August 20, 2009

I’ve been wondering for awhile just how long it would take for the lack of management experience possessed by President Barack Obama to catch up with him. A fairly-recent product of the hard-knock school of Chicago politics, my view has always been that never in his wildest dreams did Obama ever think he’d ascend to the Oval Office so quickly. Most likely, he figured he’d spend the next fours of his political career in the U.S. Senate building his reputation as an up-and-comer, and laying the foundation for a run in either 2012 (if a Republican had been elected in 2008) or 2016, following eight years of Hillary Clinton’s presidency.

Of course, even the best-laid plans can go awry when events beyond your control take over, and when Hillary’s campaign began tripping all over itself, Obama suddenly found himself riding a wave of popular support feuled by an adoring, slobbering mainstream media that refused to seriously challenge him on anything – not his political views, not his past associations, not his legislative history, not his unwillingness to release any historical documents about his life.

In the end, running against someone with a whole lot of personal integrity but precious little in the way of personal charm or political convictions, Barack Obama found himself in the White House. America had rolled the dice on a charismatic but unproven politician, expecting him (perhaps unreasonably so) to usher in a new era of post-partisan politics and transparency in governing that would end all the divisiveness and petty politics of the George W. Bush years.

Pretty heady stuff for a self-described “community organizer” barely wet behind the ears in national politics, don’t you think?

So it’s not surprising (at least to me it isn’t) that the Obama White House, just seven months into his presidency, finds itself in utter disarray and completely on its heels on a number of fronts: his popularity is in freefall, Americans are increasingly gloomy over the economy and unemployment, and his legislative agenda under fire on several fronts.

So where has it all gone wrong? A couple of ways, I think, and Real Clear Politics‘ Jay Cost has two must-read posts about this on his vaunted Horserace Blog. First of all, Obama seems to be operating under an assumption that he was elected in some unprecedented progressive landslide and thereby given a mandate to radically reform America’s socio-economic systems. In fact, as Cost ably notes, nothing could be further from the truth:

Bismarck once commented that politics is the art of the possible. So far, the White House has not exhibited a good understanding of exactly what is possible in this political climate. It has been acting as though the President’s election was a major change in the ideological orientation of the country.

A lot of liberals certainly saw it as such. All the strained comparisons of Obama to Franklin Roosevelt were a tipoff that many were talking themselves into the idea that the 2008 election created an opportunity for a substantial, leftward shift in policy. Yet the election of 2008 was not like the 1932 contest. It wasn’t like 1952, 1956, 1964, 1972, 1980, 1984, or even 1988, either. Obama’s election was narrower than all of these. FDR won 42 of 48 states. Eisenhower won 39, then 41. Johnson won 44 of 50. Nixon won 49. Reagan won 44, then 49. George H.W. Bush won 40. Obama won 28, three fewer than George W. Bush in his narrow 2004 reelection.

Second of all, rather than lead with his vision and use his popularity to slowly and carefully lay the foundation for implementing that vision, Obama has repeatedly allowed a small but influential group of left-wing Democrats hardly representative of the nation’s electoral map to not only set the agenda for how the President’s vision of reform is to be enacted, but control the discussion by which that legislation is marketed.

One should not be surprised, then, that the result is not just political chaos, but increased infighting amongst those of his own party:

We can clearly see the source of the problem. Liberal leaders from the coasts were given wide latitude by the White House to write these bills – and, unsurprisingly, they delivered products their fellow liberals love (or at least like). But the moderate and conservative Democrats – whose votes are needed for passage yet who run the risk of defeat next fall should the broad middle of the country sour on the reform efforts – weren’t fully consulted, and don’t like the bills. Hence, the internal friction – which corresponds pretty well with age-old sectional divisions in the party (more on that in a moment).

It was always going to be a challenge to find something that the moderates could stomach yet the liberals don’t think is too watered down. That, more than anything else, was destined to be the highest hurdle for health care reform to jump. Amazingly, the White House waited until after the liberal House bills were published – and all the attending fallout – to take this challenge seriously, or even notice it! Because of this error, it is now in a substantially weaker position to find that middle ground. The liberals already have their bills on the table, so they are at least somewhat committed to them, [whereas] moderates and conservatives are at home getting yelled at by angry constituents, rather than in D.C. searching for that common ground.

[This] acrimony has forced Obama out onto the campaign trail, where he is making mistakes (e.g. the Post Office comment, the Cambridge police comment, and the AARP comment – all a consequence of the White House’s desire to get back in front of the health care story). All of this has driven his poll numbers downward, leaving him less able to persuade the marginal members in the caucus, who must get getting nervous about November, 2010.

Were I some White House flack not worried about losing my job for telling the boss something he doesn’t want to hear, this column by Victor David Hansen would be worth slipping under the Oval Office door. But that’s not gonna happen, because, as I’ve mentioned before, for someone supposed to be so intelligent, so charismatic, and so articulate (at least in front of a TelePrompTer), the political tone-deafness of Barack Obama continues to both baffle and astound.

Think about it: elected under the guise of a uniter and a post-partisan leader, he has allowed the likes of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and other prominent members of his party to call those who have the gall to earnestly and in good conscience question the rushed and radical reform of the nation’s healthcare system at a time of skyrocketing deficits, unprecedented federal spending, and looming crises involving Medicare and Social Security systems) “un-American”, “swastika carrying” brownshirts, and “political terrorists”.

And not only that. Just today, knowing full well he already has the necessary majorities in both the House and the Senate to pass whatever legislation he so chooses to push, he drags out Hillary Clinton’s old “vast right-wing conspiracy” to accuse Republicans of deliberately wanting to destroy his presidency! By taking this track, the President has abdicated his role as a leader and uniter; it smacks of political inexperience and a general lack of understanding regarding the role a President must play in being the elected representative of – yes, Barack – all the people, not just those who would happily and willingly drink whatever Kool-Aid you’re selling.

As Jay Cost writes in his closing:

It’s almost as if the President has absolutely no experience in dealing with the United States Congress whatsoever.

That’s so puzzling, considering how Democrats turned down the fresh-faced newcomer who could turn a good phrase on the campaign trail for the old-hand who had been in Washington for 15 years by the time of the nomination battle. Oh wait…

Just like I’ve been saying. But then again, no one listens to The Great White Shank.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 20:02 | Comments Off on Amateur Hour in Washington
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