Sunday, December 5, 2010

The reluctant president

In the last week a trio of liberal newspaper columnists expressed disappointment in Barack Obama's presidency -- a feeling that the left has been tormented by for months. Paul Krugman and Frank Rich of The New York Times and The Washington Post's EJ Dionne call out the president for his seeming reluctance to take a stand and fight the Republicans -- who use bellicosity as a strategy, no matter the issue and the lack of connection to reality of their position.

And what will Obama do about all this? Ronald Reagan ... found a way to stand strong, to fight back and to win. We will soon know whether our current president has this in him. 
It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right. 
The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL.
They're right. Two years ago Democrats won in grand fashion, but they've struggled since then to control the agenda and to communicate with the public. Most of the responsibility for that falls on Obama's shoulders. There have been some gains, some important legislation -- health care and financial reform, for example -- but in each of those cases, and in others, the policies that became law were much weaker than we'd hoped. The Democrats emerged from those battles bruised and limping, checking their pockets with the strange feeling that their wallets had just been lifted.

This reminds me of a scene from the TV show The West Wing -- in fact, it's almost exactly where we find ourselves. Look at the episode's summary from Wikipedia:
The staff begin to realize that the Bartlet administration has been ineffective because it has been too timid to make bold decisions, focusing instead on the exigencies of politics. 
If only the Obama administration were to reach the conclusion that the fictional administration reaches:
Finally, Leo confronts President Bartlet with his own timidity, challenging him to be himself and to take the staff "off the leash." -- in other words, he seeks to "Let Bartlet be Bartlet." The President and his staff resolve to act boldly and "raise the level of public debate" in America.
Please ... let life imitate art.

1 comment:

N.starluna said...

Hey, I like the new look.

I am not sure how much I want to blame Obama for the failure to communicate. I think there is plenty of blame on the part of the media, particularly cable TV "news" in distorting, obfuscating, and outright lying about the president's policies, the actions and inactions in Congress, and the consequences of decisions.