Monday, February 9, 2009

Obama's Miscues

It took a reporter for an English newspaper, Toby Harnden of the Daily Telegraph, to articulate what is already worrying too many Americans about President Obama:

During last year's epic election campaign, Hillary Clinton said that in the White House "there is no time for on-the-job training". Joe Biden, too, remarked that the presidency was "not something that lends itself to on-the-job training". Both were aiming barbs at their then primary opponent. Mrs Clinton has since brought what she would refer to as her "lifetime of experience" to the role of Secretary of State, while Mr Biden has traded 36 years in the Senate for the vice-presidency. And the rookie they derided is President.
. . . .
The White House is now in damage-control mode. After Robert Gibbs, Mr Obama's spokesman, was lampooned by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as a non-answering automaton in the mode of President George W Bush's press secretaries, former campaign strategist David Axelrod was dispatched to television studios to make the stimulus case. However, this was tinkering around the edges.
. . . .
In the early days of his presidency, Mr Obama has seemed passive and uncertain. Instead of drawing up his own economic stimulus bill, he sub-contracted the job to Democrats on Capitol Hill. They opted to spend money on projects for contraception and beautifying the National Mall – their doorstep – and gave Republicans an plenty of ammunition against the package.

Slipped into the small print was a "Buy America" provision that sent shock waves through capitals from Brussels to Beijing and triggered fears of trade wars and a new American protectionism. It was hard for the President to defend a bill he perhaps didn't fully support himself. .It was hard for the President to defend a bill he perhaps didn't fully support himself. He neither championed the package as imperfect but essential, nor sought to make meaningful changes to it. Instead, he attempted to charm Republican centrists with his own personality and the trappings of the White House by inviting them over for cocktails and a Super Bowl party. It didn't work. Of 219 Republicans on Capitol Hill, only three voted for the bill. Introducing a $500,000 pay cap for some Wall Street executives was empty – and possibly counter-productive – populism.
. . . .
The activists who formed the backbone of Mr Obama's election campaign appear less than energised. Few answered his call for house-party gatherings at the weekend to build support for the economic stimulus plan. Mr Obama could be forgiven a little nostalgia. Saturday Night Live gently ribbed him, imagining a national address in which he breaks off talking about economic gloom to say: "Remember election night. Grant Park in Chicago. Nice weather. Oprah. That white guy Oprah was crying on. Good times."

Governing, as Mr Obama is finding out, is not like an election campaign. Mr Bush's failures will give him some leeway and his transformative appeal remains potent. But making decisions and operating the levers of power is something completely new to him. And it shows.

Ouch!

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