stations.
But for what? Mr Obama has tactics a plenty – calm and patient engagement with unpleasant regimes, finding common interests, appealing to shared values – but where is the strategy? What, exactly, did “Change you can believe in” – the hallmark slogan of his campaign – actually mean?
The President’s domestic critics who accuse him of being the sinister wielder of a socialist master-plan are wide of the mark. The man who has run nothing more demanding than the Harvard Law Review is beginning to look out of his depth in the world’s top job. His credibility is seeping away, and it will require concrete achievements rather than more soaring oratory to recover it.
The unplesant conclusion Mr. Lucas has reached is the Obama critics were right – they’re “just words” with nothing there to back them up. The speeches are rhetorically pleasing, well delivered and substantive. But he’s never, ever had to really apply them in any concrete way during his short political career. They’ve been his passport from job to job. He has no record of substantive legislation, no legacy of hard work or leadership. He’s proving to be what every one of the critics said he was – a face man. An empty suit with one sterling ability – delivering a speech. But other than that, there’s just not much there.
If the Obama administration were a flotilla of ships, it might be sending out an SOS right about now. ObamaCare has hit the political equivalent of an iceberg. And last week the president’s international prestige was broadsided by the Scots, who set free the Lockerbie bomber without the least consideration of American concerns. Mr. Obama’s campaign promise of restoring common sense to budget management is sleeping with the fishes.
This administration needs a win. Or more accurately, it can’t bear another loss right now.
Of course what she’s talking about is the administration’s foreign policy and in particular Honduras. However that has become a bit of a side-show in comparison with the domestic politics now thundering from DC to the townhalls of America.
Kurtz is noticing a disturbing trend if your an Obama administration fan. The base is not happy. And they’re starting to sound off about it.
He cites Krugman, Clarence Page, David Corn and Frank Rich as part of the leftist chattering class losing confidence in the chosen one.
That can’t be good. But some of it is inevitable:
A president is going to be smacked around from the moment he takes office and the uplifting rhetoric of campaign rallies meets the gritty reality of governing.
But what Kurtz is talking about isn’t the “inevitable”. It’s more than that. It carries more than a hint of disillusionment. He quotes David Corn, for instance, claiming that some of Obama’s policies:
“… have caused concern, if not outright anger, among certain liberal commentators and bloggers. It’s been a more conventional White House than many people expected or desired. . . . He’s made compromises that have some people concerned about his adherence to principle.”
For Corn and the liberal left, he’s been much more “conventional” than expected and that bothers them. “Change” was read by them to mean much more radical change than they’ve seen. The question, of course, is were they mistaken on what they interpreted change to mean or, to extend O’Grady’s metaphor, is the reality of governing causing the liberal ship to founder? Either way the Corn contingent isn’t going to be happy.
Arrianna Huffington, among others I’m sure, spots the problem I talked about yesterday – lack of leadership:
Arianna Huffington has lamented Obama’s “lack of leadership,” asking: “How could someone with a renowned ability to inspire, communicate complex ideas, and connect with voters find himself in this position?”
For the reasons I covered yesterday, this isn’t likely to improve. And that again is because it is one thing to communicate complex ideas and another to implement them. The former takes nothing more than a competent rhetorician while the latter demands a leader.
And even Paul Krugman is getting that creepy feeling that a leadership deficit is becoming more and more evident:
“Mr. Obama was never going to get everything his supporters wanted. But there’s a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line.”
So why this sudden disenchantment? As Kurtz points out, Obama’s history was known to everyone – the Krugmans, Richs, Corns and Huffingtons of this world:
It’s easy to forget, in light of Obama’s global celebrity, that five years ago he was a state senator in Illinois. Given his short tenure as a national figure, Obama finds himself having to prove, at least to the opinion-mongers, what he’s really made of. “Is He Weak?” asked a recent Jim Hoagland column, on foreign policy, in The Post.
Is he weak? Well, again, given that 5 years ago he was hanging out in the Illinois State Senate and since that he’s spent 2 years as a junior Senator in DC what would a reasonable person expect? What has he done that would indicate he’d be something else?
Of course this was all brought up prior to the election and waved away by the same pundits who are now, suddenly, finding out that their knight in shining armor is actually Don Quixote.
Now suddenly Obama isn’t living up to their expectations.
The president’s liberal critics tend to cluster around particular issues. Some see health reform as making or breaking Obama’s first term. Others are disappointed at the pace of withdrawal from Iraq, the escalation in Afghanistan and the delay in closing Guantanamo Bay. Still others argue that Obama should be leading the charge to investigate terrorism-related abuses during the Bush administration.
Of course that’s why the DoJ decision to pursue charges against the CIA is seen as a political sop to this part of Obama’s base (something which will eventually blow up in the administration’s face). But the bottom line is Obama just isn’t meeting the expectations of those who worked so hard to put him in office.
The reason for that is evident for some and becoming more evident to others. Krugman has figured it out although he can’t quite bring himself to say it and even Arrianna Huffington is beginning to understand the real problem – there’s a leadership vacuum in Washington, and it isn’t likely to be filled anytime soon. And liberals better get used to being both disappointed and disenchanted.
Politico carries a story today quoting Sen. Chris Dodd saying President Obama needs to “step up” and give Congress “more of a framework to work with on health care reform”.
Or translated into common language that everyone can understand, Dodd is saying it is time for Obama to “step up” and lead.
There’s a problem, however – Obama has never led anything. He’s not a leader although he’s in the ultimate leadership job. His background, as many pointed out ad nauseum during the campaign, isn’t one of leadership. And when he was questioned about that fact, his claimed his successful campaign for the presidency proved his leadership abilities. If that’s not an acknowledgment of a paper thin leadership resume, I don’t know what is.
It has become even more obvious in this health care debate that he lacks the attributes of a leader. His first reaction to opposition was defensive. He and many in Congress attacked those who opposed him (and that continues today).
He then went into campaign mode, not understanding that doing so doesn’t constitute leadership on an issue. Unlike a leader, he’d literally outsourced his signature agenda item to Congress. Then, without apparently realizing it, his statements during his staged townhalls were diametrically opposed to what was actually in the House bill. It ended up hurting his credibility further.
Other examples of his lack of leadership experience and skills have been evident as well. He’s been dismissive of those who oppose him, preferring to wave away or ignore their criticism. He’s rarely involved himself in the nuts and bolts of legislation thereby leaving it to the liberal leaders of Congress to fashion the legislation in their own image, not his. Consequently he’s not seen as a strong leader even by his own party – thus the comment by Dodd.
I’ve heard people say that some people are born leaders. If that is true, Barack Obama isn’t one of them. Charismatic, intelligent and charming?
My years in the military have convinced me that the vast majority of good leaders are made, not born. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I never served with one. However I have watched the development of good solid leaders throughout my career. In fact I was a part of the process, as it is the job of all leaders to train and mentor the next generation of leaders.
From the raw material of recruits and junior officers to Command Sergeants Major and Generals, these leaders were trained, tested, mentored and tested again. To gain the top rank they eventually earn they met the tests and gain the leadership experience necessary at every level to move on up the ladder one rung at a time.
Barack Obama has never been developed as a leader nor has he had to endure the tests a leader must endure. While I’m sure he’d deny it, he’s led a privileged life in which his charm, intelligence, charisma and a good helping of guile have been his primary means of advancement. And his political career has been perfectly tailored to take advantage of those attributes. Centered in the legislative branch where those are valued assets, he’s never been tasked to lead. Leadership in those venues is only vested in a few and with his short tenure at each level, leadership responsibilities were never vested in him. In general, it is one of the reasons that Senators rarely make good Presidents.
So he comes by his lack of leadership honestly – it is simply not something which was necessary in the track his life has taken to this point – but now finds himself in a real dilemma
He’s not a leader.
He really doesn’t know how to be a leader.
But he pursued and won a job that demands a set of skills he, to this point, doesn’t possess. That’s why reversion to what he knows – campaign mode – is his natural answer to “stepping up”. Given the attributes he does have, he feels that if he can just get in front of the media and the people, he can use his charm, charisma, intelligence and guile to convince them to back his agenda just as he was able to do during the election cycle.
What he doesn’t seem to realize is that’s not leadership. His days of uncontested speech loaded with glittering generalities and factual inaccuracies are over. “Feel good” transitions into “make good” when the presidency is won. Instead of talking about what can be, he’s now stuck with talking about what is. And “what is” can be fact checked.
He’s disconnected, not seeming to understand that it isn’t Congress’s job to read his mind and churn out legislation to match his desires. Instead it is his job to work with Congress to make that happen. He seems to want to reign, not lead.
As it stands now, Dodd is asking for something that Obama hasn’t the experience or ability to deliver. Of course Obama’s surrounded by smart advisers who must also understand this problem and are most likely working diligently to find some way to correct it. But again experience says leaders aren’t born or made overnight. And the presidency is far and away much to critical and demanding a job for someone to first be learning what leadership is all about and how to apply it.