Free Markets, Free People
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.
How does one pound on CEOs and their perks when the same person (who has just run up record deficits and signed a 410 billion pork bill) indulges himself in this sort of waste of the taxpayer’s money?
When you’re the president of the United States, only the best pizza will do – even if that means flying a chef 860 miles.
Chris Sommers, 33, jetted into Washington from St Louis, Missouri, on Thursday with a suitcase of dough, cheese and pans to to prepare food for the Obamas and their staff.
He had apparently been handpicked after the President had tasted his pizzas on the campaign trail last autumn.
I assume Fightin’ Joe Biden will be calling him out on this. And Al Gore will be lamenting the pizza with the huge carbon foot print.
This is what I mean when I smack this guy around for lack of leadership. This is a classic case study of how not to lead. He still doesn’t seem to realize that a real leader leads by example, not by decree.
I continue to be amazed that seemingly smart people are just suddenly figuring this out. “Blinders” doesn’t begin to describe what it must have taken to ignore Obama’s lack of experience and to hope the fact that he’d never displayed a scintilla of leadership in anything he’d ever done would somehow rectify itself prior to his assumption of office.
The latest to drop the blinders is the Economist, which heartily endorsed Obama’s election:
His performance has been weaker than those who endorsed his candidacy, including this newspaper, had hoped. Many of his strongest supporters—liberal columnists, prominent donors, Democratic Party stalwarts—have started to question him. As for those not so beholden, polls show that independent voters again prefer Republicans to Democrats, a startling reversal of fortune in just a few weeks. Mr Obama’s once-celestial approval ratings are about where George Bush’s were at this stage in his awful presidency. Despite his resounding electoral victory, his solid majorities in both chambers of Congress and the obvious goodwill of the bulk of the electorate, Mr Obama has seemed curiously feeble.
You can still read read the disbelief in that paragraph. Question for the Economist – what leadership position of any importance has the man ever held that would indicate he had what it took to lead as President?
And why didn’t you explore that question, its answer and ramifications before you jumped on the Hope and Change bandwagon?
UPDATE: Ed Morrisey at Hot Air has thoughts on the article as well.
This is just pathetic:
President Barack Obama signed a $410 billion spending bill Wednesday that includes thousands of pet projects inserted by lawmakers, even as he unveiled new rules to restrict such so-called earmarks.
At the same time, after Democrats criticized former President George W. Bush’s signing statements, Mr. Obama issued one of his own, declaring five provisions in the spending bill to be unconstitutional and nonbinding, including one aimed at preventing punishment of whistleblowers.
Presidents have employed signing statements to reject provisions of a bill without vetoing the entire legislation. Democrats and some Republicans have complained that Mr. Bush abused such statements by declaring that he would ignore congressional intent on more than 1,200 sections of bills, easily a record. Mr. Obama has ordered a review of his predecessor’s signing statements and said he would rein in the practice.
“We’re having a repeat of what Democrats bitterly complained about under President Bush,” said Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), who drafted legislation to nullify Mr. Bush’s signing statements.
The president said the spending measure should “mark an end to the old way of doing business.” His proposals, seconded by the House Democratic leadership, followed days of attacks by Republicans — and some Democrats — over the spending for local projects tucked into the bill.
This is an example of what I was talking about yesterday when I said Obama’s first 50 days was marked by a total lack of leadership.
Here was a chance to lead. After railing on the campaign trail against earmarks and wasteful spending, he signs a bill full of earmarks and wasteful spending and then, like a mom who yells, “boys, quit it” but never moves to enforce her words, Obama says “this should end the old way of doing business”. Really?
What’s the penalty? Another lecture after the signature? Had Obama vetoed the bill, he’d have sent the strong message necessary that his assumption of the presidency marked the end of “business as usual”. Instead he caved and created a fiction that this was the “old administration’s” business and therefore exempt from his pledge.
Talk about BS on a stick. If a president signs something into law his watch, it is his and not anyone else’s. To pretend anyone would actually believe that glib nonsense is incredible. But much of the MSM dutifully reported it as such.
He also pushed the fiction that if this bill wasn’t signed, the government would shut down. No it wouldn’t. Congress simply passes a continuing resolution which funds government at last year’s levels. But that’s not what he or Congress wanted. They wanted the 9,000 earmarks and the 8% increase in spending as well – thus the fiction about it being both necessary and last year’s business.
Then to put the proverbial cherry on the dissembling rhetorical sundae, Obama issues his own signing statement after making a press event about dissing Bush’s use of them.
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: