In what will go down as one of the most egregious acts of calumny, many smart people accused Barack Obama of being incredibly brilliant and politically savvy, in addition to having the highest IQ of any political figure ever to set foot in Washington, DC. Some of these people hung on to that defamation in the course of the first two years of the Obama administration. Every display of ineptitude and every questionable political act were justified with “he knows exactly what he’s doing”, or “he got the enemies where he wants them”, or “he’s playing eleven dimensional chess”. Now the whole experiment is taking worrisome a turn.
At this point, the verdict on the Obama presidency seems to be a variation of the same idea: He is not who his supporters thought he was and he is by miles not “the one we’ve been waiting for”.
1st School of thought: Barack Obama is an incompetent bumbler who lacks the training and probably the personality to be POTUS. Moreover, for some incomprehensible reason, he seems to be dead set on being liked be the GOP, who in turn would like nothing better than crush him. (Sub-group: Obama was never the candidate of change he pretended to be, he is the incarnation of the status quo.)
Frank Rich has a very interesting op-ed column today, detailing many of the sorry aspects of the Obama presidency so far, especially the length to which he would go to please the GOP, without success, of course: All the President’s Captors
THOSE desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled “Understanding Stockholm Syndrome” in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim’s loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors’ “good side” and develop psychological characteristics to please them — “dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think.”
This dynamic was acted out — yet again — in President Obama’s latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington.
This column is a good companion to Paul Krugman’s latest in which he pretty much throws in the towel:
Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have.
What’s even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.
I would like to step back and address another issue: Obama’s preparedness and his personality to be POTUS.
Throughout the 2008 Primaries, Hillary Clinton kept making the point that she had garnered enough experience to get things moving in the right direction in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, that argument was ridiculed by Obama’s supporters. Now, it has become clear how detrimental Obama’s lack experience and knowledge of “Washington” is. Some of this is not necessarily Obama’s fault: Through his meteoric rise, Obama did not have the time to cultivate relationships necessary to get some things from law makers. Sadly, his cold and aloof personality just compounds the problem. Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, political hacks from Politico, wrote a surprisingly insightful article laying some of these problems bare.
In his effort to change Washington, Obama has failed to engage Washington and its institutions and customs, leaving him estranged from the capital’s permanent power structure — right at the moment when Democrats say he must rethink his strategy for cultivating and nurturing relations with key constituencies ahead of 2012.
Then there are faux pas like these:
On their own, some gripes about Obama look like little more than trivial violations of Politics 101. But they have had the cumulative effect of leaving the president and his team isolated from many of the constituencies required for success in Washington:
— When Obama was giving the commencement address in the University of Michigan’s “Big House” stadium last May, he mingled in the home-team locker room with university deans and regents. Across the tunnel, in the visitors’ locker room, several members of Michigan’s Democratic congressional delegation — including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. — waited patiently.
Some had brought grandchildren so they could get their picture taken with the president. But they never got to see him. Obama didn’t cross the tunnel to see the lawmakers.
This is not how the President behaves towards elderly members of his own caucus. Worst of all, he is not not loyal at all.
Let’s take the case of Nancy Pelosi, who spent all her capital shepherding Obama’s agenda through the House. For that, she was vilified six ways from Sunday. Not too long ago, a poll showed that she was by far the political figure with the highest negatives. Not once did Obama come to her her defense. From the Politico article:
Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) expressed a much deeper frustration to POLITICO: that the president never had House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s back — and it cost both of them. “They not only failed to defend her and her accomplishments on their behalf,” said Miller of the White House, “they failed to defend themselves.”
David Bromwich, in his article The Fastidious President, published in the London Review of books noticed that:
Obama does not like to be associated with defeat. He scuttled his support for several Democratic candidates – Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas – before election day when he came to believe that they would probably lose. He allowed his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, to say as early as last summer that the Democrats might well lose the House of Representatives. This degree of self-protectiveness is unpleasant in a politician, and is bound to make his party ask itself sooner or later: should we be more loyal to him than he is to us?
In Obama’s speeches the word ‘I’ (which appears frequently) and the word ‘Democrat’ (which appears rarely) are seldom found in proximity.
A combination of lack of experience and search for acceptance among the establishment is probably what explains some of his appointments. From David Bromwich:
We are learning now, from such sources as Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, about the oddness of some of the president’s other appointments and his treatment of them. General James Jones, whom Obama had never met, was asked to become national security adviser. Once chosen, he hardly ever saw the president alone. To head the CIA Obama picked Leon Panetta, a former congressman who had served as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Panetta was a complete outsider to the world of spies: it could have been predicted that he would be overawed by the company he now kept and come to defend their actions present and past with the anxiety of someone who has to prove himself.
And there’s this:
Of all Obama’s appointments, the most damaging to his credibility with liberal supporters were Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the chief economic adviser and the secretary of the treasury. Geithner has the air of a perpetual young man looking out for the interests of older men: an errand boy. The older men in question are the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the big banks and money firms. Geithner at the New York Fed had enforced – or, rather, let flow – the permissive policy on mortgages that Summers pushed through in the last years of the Clinton presidency. Summers himself, renowned for his aggression and brilliance, came too highly recommended for Obama not to appoint him. (…) The Obama economic team, with its ‘deep bench’ of Goldman Sachs executives, might have done better if mixed with economists of other views like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Obama knew little economics, however, and he took the word of the orthodox.
2nd school of thought: Obama is and has always been a Conservative. He is friendlier and more receptive to Right-wing ideas (err, if by ideas you mean with ideas, toxic and destructive thoughts) because he agrees with them. He despises the Left and he is about to destroy the soul of the Democratic Party. Oh, and his worship of Ronald Reagan should have seriously raised the red flag long time ago.
Adherents of this school of thoughts have become much more blunt and much more vocal lately.
Here’s Yellow Dog, in a post entitled We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For … Because Obama Isn’t:
It’s up to us, kids. This White House cannot lead, does not follow and will not get out of the way.
Face it: we elected a conservative.
Brilliant at Breakfast Jill doesn’t mince words either:
56% of American voters were hoodwinked by a guy who’s more like the Republicans than anyone even now wants to believe; a guy who BELIEVES in torture and assassination; a guy who BELIEVES in tax cuts for the wealthy and screw everyone else; a guy who WANTS endless war; a guy who is all about doing the bidding of corporations BECAUSE HE WANTS TO; a guy who feels every bit as “icky” about Teh Gays as John Edwards did, only who lacks even the courage that a weasel like John Edwards had to admit it; a guy who WANTS to gut Social Security and Medicare; a guy who decided to become president as a kind of ruling class internship; in which he spends four years doing Wall Street’s bidding in exchange for a nice eight-figure gig upon leaving office.
This group has very good reasons to adopt that opinion or to feel reinforced in it. Since the November 2 “shellacking”, Obama and his team has been sending out worrisome signals. Democrats have noticed and have began to seriously wonder. This explains why we have been seen a slew of stories like these recently:
Democrats in Congress are largely united on the major issues before them this month: extending tax cuts for the middle class and the poor, but not the rich, before they expire Dec. 31, and giving more help to the long-term unemployed.
Yet they’re unable to enact either provision because of united Republican opposition in the Senate. The Senate plans two test votes Saturday on the Democrats’ tax-cut extension plans, and GOP resistance is expected to block both efforts until the Bush-era tax reductions are extended for every income group.
While most Democrats blame Republicans for the impasse, a lot of liberals are grumbling that President Barack Obama is hurting their cause by not fighting strongly and instead actively seeking compromise.
Top Democratic activists and lawmakers who allege that President Obama blew it by being too passive during the midterm campaign, are responding in at least two ways.
They continue to criticize the president heavily. And they’re not waiting around for the White House to ramp up anti-Republican aggression.
Many disaffected Democrats complain that the Obama administration needs to be more aggressive in advocating positions to rally the party’s base and differentiate it from the Republicans. White House officials who attended the Democracy Alliance meeting, including Austan Goolsbee, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, were pressed about the administration’s stances on taxes, job creation and the environment.
This attitude has certainly be prompted by Obama’s eagerness to give away the Democrats’ bargaining chips before Roight-wingers even show up. You just need to open any newspaper to come across articles like these:
The White House and congressional Republicans have begun working behind the scenes toward a broad deal that would prevent taxes from going up for virtually every U.S. family and authorize billions of dollars in fresh spending to bolster the economy.
Back from Afghanistan on Saturday, President Barack Obama will find on his desk a two-week stopgap spending bill, designed to keep the government running through Dec. 18 but also marking a deadline of sorts for the quick deals he needs on taxes, the START nuclear arms treaty and next year’s spending.
Each issue has its own set of variables, but all are interwoven in what’s become a major test of Obama’s ability to cope with the resurgent Republican power after November’s elections.
Democratic divisions make this task harder since the necessary compromises by Obama will almost certainly come at the expense of the left.
Many on the Left seem to have drawn the line on the tax cuts for gazillionaires. Michael Hudson wrote a terrific post at Credit Writedowns explaining what a horrible idea it is and called for a revolt. He is not alone:
Mr. Obama’s Most Recent “2%” Sellout is his Worst Yet
Now that President Obama is almost celebrating his willingness to renew the tax cuts enacted under George Bush for the super-rich ten years ago, it is time for Democrats to ask themselves how strongly they are willing to oppose an administration that looks increasingly like Bush-Cheney III. Is this what they expected by his promise of an end to partisan politics?
To better represent this group, I’ll leave the floor to my peeps at BAR. They have been the proponents of this school of thought since Obama started running for POTUS. So, take it away Glen Ford:
Obama Moves Effortlessly to the Right
Only fools should feel sorry for Obama as he prepares for a Republican-led House and weakened Democratic control of the Senate. This is Obama’s “comfort zone,” where he can continue to woo Republicans to join his grand center-right coalition. The only people Obama has no tolerance for are liberalish Democrats, who will emerge relatively stronger in the new Congress thanks to the decimation of Obama’s Republican-Lite friends in conservative Democratic ranks. By freezing federal wages, Obama signals that he has no philosophical problems with the GOP’s general aims.
True to his center-right DNA, President Obama surrendered critical political ground to the GOP even as the lame duck Democratic Congress remains in session.
What was that with the “Catfood Commission”?
On Tuesday, Obama’s Frankenstein, the budget deficit reduction commission – a monstrosity he invented on his own volition, under no pressure whatsoever from his own party and relatively little from the GOP minority – emerged from solemn conclave to announce all 18 members will vote on a “final product” on Friday, December 3. Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles, a rich former investment banker from North Carolina, and his Republican counterpart Alan Simpson, the troglodyte former Wyoming senator, had earlier released their own, shared vision of a low corporate tax rate, barely existing safety net future. The irascible Simpson predicted that progressives will react badly when they see the end result: “We will listen now in the next few days to the same old crap I’ve been dealing with all my public life: emotion, fear, guilt and racism.” He means that people will be calling him, accurately, a hardhearted, racist bastard.
For full disclosure, I’m adherent of the 1st school of thought. However, I have noticed that 1st group is getting thinner by the day and that it’s members have either been tuning out, getting cynical, or joining the 2nd school of thought. For example here are some of the post on Brad Delong’s blog, just in the last 2 days: