Monday, November 29, 2010

Stop Being Afraid of Obama

It is time to back away from the fear of President Obama. He is not going to transform the US into a socialist dictatorship. Mind you, there was plenty of reason to be worried about Obama in 2008 and early 2009. He used Fascist and Communist symbolism during his campaign. He talked about reviving the "Progressive Traditions" and it turned out that the Progressives of the early 20th century were on a first name basis with the Socialists and Fascists. He even appointed some communist-sympathizers. The county went wild over a photograph of the president-elect in a swim-suit in Hawaii. Celebrities pledged themselves to Obama. New York Times columnists, among others, openly called on Obama to suspend the Constitution, Congress, and the Supreme Court for a year or two and to just "fix things". Early in his administration, Obama announced to the heads of the largest banks that he "owned them". He did own GM and Chrysler after the government became the largest stockholder. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize days after taking office and awarded it during his first year based on his potential. With super-majorities in both houses of Congress, the Republicans had become inconsequential and were likely to become a regional minority party that only appealed to the shrinking older, white middle-class.

Now, less than two years later, it is obvious that Obama is not going to subject the United States to a grand transformation. He lost his super-majority in the Senate and his majority in the House. Most of the states are now controlled by Republicans. A majority of the country has rejected his signature accomplishments of the stimulus and health care reform. He has tried several proposals overseas and has nothing to show for them. He couldn't even get the Olympics for Chicago. What happened?

It is easy to blame the economy for Obama's fall but that lets him off too easy. Reagan's first mid-term election came during a similar economic downturn (unemployment and inflation were higher) but his Congressional losses were nowhere as deep. FDR managed to stay in office and keep his majority for 12 years during the Great Depression. If voters automatically turned out the party in office during economic hardship then Washington should have had a revolving door.

No, Obama's problems come from within. He sees himself as the ultimate authority on everything. He has been quoted as telling someone who interviewed for a White House position:

"I think that I'm a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I'll tell you right now that I'm gonna think I'm a better political director than my political director."
This is backed up by a quote from Obama's long-time advisor and friend, Vallerie Javertt:

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. ... He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability —the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. ... So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. ... He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do.

From this, Obama's problems can be distilled down to two traits - he is sure that he knows more than anyone around him but he is easily bored. We can see evidence of this in how he has governed.

He misread his mandate and his own role in his election. More people voted for Hillary Clinton than Barrack Obama in the primaries. Obama won because he did better in caucuses than Hillary did and because he husbanded his resources better. The same is true for the general election. He spent most of the Summer with a lead that was so slim it was within the margin of error. The Republican convention and Sarah Palin's nomination for Vice-President put McCain ahead until the financial meltdown. Obama was the first Democrat to win more than 50% of the vote since 1976 and won a higher percentage than any Democrat since 1964. The fact that those Democrats were Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson shows how little the percentages mean.

Obama is wildly popular overseas and he expected his rock star status to carry over to foreign leaders. Instead, many of them are dismissive of his policies. They are important leaders in their own right and resent him putting himself on a higher level. The Olympic committee should be the most important people involved in selecting a site but Obama's visit meant that they could not even cross the lobby of their hotel.

Obama made enemies. In his State of the Union speech, he told the Supreme Court to their faces that they had reached the wrong conclusion then made a misstatement about the effects. He made it easy for the Republicans to vote against him. Early on he lectured them saying "Elections have consequences" and "I won". He also suggested that Rush Limbaugh led the party.

All presidents eventually reach the conclusion that the White House Press Corps is an enemy. The Obama administration seems to have decided this on day two of the administration.

From the beginning it was obvious that Obama disliked Washington. His advisers tried the same trick that school-teachers use - field trips. He typically leaves DC at least once per week.

Obama's policies have long puzzled observers. His financial policy favors Wall Street. His foreign and security policies are refinements of George W. Bush's. He never outlined what he wanted from a health reform bill. After taking over the automotive companies and banks, he let them go again.

All of this points to a President who goes beyond delegation. He outsources jobs that he has no interest in. The economy bores him so he outsourced it to Geithner and Ellison, his economic team. He hates dealing with legislation so he allowed Nancy Pelosi to take the lead in writing his signature legislation and pushing it through Congress. He turned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over to the generals as much as he was able to politically.

So instead of a strong leader using a cult of personality to transform America we have a distracted leader who is easily bored and willing to turn over major policy decisions to others. He has gone from Man of the Year to Underachiever of the Decade.

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