Free Markets, Free People

Simon Heffer

Lesson learned?

Simon Heffer of the UK Telegraph pens a fascinating look at the Obama administration’s problems.  Heffer finds the difficulties of President Obama and his team to be a result of their inability to manage “expectations”. The promise of the campaign has not translated into a promising presidency by any stretch.  And the reasons are legion.  But among the most obvious:

Mr Obama benefited in his campaign from an idiotic level of idolatry, in which most of the media participated with an astonishing suspension of cynicism.

Heffer notes that the “sound of the squealing of brakes is now audible all over the American press”, but of course, it’s two years too late. Unlike the determined and concentrated “vetting” of Sarah Palin by the press, things that would have been headlines if it were her, were virtually ignored when it came to Obama. A giant FAIL for the press and the result is sitting in the White House, looking less and less capable every day. Has that lesson been learned or will we be treated to another liberal savior in days and years to come? I opt for the latter and will be interested to again hear the press lament its continued decline as a result.

However, you can bet the press will now try to make up for its malfeasance with a vengeance. And thus the analogy to “squealing brakes” as it stops and changes direction, hoping to salvage some semblance of credibility with the reading, viewing and listening public.

Heffer also notes the telltale signs of a disintegrating administration.

It is a universal political truth that administrations do not begin to fragment when things are going well: it only happens when they go badly, and those who think they know better begin to attack those who manifestly do not. The descent of Barack Obama’s regime, characterised now by factionalism in the Democratic Party and talk of his being set to emulate Jimmy Carter as a one-term president, has been swift and precipitate. It was just 16 months ago that weeping men and women celebrated his victory over John McCain in the American presidential election. If they weep now, a year and six weeks into his rule, it is for different reasons.

Despite desperate attempts to characterize the failure to pass any of its agenda items into law on the opposition party, the Democrats have had the power for a year to pass anything – anything – without a single GOP vote. The failure is not a result of Republican opposition or disagreement, but opposition and disagreement within their own party. And only now, at the 11th hour with the whole health care reform agenda circling the drain and having lost their supermajority in the Senate does Barack Obama step forward and try to lead.

Meanwhile, the infighting goes on, the scapegoat has been fingered (Rham Emanuel) if failure is the result, and the clueless advisers who’ve managed this mess to this point give us Alfred E. Newman’s best “who me?” For those of us who oppose the Obama agenda, it’s been a thankful reprieve from something we pretty much counted on as being inevitable. Some of us remember the Jimmy Carter administration – and not fondly. Again, thankfully, the Obama administration is turning into the Carter administration on steroids.

Speaking of administrations, Heffer points out that, Obama faces what another Democratic president faced with the possible loss of majorities in the mid-term elections. Bill Clinton not only faced them, but saw that possibility come true. Yet he managed to both weather that and successfully campaign for re-election. But, as Heffer says, Obama’s no Bill Clinton:

But Mr Clinton was an operator in a way Mr Obama patently is not. His lack of experience, his dependence on rhetoric rather than action, his disconnection from the lives of many millions of Americans all handicap him heavily.

In fact, the handicap Heffer speaks of has become so obvious it is a joking matter now. Certainly it’s dark humor, but the butt of humor none the less. It reminds me of Hillary Clinton during the campaign talking about Obama’s lack of experience in doing anything by alluding that the only thing he could bring to any situation wan’t experience, but a “nice speech”.   She was widely panned for the comment.  However, in every situation faced by the country thus far, that’s pretty much all he’s brought to the table, isn’t it?

Heffer goes on:

It is not about whose advice he is taking: it is about him grasping what is wrong with America, and finding the will to put it right. That wasted first year, however, is another boulder hanging from his neck: what is wrong needs time to put right. The country’s multi-trillion dollar debt is barely being addressed; and a country engaged in costly foreign wars has a President who seems obsessed with anything but foreign policy – as a disregarded Britain is beginning to realise.

Not only is Britain beginning to realize it, but so is the rest of the world. There is no coherent foreign policy plan. Gaffes are constant. Our South American strategy, for instance, seems to be to cozy up to dictators while ignoring or actively opposing our allies in the region – like Colombia and Honduras. Or dissing them – like Britain. As one expert said recently, Obama wants a “quiet world” so he can indeed ignore foreign policy and concentrate domestically.

However, he appears to be failing in both areas. The rest of the world is noting the diminished American diplomatic presence and leadership and beginning to react in ways not in our best national interest. Domestically the lack of leadership has had telling results as well – factionalism within the governing party that has all but ground Obama’s agenda to a halt.

Above it all, aloof and disconnected, is Obama who, it seems, was under the impression that he was going to be a ruler who merely had to suggest what needed to be done and power of his personality and vision would be enough to have his minions fashion the proper legislation and pass it by acclimation.

Leadership is a very difficult art. Oh certainly there’s some science too it, but for the most part it is an art. And an unfortunate “truth” of that art is you rarely get a second chance to establish yourself in a leadership role. First impressions are incredibly important and lasting. If you are perceived as weak, inexperienced and clueless that will constantly work against you as others attempt to exploit those weaknesses. One of the lessons of leadership in the military, for instance, is when you take a new leadership position, you come in hard, make your mark and then, if the situation warrants it, you can back off at a later date. But come in any other way and you’re likely to see you leadership questioned and challenged.

A variation of that theme is now playing out in Washington DC as Obama’s leadership, such that it is, is most definitely being questioned and challenged. The growing perception is he’s weak and ineffective. That his only strength, as Hillary Clinton alluded too, is a good speech. That he’s all talk and no action.

While that may be greeted as good news among domestic political opponents, it is bad news for this country internationally. And it could lead to all sorts of situations which a very detrimental to our national interest.

That takes me back to the initial lesson to be learned. Heffer talks about Obama “sycophants” (Axelrod, Jarret, etc) and how they’ve done Obama a disservice with their advice. In fact the largest and most complicit group of sycophants that I hold most responsible for the present situation are the press.

They did none of the hard and dirty work of vetting this man that they apparently delighted in doing with other candidates, most notably Sarah Palin. They completely abrogated their self-assumed and oft proclaimed responsibility to inform the public and became cheerleaders and propagandists. And they did the nation a horrible disservice. And because of their overwhelming backing of a marginal and mostly unknown candidate who they found attractive for various reasons and gave a good speech, they ignored his associates, inexperience and lack of accomplishment. He now sits in the White House, his inexperience and ineptness obvious to all.

If there is any lesson in this which should be internalized by any entity, it is the press who should now be doing some very heavy soul searching. Hint: this may also help explain part of your precipitous demise and growing credibility problems as well.



Rudderless and Sinking

Here’s about as succinct a summary of the Obama administration to date that I’ve seen:

President Obama still enjoys the popularity that comes with not being George Bush, especially in a city top-heavy with Democrats. But his initial response to the global calamity that he found on entering the Oval Office has not inspired popularity’s more sober elder brother, confidence. Large constituencies, notably business, are voicing their scepticism openly. The President’s much-vaunted $787 billion stimulus package is being widely interpreted, even by some of those (such as Warren Buffett, America’s second-richest man) who openly supported Mr Obama for the presidency, as a serious failure.

And I don’t foresee it getting much better. Of course the summary comes to us via the British press (Simon Heffer) who have the luxury of being once removed from the situation and therefore have the ability to be somewhat more objective than much of our own media.

For instance, the much more perceptive analysis of the AIG mess:

Conscious that he has made mistakes, and conscious especially of the increasing perception that he is simply throwing cash at unreformed institutions in the hope that something will happen, Mr Obama is trying to raise his game. He had a soft target two days ago, when he joined in America’s outrage at the paying of bonuses to executives of AIG, the sinking insurance giant now buoyed by public money. This provoked further attacks on him from the Right. Why was he using US taxpayers’ money to bail out a company whose main investors were French, German, Swiss and British banks? And wasn’t he merely jumping on the bandwagon of attacking the bonuses to distract attention from his own policy failings – creating a bogeyman in the same way that Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman did with Sir Fred Goodwin last month?

And of course, we’re witnessing how poorly that’s turning out (you know there’s a political problem when the CEO of AIG comes off as a more sympathetic figure than Barney Frank and Chris Dodd).

Heffer says that instead of concentrating on what ails us financially, Obama has another much broader agenda:

Instead he has been trying, on a broad front, to fulfil the reformist ideal that informed his election campaign. Rather like a would-be government in Britain that talked of “sharing the proceeds of growth”, the candidate who wanted to redistribute wealth now, as President, has no wealth to redistribute. A $3.6 trillion budget showed little sign of addressing the problem of stimulating demand. Both big corporations and small businesses feel overtaxed, their competitiveness hampered, and incapable of creating jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. Mr Obama’s green agenda, which was also a significant part of his election promises, entailed higher taxation that will retard the economy just when it needs to grow. His greatest ambition – of starting a national health service – seems impossible in the present climate. As he seeks to move forward on this broad front Warren Buffett himself has attacked him, saying that his first three priorities should all be the economy. Paralysed by inexperience and a Blairish desire to be liked, and hampered by inadequate senior staff, he is now finding that even some of his own party in Congress feel he has gone too far in the socialist experiment. Mrs Pelosi admitted at the weekend that a second stimulus package – which leftist Democrats are calling for, to the horror of much of the rest of America – was not yet on the cards.

Dead on right. The line “paralyzed by inexperience and a Blairish desire to be liked, and hampered by inadequate senior staff”, strikes home. It is a particularly lethal political combination which we’re seeing displayed in spades. It is no longer a comedy show, it has become a horror show. And with the move by the Fed to buy back long-term bonds, the horror is only deepening.

And we’re stuck looking to Timothy Geithner, Barack Obama and Chris Dodd for salvation? Lord help us all.


[HT: Joel C.]