Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In search of a solution

John Podesta, who was a pretty bright light in the Clinton era is quoted in the NYT today arguing that the president has failed because he has become a "legislative" president.  He concentrated too much on getting bills passed (Stimulus, Health Care, Financial Reform) and not enough on rallying the American people.  If that is the best that democrat thinkers can come up with they are in real trouble.

Podesta argues that by concentrating on Congress he missed opportunities to engage groups like GOP governors.  That allowed the congressional republicans to concentrate on his program proposals.  At the same time he argues that this narrowed the playing field too much.  It also established that if his set of proposals did not solve the problems that he could be looked at as ineffective.

With all due respect, that is utter nonsense.   There are two reasons why the President's standing is where it is - besides the normal decline that any president faces two years into a term.  First and foremost has been his agenda.  The President's budgets have, despite protestations by lap dogs like Paul Krugman, been monumental in their deficits.  At the same time, a good part of the President's agenda looks like a saved up wish list from the left that a good portion of the American people fundamentally disagree with.
Healthcare is an issue that concerns most every American but the fundamentally conflicting goals of reducing cost increases and extending coverage to all probably could not be solved in one bill.  What the American people perceive is that the president wants to significantly expand the role of government.

But second, despite protestations, the President did almost nothing in trying to attract GOP support.   Speaker Pelosi and Majority Reid seemed intent on excluding GOP ideas and the president and his people went along with that strategy.   Roosevelt could exercise that kind of leadership, at least early in his presidency, because there were no alternative media in those days.  But this president, for all of his seeming knowledge of social media, seems to not understand that communication involves something larger than speaking to his own crowd.  In order to lead you cannot simply preach.

The danger of being a powerful speaker, as many believe Obama is, is that sooner or later you begin to believe that your rhetoric is all powerful.  Ultimately, the power of rhetoric is backed up by actions and in this case the president has failed to back up his "change" rhetoric with any tangible efforts to engage anyone but his own supporters.

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