The pattern of failure is clear in the Obama Administration. It started well before his inauguration, or even his election. Indeed it goes back to the early days of the 2008 campaign. Simply put, it is a lack of a political purpose for wanting to be president. He doesn't have any specific use for power so he doesn't value it. As I wrote from very early on, there was no cause, no clarion call, no political objective that drove Obama. The closest he's come (and I really, really wish this would become a full-on cause) is with his promotion of energy independence and green technology, which is a large enough endeavor to have a profound impact on other areas of government and social policy. Sadly, even if he wanted to, he has lost the momentum that could have made it a powerful platform.
Krugman captures the heart of the matter near the end of his article when he says:
But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.It's even bigger than that. Reagan turned an equivocal election into a "mandate" by moving decisively to declare absolute victory and demanding that politics be conducted on his terms. Reagan was not merely a "great communicator" (i.e., knew how to deliver his lines well and look good on camera); he was a determined and consummate politician, understanding how to use power to gain more, and with an agenda the length of his arm. He generated results by recognizing and aggressively capitalizing on political opportunities.
That's what an effective politician does.
Obama is aimless upon the political seas, deeply distrustful of any overt display of power that might distance, anger, or irritate someone, somewhere. While the lunatics of left and right salivate over their snuff-film fantasies of guns near the President, the greater truth is the public is swiftly becoming indifferent to our hapless leader, resigned to more of the same-old, same-old from the monied interests. They don't bother to distinguish between the bank bailout and the stimulus plan because they feel the same - money for the well off, reduced living standards for the average Jane and Joe.
His approach is like a weak version of the most unkind caricature of Big Dog, too afraid of offending the Serious People, too much wanting love and approval to be decisive, to make hard choices,to draw lines in the sand, etc. It is as though he thinks we are in 1990, with Bush the Elder at the height of his Gulf War I popularity and before the recession hit, with Democrats entering the nadir of their Congressional power, and with a closely divided electorate, not in one of the most politically advantageous moments for Democrats since FDR. The current economic conditions are the direct results of decades of Republican malfeasance and voodoo economics, the foreign policy debacle is squarely in Cheney's lap, and the electorate has handed the Democrats yet another round of great election victories.
He has failed to present a clear vision of what Democrats are for, thereby defining an alternative vision to Movement Conservatism and letting the party know to move this way, not that. More damaging, he has not made clear, in unequivocal terms, the utter failure of the Republicans to make life better for ordinary Americans on any count. Bill Clinton even laid out the form of the argument in his convention speech:
But on the two great questions of this election, how to rebuild the American dream and how to restore America's leadership in the world, [McCain] still embraces the extreme philosophy which has defined his party for more than 25 years, a philosophy we never had a real chance to see in action until 2001, when the Republicans finally gained control of both the White House and Congress. Then we saw what would happen to America if the policies they had talked about for decades were implemented.This is the kind of argument you have to make to change the way people think. It isn't "failures in the past" but Republican failures. It is being willing to be hated by a fanatical rump group in order to be taken seriously by the majority.
The MSM wants to pamper and coo over its darling, which does nothing to counteract the unrelenting psychotic conservative assault on Obama personally and liberal political objectives in general. The coddling of the MSM may keep The Precious from suffering the personal violations the Clintons and Al Gore endure to this day, but it does nothing to quiet the right-wing noise machine.
The upshot? A lack of direction and a distaste for power (as opposed to adultation and celebrity) has resulted in a loss of the most precious commodity in politics - opportunity to redefine the terms of enagagement. Krugman ends his column with "[I]t’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn." Peter Daou, is more blunt (taken from Corrente as I will not link to HuffPo):
Vital Lessons from the Health Reform WarsThe terms of the debate have not and will not change until we have someone who can use a political opportunity to make change happen. Change isn't a campaign; it is a mode of political life. It happens because you want to change for a reason, and you fight tooth and nail to achieve your goal.
- The big banker bailout has been far more damaging than the White House can imagine. ...
- The anti-Bush moment has passed, and with it a huge political opportunity. ...
- Rumors of the GOP's death have been greatly exaggerated. ...
- Obama's campaign machine is not fungible. ...
- The old media machine is alive and well. ...
- The national debate is still conducted on the right's terms. ...
- We are a soundbite democracy and the right has better soundbites.
Obama explicitly sold himself as the next Reagan, but never understood what it was that made Reagan effective. Like the Whole Foods shoppers who confuse a marketing schtick for a political position, The Precious wanted to be like Ronald Reagan: The Movie! - the media image of an avuncular, slightly absent minded fellow who was loved by all - and not Ronald Reagan, the man who made the Movement Conservative wet dream of national power come true. In the process, Obama has made himself into the un-Reagan.
The other president Obama wants to be compared to is JFK. I'll have more about that in another post.