Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Momentum lost

President Obama seems to have lost momentum. The health care bill passed the Senate, in an ugly fashion (though that is how politics works, more often than not the sausage-making process is done behind closed doors, so the public is spared the ugliness of legislative reality). The climate summit in Copenhagen was not a great success, and seemed a waste of time. And now the underwear bomber has thrown the Administration on the defensive.

A couple of days ago Leslie Gelb wrote a piece warning President Obama against the Jimmy Carter-presidency syndrome. It well analyzes the drift of the Obama presidency. For one, I have been amazed at the start of the 2010 campaign: it kicked off on Wednesday 5 November, 2008, and again on January 21, 2009. And the Administration has never been in charge. Republicans have blustered, rode tea parties, said no over and over, and although they have not accomplished much, neither has the President.

Don’t be fooled by the year-end reprieve of President Obama because the economy looks a bit brighter and the Senate passed a health bill. He’s been pummeled hard all along the political spectrum. He’s in trouble. If he doesn’t overhaul himself and his administration quickly, right-wing bizarros will control Congress in 2011 and he’ll be looking for another job in 2013. He’ll end up a one-termer like Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush. Obama can’t afford to wait to make a mid-course correction a year from now. He’s got to make a quarter-course correction in the next months. He needs to prioritize and focus his energies on the economy, teach his opponents to fear him, and change some top personnel. Above all, he’s got to modify his own ways. He puts far too much store on being the smartest guy in the room and not enough on experience. He’d do well to remember that Jimmy Carter also rang all the IQ bells.

Gelb is not an alarmist. Someone should talk to the President.

Maureen Dowd ain't happy neither; she can be inconsistent, a bit quick off the mark, but she is very sharp, and not just with her pen. In an op-ed piece today, she makes her opinion quite clear.

I was walking through a deserted downtown on Christmas Eve with a friend, past the lonely, gray Treasury Building, past the snowy White House with no president inside.

“I hope the terrorists don’t think this is a good time to attack,” I said, looking protectively at the White House, which always looks smaller and more vulnerable and beautiful than you expect, no matter how often you see it up close. I thought our guard might be down because of the holiday; now I realize our guard is down every day.

Not reassuring, or reassured, is she.

W.’s favorite word was “resolute,” but despite gazillions spent and Cheney’s bluster, our efforts to shield ourselves seemed flaccid.

Flaccid; interesting choice of word.

President Obama’s favorite word is “unprecedented,” as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies’ penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he’s getting out; and failing to capitalize on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.

Aside from many speeches, and the health care bill he basically allowed Congress to devise (not a bad decision in itself), there certainly hasn't been much change. Of course, it needs to be pointed out that he is getting little push from his own party. And that is amazing in itself: the Democrats won the presidency, have a majority in the House, have 58 votes in the Senate, and yet seem unable to make things work. If the Republicans had 58 votes in the Senate, they would be passing legislation right and, well, right and center. Hell, with only 40 votes, they show solidarity, and unity. The Democrats are fractious, bumbling, and unequal to the challenge.

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

Now that he is President, this is his responsibility, and this breakdown his fault.

Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.

I haven't followed it closely, but I must say that today my  support for the President is flaccid. He never loses his cool, and getting a little pissed off seems right

The Daily News, no longer a right-wing bastion, is equally punishing of the President: It's time to get serious, Obama! The president uncharacteristically lacked a sense of urgency in his address of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's failed bombing of Flight 253.

Uncharacteristically might not be the correct word.

The attempt to blow Northwest Flight 253 out of the air was planned as an attack on the United States and very nearly succeeded in accomplishing that horrific goal. The moment demanded inspiring, decisive presidential leadership.

America waited four days for a glimmer.

President Obama's initial response Monday was too long in coming, too cool in delivery and too removed from the extreme gravity of the plot.

Not a good mark, no B+ this time.

Obama's description of Abdulmutallab as an "isolated extremist" was remarkable and disturbing. This radicalized young Nigerian is nothing of the sort. He operated, in fact, as an Al Qaeda-recruited, Al Qaeda-supplied, Al Qaeda-directed foot soldier - as, to put it directly, an enemy combatant, and not as the criminal "suspect" of Obama's description.
And Republicans will not miss or tire in taking advantage of this opportunity served up to them on a political platter by Secretary Napolitano and President Obama.

 Ultimately, Obama will be measured by a single, unforgiving standard of accountability. It will not be that he affords constitutional rights to terrorists. It will not be that he distinguishes himself by 180 degrees from his predecessor. It will not be that he extends a hand to the Muslim world and refrains from speaking of Islamist terror. It will be whether, on his watch, America suffers a terror attack from abroad, as almost happened on Christmas.

No comments:

Post a Comment