Monday, February 09, 2009

Mr. Obama's Bad Week

Let's see, how bad was last week for President Obama?

Two of his nominees had to bow out because of tax problems. One of them, Daschle, also turned out to be a lobbyist in all but name. His nominee for heading the CIA also turns out to have lobbying connections. So much for the most ethical administration in history.

Then there is the stimulus bill. Obama promised that it would be focused on infrastructure and totally transparent with no earmarks. Then he let the business-as-usual crowd in Congress write it. They treated it as a chance to hide everyone's pet projects. The earmarks are there but they are hidden a bit better than usual. On top of that, there is a clause about Buy American that has already drawn sharp responses from Canada and the European Union.

Obama's charm offensive on the Republicans was a total failure. They said afterward that he was charming but that he had been given a bad bill that they couldn't support. All of the Republicans and half of the Blue Dog Democrats (11) voted against the bill. So far the only bipartisan support has been for voting against the bill. Obama still got it through the House and it looks like he will get the Senate to pass it but it is an ugly win. So much for post-partisanship.

Then there was the gathering of Democrats in Williamsburg at the end of the week. After complaining about Wall Street executives using public funds for expensive retreats, the Democrats did the same thing. In addressing them, Obama seems to have lost his eloquence and resorted to the same fear-mongering that Democrats complained about President Bush using.

To top it all off, things got so bad mid-week that the Obamas had to get out of the White House so they visited a charter school and the President talked about Batman and Spider-Man. What will he do in a real crisis?

So, how bad is the damage? This writer at Slate thinks that Obama will emerge stronger. Because he can learn something from it and because a little humility is a good thing. This assumes that Obama does learn anything. Time will tell.

Regardless of any personal growth that Obama might gain from this week, he is weakened in several ways.

He is no longer the post-partisan president. Obama was supposed to convince the other side to adopt his positions without having to resort to the messy compromises that upset liberals during the Clinton years. We knew that no one could live up to that but we didn't know that he would disprove it so fast.

All claims to doing away with business as usual in Washington are also gone.

In his first major piece of legislation he knuckled under to Pelosi and the Congressional Democrats. This was supposed to be a bill about infrastructure but that was reduced to a tiny portion of the bill.

He enabled a Republican resurgence. Under Bush, Republicans spent so freely that the Democrats ran as the party of fiscal restraint in 2006. Now, Obama has introduced a bill nearly equal to all discretionary spending for a year. Republican excesses now look restrained. Just two weeks ago Republicans were irrelevant. Now they are united and relevant.

He pushed through a bill that the public doesn't want. Polls show that slightly over 50% of the population thinks the stimulus will hurt the economy. Several economists including three Nobel Prize winners and the Congressional Budget Office project that the bill will hurt the economy later on. Obama should have picked up on all of this and withdrawn the bill for reworking. This would have shown that he and not Pelosi is in charge, that he is post-partisan, and drawn the fangs of the Republicans. Instead he got angry. He pointed out several times that he won the election as if that made him king of the world instead of President of the United States.

In short, he diminished himself.

Several days ago I said that the president Obama most resembled was Bill Clinton. This week reminds me of the first couple of Clinton years when they had one blunder after another. Clinton eventually recovered but not before losing both houses of Congress. Clinton himself admitted that he was at best a B-level president. This may be the best that Obama can aspire to being.

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