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Genesis of a poor war strategy – Woodward documents it

The new Bob Woodward book – or at least leaked parts of it – is causing a bit of a stir in the blogosphere today.

One of the versions I read was Steve Luxenberg’s piece in the Washington Post.  The book, entitled “Obama’s Wars” is, per Luxenberg, not about the wars (plural) in Iraq and Afghanistan, but instead the war in Afghanistan (the supposed “good war” that we had to fight) and the war within the administration. 

However, the whole of the debate – i.e. the parameters in which it was conducted – was pretty much dictated by Obama’s desire to get the heck out of there:

"This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan," Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. "Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room."

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. "I’m not doing 10 years," he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. "I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars."

Now I have some sympathy for the "I’m not doing long-term nation-building". And I have even more for "I am not spending a trillion dollars".

However it should be noted that he’s not necessarily averse to spending a trillion dollars so much as he is to spending it on "the good war". And I’d also bet, given "long term" for any politician is "how long until the next election", that "long term nation building" means after November 2012.

Obama’s entire focus was on "getting out" of Afghanistan. I can’t help but believe the reason for that isn’t just a campaign promise – as I recall, Iraq was the war he promised to end – as the fact that Afghanistan is a distraction for a president who’d much rather focus on domestic problems.

And, with the recession, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, given the fact that his entire focus was on passing health care by hook or crook, you can’t even rationalize his domestic focus. It certainly hasn’t been the economy or jobs he’s made a priority (unless you believe the old Dem principle "if we throw enough money at it, it will take care of itself" was considered "addressing the problem").

Another thing that struck me:

Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the "classic" terms of the United States winning or losing. "I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?" he said.

This is pure, metered politics.  This is a man carefully avoiding anything that can come back on him.  Obviously a “country being stronger rather than weaker at the end” is the difference between victory and defeat.  His equivocation is simply to cover his rear end so if, when he hastily pulls out before the 2012 election, the country falls to the Taliban he has some wiggle room.

I assume learning the CIA is running a 3000-man paramilitary counterterrorism force made up of local Afghans is gong to cause the left some heartburn.  But it isn’t the disclosure that should have the Glenn Greenwalds of the left upset.  How about these:

–Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA’s worldwide covert operations.

– A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators. "They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally," then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.

After all the caterwauling by the left about the Bush administration this is interesting.  I wonder when they’ll start referring to him as “W Jr.”?

Finally, the surge decision – it was, per Woodward – exactly what many of us feared.  An attempt to please competing sides and, in the end, pleasing no one.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command’s request for 40,000 and Biden’s relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a "hybrid option" that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The 40,000 figure was McChrystal’s minimum figure. Instead of listening to the commander on the ground, he included "General Biden’s" desires. Result – more than Biden wanted (not pleased, or was he – see below) and less than the generals wanted (not pleased). Additionally Obama added the June 2011 withdrawal date which essentially negated anything positive about the plan – it essentially told the Afghans, “we’re going to go through the motions for a year, but you’re really not worth the effort.”

The Afghans have responded accordingly. 

But one thing that can and will be said of the strategy, given the Woodward disclosures, is no matter how it turns out (and my bet is on poorly) there’s no doubt now whose strategy it is.  And “General Biden’s” role?

Well according to the NY Times account, he was just part of the plan to lower the number of troops the military would get by providing an alternative, no matter how absurd, that the President could trade off of:

I want an exit strategy,” [Obama] implored at one meeting. Privately, he told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to push his alternative strategy opposing a big troop buildup in meetings, and while Mr. Obama ultimately rejected it, he set a withdrawal timetable because, “I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party.”

Or said another way – “my mind’s made up, I don’t really care what the military says or wants, I just have to find a plausible way to seem like I’m being responsive when I’m really not because, you see “the whole Democratic Party” is much more important than prosecuting a war I said was important”.  Or words to that effect.

Obama also laid out his strategy objectives in a 6 page memo, but, per the WaPo article, “took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy’s objectives, what the military was not supposed to do.”  Apparently the memo is reproduced in the book and Luxenberg claims the “don’ts” were mostly aimed at preventing “mission creep”.  I’d guess it involved more than just that.

As for the rest of the article it details some of the politics and pettiness among the administration staff.  Nothing new there – administrations have always been the parking place for massive egos and such egos are constantly bumping into and bruising each other.

What a wonderful world.

~McQ


20 months after taking office, Obama considers tax breaks to stimulate economic growth

All sorts of things to talk about under that title.  So that calls for a bit of a ramble.

First and foremost, the title tells the story.  Why is it we’re 20 months into this administration and we’re just now considering tax breaks to stimulate the economy?  Note the word – considering.  According to POLITICO, there’s been no decision at all made on doing such a thing – if you thought the administration dithered about its strategy change in Afghanistan, this makes that look like a snap decision.

Let’s review:

Last November, Obama announced that he would turn his attention to unemployment, calling it "one of the great challenges that remains in our economy." He declared the same intent two months later, telling House Democrats he would focus relentlessly on job creation "over the next several months." Senior aides went on television pledging that the mantra would become "jobs, jobs, jobs."

But other matters – health care, the BP oil spill – continually stole the limelight, creating the impression, some Democrats complain, that the president was barely focused on the economy at all.

And now, “suddenly”, two months before an election, he’s “focused like a laser beam”.  A soft weak lit laser that sort of doesn’t do much but emit, well, words a bit of light.

I mean, read this explanation and tell me those who offered this as proof of his attention to the economy aren’t both tone deaf and just plain politically stupid:

His advisers described his attentiveness – noting, for example, that he discussed the economy with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) for 15 minutes before golfing – but got little traction.

Really? What in the freaking world has NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg got to do with anything to do with the economy. I mean, oh, goodie, he spent 15 minutes being "attentive" before they hit the links. That’ll fix everything. Oh, and what “traction” was he seeking?

In reality what happened was Obama was sold a bill of goods by his economic advisors about the effect of government stimulus.  Congress got a hold of the idea and larded it up with pork.  Result: spectacular FAIL.

They’re reduced to justifying the stimulus like this:

Many economists say Obama’s policies have been reasonably effective at pulling the nation back from recession. Last year’s stimulus package – now estimated to cost $814 billion – protected as many as 3.3 million jobs, according the independent Congressional Budget Office.

“Many” economists say his policies have been “reasonably effective” because some computer model says it may have “protected” – note the new word – “3.3 million jobs”?  Really?

Back to the “this ain’t rocket science” theme, but even if that’s true (and it’s very suspect) that’s about $250,000 deficit funded dollars per job.  And most of those, if I were to guess (oh, wait – “according to my model”) would be found in the non-productive government sector.  Result?  9.6% unemployment, no growth and no jobs.

So why, you ask at this late juncture, is he and his economic staff finally considering tax cuts?

Well, common sense says that the way to immediately impact spending and consumption is to give consumers more money with which to consume.  Make sense?  Yeah, it made sense 20 months ago too.  And there’s another reason that finally has seemed to penetrate their thinking:

All the talk about taxes—whether to raise them to address the deficit or cut them to stimulate the economy—may be having its own effect on growth. Allan Meltzer, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said the economy wouldn’t fully revive until Washington resolved uncertainty surrounding business costs, including taxes.

"Companies are cutting their expenditures and not hiring because they’re very uncertain" about these costs, he said.

Precisely.  Why in the world – as we’ve been saying for months here – would any business hire and expand in the face of this government made market uncertainty?

Meanwhile the political battle rages with the expected blame-game in full swing:

"Obviously it’s going to be hard to get anything done before the election, but it’s really important for him to try, and to make the case to the American people that he’s trying to do something and the Republicans aren’t letting him," said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist. "We are at the final moments here."

What the GOP isn’t “letting” them do is wildly throw another huge amount of money we don’t have at the problem.

David Axelrod piles on:

"We’ll continue to do everything we can, understanding that recovery will require persistent effort. There are no silver bullets," senior Obama adviser David Axelrod said in an interview Thursday. "At the same time, we have to make clear our ideas and theirs, and the fact that the Washington Republicans, having helped create this recession, have attempted to block our every effort to deal with it."

Yet the bar to passing any of this may not be “Washington Republicans”.  POLITICO reports:

But the administration will have a tough time selling nearly any package to some Democrats who increasingly blame the president and his ambitious legislative agenda for their own dismal prospects this November. And further states:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has repeatedly said the administration would go small-ball with any plans to boost the economy — and that the Democrat-controlled Congress had no appetite for costly, sweeping measures two months before what promises to be a difficult election cycle for the party. >

Emphasis mine, but you get the picture.  Democrats aren’t sure they want anything but if they do, whatever it is it has to work and work quickly.  Reality, however, is much more stark for the Democrats:

"Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing," said the Brookings Institution’s William Galston, who was a domestic-policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Indeed.  As I continue to watch the economic three-ring circus this administration has created, I’m reminded of the words of one of my favorite funny men, Oliver Hardy: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten [us] into."

Next up, the Three Stooges do ObamaCare.

~McQ


Uninformed, ignorant and living 30 years in the past

That’s about the nicest thing I can say about Courtland Milloy’s screed in the Washington Post. Entitled "Tolerance of white militias exemplifies the racial double standard", Milloy tries his best – which is none to impressive – to whip up a little racial hatred and divisiveness.

His two tools to lend credibility to his poorly constructed argument are the Southern Poverty Law Center, which sees a right wing conspiracy and racial hatred behind every corner, and a special Chris Matthews did – Chris Matthews – on Southeast Michigan Volunteer Militia.

Matthews special was entitled "The rise of the new right", but there’s nothing especially new about the SMVM. It has been around since at least 2002 and their website openly announces ("On line since 02/02/02").

Apparently the SMVM also saw some potential problems in perhaps, oh I don’t know, 9/11?  And it existed through most of the Bush presidency which, one would guess, would mean race has nothing to do with their existence or they’re wildly colorblind and just didn’t know that George Bush was a cracker.

Milloy claims:

Maybe Obama is just being savvy by not coming down hard on the militia. As Potok said, "There’s a huge amount of anger, and what we are really lacking at this moment is a kind of spark." In an apparent attempt to defuse the tension, Obama does such things as supporting a U.S. Supreme Court decision crippling D.C.’s gun control law and then signs a bill that allows visitors to national parks to carry guns.

Potok, of course, is with the SPLC and while he certainly is correct in pointing out there is a “huge amount of anger”, the implication that it is racially based and found solely on the right is simply unsupportable.  MIlloy is also obviously one of those who believes that only government should have guns.

And speaking of double standards, Milloy somehow forgot to mention the Obama DoJ’s decision not to prosecute a well-known black militia, the New Black Panthers, for obvious (it’s on film) voter intimidation in Philadelphia during the last presidential election.

He finishes with this:

Still, gun advocates keep him in their sights. They show up outside presidential town hall meetings brandishing firearms. When a young black man, identified only as Chris, showed up at one such event with a rifle strapped to his back, white protesters cited him as proof that race had nothing to do with their contempt for Obama.

But they missed the point.

Had the black rifleman showed for, say, Ronald Reagan’s "states’ rights" speech in Philadelphia, Miss., back in 1980, they might still be dredging the Pearl River for his remains.

Really?  From Philadelphia, MS to Philadelphia, PA – we’ve come a long way haven’t we Mr. Milloy.  If this is the best you can muster to keep the fires of racial hatred stoked, it’s going to be a long, cold winter for you, isn’t it?

~McQ


WaPo Tries To Spin Poll On Health Care

The Washington Post has a new poll out in which they declare that two of the most controversial aspects of the health care reform legislation working its way through Congress now enjoy majority approval. Those are the public option and the insurance mandate that requires everyone get insurance.

But I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the support for the public option is based more on a fantasy than reality. I think that a majority, if there truly is one, have bought into the talking points of “choice and competition.” Neither will exist once the public option, as envisioned by Congress, is actually in place. What leads me to believe that’s the case is this sentence later in the WaPo story:

Independents and senior citizens, two groups crucial to the debate, have warmed to the idea of a public option, and are particularly supportive if it would be administered by the states and limited to those without access to affordable private coverage.

Essentially what that describes is Medicaid – not a public option. Medicaid is administered by the states. Of course removing restrictions which prohibit insurance companies from selling across state lines and removing state mandates which drive up the overall cost of a policy would most likely provide “affordable private coverage”. But as usual those provisions have been rejected by Democrats writing the legislation even though they’ve been brought up repeatedly by Republicans.

Now I don’t equate Medicaid with the “public option” that I’ve heard politicians talk about.

Interestingly, deeper in the story and after trumpeting a “majority” now backing the public option, the Post says:

Overall, 45 percent of Americans favor the broad outlines of the proposals now moving in Congress, while 48 percent are opposed, about the same division that existed in August, at the height of angry town hall meetings over health-care reform. Seven in 10 Democrats back the plan, while almost nine in 10 Republicans oppose it. Independents divide 52 percent against, 42 percent in favor of the legislation.

In other words, the headline could have just as easily been “Majority still opposes health care reform” and/or “Majority of Independents Not In Favor Of Health Care Legislation”.

Instead we get “Public Option Gains Support”. That’s really irrelevant if the total bill is seen as unacceptable not to mention the numbers of opposed vs. those in favor haven’t changed since August.

But then, it all depends on how you want to spin something, doesn’t it?

~McQ


Dialing It Down On Health Care

Charles Krauthammer nails it today in an editorial in the Washington Post (and not just because he and I agree that something called “health care reform” is going to pass):

Yes, Obama’s aura has diminished, in part because of overweening overexposure. But by year’s end he will emerge with something he can call health-care reform. The Democrats in Congress will pass it because they must. Otherwise, they’ll have slain their own savior in his first year in office.

That’s party politics (which we’ve come to learn from both parties, usually means putting the party first and the country second). They are not going to be responsible for killing the presidency of a Democrat. But they’re also not going to pass anything like what they started out to pass.

So what will it be?

But that bill will look nothing like the massive reform Obama originally intended. The beginning of the retreat was signaled by Obama’s curious reference — made five times — to “health-insurance reform” during his July 22 news conference.

Thus the beginning of the campaign to demonize the insurance companies as “the villains”. And it is going to be a long and loud campaign until the “something” is passed.

Result?

Reforming the health-care system is dead. Cause of death? Blunt trauma administered not by Republicans, not even by Blue Dog Democrats, but by the green eyeshades at the Congressional Budget Office.

Krauthammer have a slight disagreement on this. Not that the CBO is the primary entity that put a lance through the heart of “health-care system” reform – and that is what Obama referenced repeatedly and, when you talk about type of care and changing the behavior of doctors, is obviously more than “insurance reform”.

Our disagreement stems from my belief that health-care system reformation isn’t at all dead, it’s just delayed. One things the Democrats are adept at is incrementalism. They’ve worked diligently for decades to expand relatively modest programs into huge, wasteful bureaucratic monstrosities that hand out money – at least that which finally works its way through the bureaucracy – like a political party handing out “walking around money”.

This, unfortunately will be no different. And even more unfortunately something on which the Democrats can begin their incremental construction will be law by this fall.

~McQ


What Will Be The Real Cost Of Health Care “Reform”?

From a Washington Post editorial commenting on the health care industry proposal yesterday to try to save 2 trillion dollars over 10 years:

But it is important to note what wasn’t included yesterday. None of the interest groups signed up for a specific number; no one is saying who will sacrifice what, or how much. All are promising to “do our part,” but the actual share of the $2 trillion that would fall on each pair of shoulders was not laid out. What would make up the substance of the plan? That remains to be seen. How would the private sector be held accountable for this promise to reduce costs? That, too, remains to be seen.

Of course, Barack Obama’s promises to save money through the usual nebulous “waste, fraud, and abuse” rhetoric are no more specific than those proposed by the “interest groups” yesterday:

Make Health Coverage Affordable. The plan must reduce waste and fraud, high administrative costs, unnecessary tests and services, and other inefficiencies that drive up costs with no added health benefits.

As is obvious, the assumptions in this sentence are legion and that includes the savings.

The White House has emphasized repeatedly that health-care reform is entitlement reform — that is, an answer to the nation’s long-term fiscal challenge. Yet, so far, it is backing a plan to expand coverage that would cost taxpayers between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion over 10 years, while it has proposed health-care savings of only $309 billion.

Calling it an entitlement reform and “an answer to the nation’s long term fiscal challenge” effectively lumps all health care under government auspices. An entity which has managed to mismanage the portion it has assumed over the years into a “fiscal challenge’ now wants the rest of the industry under its effective control with an initial price tag of 1.5 trillion (anyone who has ever monitored government estimates of cost know they are always low ball estimates which end up costing many more times the initial estimate).

I’d like to see the WaPo challenge that estimate and this:

Financing Health Care Reform. The reserve fund is financed by a combination of rebalancing the tax code so that the wealthiest pay more as well as specific health care savings in three areas: promoting efficiency and accountability, aligning incentives towards quality and better care, and encouraging shared responsibility. Taken together, the health care savings would total $316 billion over 10 years while improving the quality and efficiency of health care, without negatively affecting the care Americans receive.

You can read the specifics of the administration’s plan below the cited paragraph, but in essence it consists of curbing waste, fraud and abuse (as if that’s actually measurable in terms of savings) and increasing “quality” of care (an “efficiency” that assumes the present “quality” isn’t good enough), stressing preventive care (and assuming everyone will take advantage of that) and reducing drug prices (a form of cost control).

How anyone assumes even $316 billion in savings based on those assumptions is beyond me. But what one can fairly claim, given experience with government proposals and estimates, is that 1.5 trillion as a “cost” figure is probably well below its eventual or real cost. If anyone actually believes the government will be more efficient in the delivery of health care than a market based system (something we don’t have, even now, as government’s intrusion has distorted that market) will gladly buy into the claims being made. Those of us who have seen these sorts of grand programs and estimates before (check into the promised cost of Medicare and its eventual real cost) know that we’re being led down the primrose path to ruin by a bunch of smooth talking politicians who really haven’t a clue … again.

~McQ


Let’s Close All The Service Academies

And while we’re at it, let’s close the War Colleges as well.

That’s the prescription the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks puts out today as a great way to save federal funds.  Why is it the ideas these guy’s come up with to trim the federal budget are always aimed at the military and never at entitlements and the like.

Anyway, here’s what Ricks proposes:

Want to trim the federal budget and improve the military at the same time? Shut down West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy, and use some of the savings to expand ROTC scholarships.

After covering the U.S. military for nearly two decades, I’ve concluded that graduates of the service academies don’t stand out compared to other officers. Yet producing them is more than twice as expensive as taking in graduates of civilian schools ($300,000 per West Point product vs. $130,000 for ROTC student). On top of the economic advantage, I’ve been told by some commanders that they prefer officers who come out of ROTC programs, because they tend to be better educated and less cynical about the military.

Now, I’ll admit it’s been a while but I’m sure the dynamic is pretty much the same now as it was when I was in.

I was an ROTC grad. Anyone who believes I was as well prepared as a West Point grad to function at the same level as them doesn’t know what they’re talking about. In today’s parlance, the West Pointers were “shovel ready” while most of us ROTC grads hadn’t even begun the bid process yet.

Of course I’m talking about my initial entry into the Army as a 2LT (of course our NCOs thought none of us were worth a crap). I had a good idea of what to expect, what was expected of me and what I’d experience, but I was far behind my West Point peers in real actual experience.

In fact, as I observed it, at company grade (the ranks 2LT, 1LT and CPT are considered “company grade” ranks), the West Point grad and the OCS grad were usually the best officers (and with obvious exceptions, I felt most of the OCS grads were a touch better than the WP guys) while the ROTC guys were playing catch-up. Around the 5 year mark, at the rank of CPT, everyone was pretty much even.
west-point
Again, these are my observations, but as we moved into the field grade ranks (the ranks MAJ, LTC and COL are “field grade” ranks), the ROTC and West Pointers began to pull away from the OCS grads. However, at both levels, West Pointers were right there among the best because they’d been taught and taught pretty well to function at both levels.

So I don’t buy this fellow’s two-year informal study at all.

I mean think about it – I went to one drill a week, not a number off them daily. And, in advanced ROTC, I went to ROTC classes three times a week. If you believe that schedule can compete with 4 years of being steeped in the military culture, visiting various military posts and schools, lectures from leaders in your field and having real, actual leadership and command responsibility during that time, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn in which you’d be interested. Not even close.

Ricks’ tries the usual academic elitist argument as well:

They remind me of the best of the Ivy League, but too often they’re getting community-college educations. Although West Point’s history and social science departments provided much intellectual firepower in rethinking the U.S. approach to Iraq, most of West Point’s faculty lacks doctorates.

Of course, as regulars here have had the opportunity to discover, PhD’s aren’t all they’re cracked up to be as the one who roams the comment section here demonstrates almost daily. Obviously the “intellectual firepower” Ricks notes would seem to be a fairly important to a school of that type. I don’t remember any of the schools with ROTC adding to that process of rethinking our strategy in Iraq.

That’s because you’ll find some of our finest military minds teaching at West Point. They’re also immersed in a culture that inspires and promotes that sort of thinking. What they bring to those schools can’t be bestowed by any sheepskin. Many of them are serving officers who come from a stint in the field to the classroom where they bring a freshness to their teaching which is utterly unlike the stale academic atmosphere found in most traditional institutions of higher learning.

Lastly, the comparison to a community college education is pretty ignorant because it ignores the purpose of the service academies. They do what they are there to do and do it well. And I have never heard an academy grad complain about his or her education. Their ability to earn advanced degrees at elite civilian universities seems to argue that it is much more than the level of a community college (unless we now have community college grands routinely headed to Harvard, Yale and Princeton as WP grads do).

I’d apply the same arguments to the War colleges. They’re there to serve a part of a very important process – to provide the transition from field command to higher command and staff positions involving policy, strategy and international relations for the brightest and best. They’re very selective. They also provide the next generation of the nation’s senior leaders the opportunity to begin networking among those with whom they’ll most likely be serving as general officers.

So, as you might imagine, I find Ricks conclusions based in some fairly poor assumptions based in conversations instead of any real experience. Not that such conclusions are surprising anymore – we’re no longer strangers to journalists who think a couple of years and a couple of conversations somehow bestow a depth of knowledge about a subject which is simply irrefutable.

Personally, I’d much rather Ricks take a look at the massive waste to be found in most of the rest federal government’s spending and tell us why it’s involved in programs that build museums for Liberace, bailing out failing car companies, or paying to research the mating habit of wombats, or sea slugs, or whatever.

Who knows, he might actually know something about those subjects.  If we’ve got to get rid of something, I personally think this is a good idea.

~McQ


WaPo Offers Obama A Three Week Grade

While it was clear they wanted to write a gushing approval of his first days in office, even WaPo couldn’t quite bring themselves to “suspend disbelief” enough to do that.

I started chuckling at the second sentence:

But the presidency does not come with a magic wand; nor, we have learned, is Mr. Obama, however talented, a wizard.

They’re just “learning” that? My goodness, how in the tank were they?

Second discovery by WaPo:

The president’s admitted mistakes on nominations have served as a reminder that he is, after all, rather new to the game of national politics and the art of balancing the lofty aims of campaign pledges against the real-world demands of governing.

Campaign rhetoric, most remember, which was steadfastly supported (and apparently believed) by the Washington Post. As most of us understood, but WaPo is now discovering, inexperience in national politics has its price.

The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment. And if it was this hard for Mr. Obama to lure Republican votes to spend money, how will he manage to entice Republican support to deal with even more contentious issues, such as climate change or health care?

Grand promises of transparancy that were additionally unfulfilled on two pieces of legislation which weren’t rushed – the equal pay and S-CHIP legislation. Neither were delayed the 5 days his campaign had promised voters for them to review the bills prior to signing. Neither required the rush they received. The stimulus bill is just the worst of the bunch.

And while it isn’t necessary to entice Republican support on the more contentious issues in order to pass the bills, such support provides invaluable political cover. Given how badly both Democratic Congressional leaders and Obama handled the bi-partisan effort on the stimulus bill, there’s nothing that says they’ll ever change enough to entice Republicans.

Then there is Timothy Geithner:

The immediate challenge for the new administration, one that is harder and more important than the stimulus measure, will be to bring stability to the nation’s banking system. On that task, “chastening” is a mild word to apply to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner’s debut of the administration’s plan. The president promised that his treasury secretary would offer “very clear and specific plans,” after which Mr. Geithner laid out a blueprint only. The result was to undermine both Mr. Geithner, who is abler than he seemed at the rollout, and the plan, which is more promising than its reception would suggest.

Geithner, the man who was so important to the bailout effort that his tax cheating had to be ignored, has been less than impressive. Perhaps that will change, but to this point, he has done little to inspire confidence either among voters or the financial sector. The WaPo’s declaration that Geithner is “abler than he seemed” has yet to be proved.

WaPo then leavens its criticism with some faint praise, overstating the importance of the first two bills signed. They were simply retreads of bills Democrats had tried to pass during the Bush administration. Unlike what the Post tries to imply, there was no real leadership exercised by Obama or his administration in their passage.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama and the nation, the current economic situation does not allow for the usual margin of error; fairly or not, he will not be measured against normal historical standards. Sooner rather than later, he will have to find the right balance between reassurance and alarmism; sooner than in past administrations, he needs a full team in place.

Sooner is much preferable to later. Part of the problem we’re experiencing today is the alarmism being spread from the nation’s premier bully pulpit. “Catastrophe” is a word to be used sparingly from that platform and should be reserved for actual catastrophe. After calling for swift action and passage of the bill on Friday and claiming the nation couldn’t wait another hour, we understand now he won’t be signing the bill until Tuesday, a weekend Valentine get-away taking priority. That’s not leadership, and it certainly will cause critics to discount any such future warnings as more fear-mongering.

WaPo then contradicts itself:

Fortunately for the nation, while Mr. Obama has an experience deficit, he possesses a surfeit of smarts and steadiness.

He certainly has an experience deficit, and that is becoming increasingly apparent. However, given his recent penchant for alarmism as discussed in the article, it seems rather contradictory to then laud him for his “smarts and steadiness”. Smart and steady people don’t resort to fear-mongering to drive their agenda. However the unsure and inexperienced do.

WaPo then concludes that things will straighten out, and the nation’s optimism in Obama will be rewarded and, now that he has lowered expectations (through his alarmism), will patiently wait the years, not months, necessary to see the recession through. I find that to be mostly wishful thinking.

All totaled, the Washington Post, to use a phrase that has become rather trite in the last year, is trying to put lipstick on a pig. Following a WaPo article touting the passage of the massive pork laden spending bill as a “victory of historic proportion“, it stands to reason they’d try to double down on their presidential bet, hoping it all works out as they’ve imagined it will. But by their own words, the dream isn’t off to a good start.

~McQ