Obama is His Own Worst Enemy

June 28th, 2011 at 9:30 am David Frum | 71 Comments |

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David Brooks wrote a perceptive column today about the deficiencies in President Obama’s leadership style.

He can expect a barrage of negative comment from conservatives who will reject Brooks’ criticisms as insufficiently spicy.

As president, Obama has proved to be a very good Senate majority leader — convening committees to do the work and intervening at the end.

All his life, Obama has worked in nonhierarchical institutions — community groups, universities, legislatures — so maybe it is natural that he has a nonhierarchical style. He tends to see issues from several vantage points at once, so maybe it is natural that he favors a process that involves negotiating and fudging between different points of view.

Still, I would never have predicted he would be this sort of leader. I thought he would get into trouble via excessive self-confidence. Obama’s actual governing style emphasizes delegation and occasional passivity. Being led by Barack Obama is like being trumpeted into battle by Miles Davis. He makes you want to sit down and discern.

Brooks says Obama is too passive and withdrawn? That’s it? What about the threat to the Constitutional republic? What about deliberately wrecking the US economy so as to impose a secular socialist regime upon the ruins?

Yet Brooks has laid out the most useful and effective critique of Barack Obama for Republicans in 2012: The job has overwhelmed the man. He’s not an alien, he’s not a radical. He’s just not the person the country needs. He’s not tough enough, he’s not imaginative enough, and he’s not determined enough.

In the throes of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the president ran out of ideas sometime back in 2009.

In the face of opposition, Obama goes passive. The mean Republicans refused votes on his Federal Reserve nominees and Obama … did nothing. Would Ronald Reagan have done nothing? FDR? Lyndon Johnson?

With unemployment at 10% and interest rates at 1%, the president got persuaded that it was debt and interest that trumped growth and jobs as Public Issue #1.

Yet even as he yields to his opponents on the fundamental question, Obama is surprisingly rigid in his political tactics. Back in 2008, Obama made two big promises: a tax cut for everybody earning less than $250,000 and an Afghan surge. I think it’s safe to say that Obama believed in neither of them. I’d argue that neither was important to electing him. Both were adopted for defensive reasons, to shield himself from conservative critique. In the very different circumstances of 2009, both promises rapidly showed themselves to be counter-productive. The “tax cut” promise caused Obama to direct almost one-third of his big stimulus into an individual tax rebate that no economist would have regarded as effective, for reasons explained by Milton Friedman more than 40 years ago. The Afghan surge promise was regretted by Obama himself as soon as he came into office, and he spent 9 months looking for ways to evade it. He proceeded with both, leading to the two biggest problems of his presidency: a stimulus that added hugely to the national debt while under-delivering on jobs and an expanded Afghanistan war that must end in a reversion to the same disappointing status quo that prevailed before the Afghan surge. Obama probably anticipated both results. And yet he staggered forward anyway. As ready as Obama is to surrender to uncongenial political pressures, he is strangely inattentive to negative real-world results.

Message for Republicans: you don’t have to hate Obama to be disappointed in him. In fact hating him probably blinds you to the most important ways in which Americans have been disappointed.

Listen to Brooks, he shows the way forward.

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71 Comments so far ↓

  • Smargalicious

    First!

    BHO has no leadership style. The man is a grifter. What were his bona fides before he got elected by the lamestream media? Lessee…”community organizer”…’Senator Present”….

    • Hunter01

      What are your qualifications to open your mouth? Parroting Sarah Palin’s mind-numbing phrases? Once again, S, you win the brain dead contest.

  • KRH67

    I have been disappointed with Obama, no doubt. And I agree that sometimes his “delegate” style doesn’t provide enough toughness to truly get what he wants done.

    But I think based on the tone of this column that you VASTLY underestimate the man. The list of challenges and hurdles he has been asked to overcome have been extraordinary compared to most presidents in history. I’m not even talking about right-wing nutjobbery, but just the overall state of the nation he took over and the fact that he does represent something special in the first black president EVER.

    In addition, it truly bothers me that his willingness to delegate is seen as a bad thing. I would much rather have a president who asked experts before deciding than one who was so convinced they knew best they ran headlong into disastrous policies. To further that point, Brooks talks about Rahm Emmanuel and how good a job he is doing in Chicago. I absolutely agree, and have been extremely pleased with Rahm’s performance so far. But if you think Rahm doesn’t delegate what he does you are crazy. The school reforms Rahm has implemented so far, and his future plans, were almost entirely written for him by experts at U of C. He may be the public face, but all the ideas, research, planning, etc was prepared behind the scenes, and because of this Rahm will probably be successful. Listening to the experts usually works, shockingly.

    Finally, love or hate the ACA (and I certainly fall more towards hate at this point) you have to respect the incredible expenditure of political capital it took to push that through when he did, considering the vast array of other challenges he had to slog through at the time. Calling a president weak who pushed through certainly one of, if not the most sweeping piece of legislation I can think of in recent memory is a bit odd in my opinion.

    Personally, my disappointment in Obama has not been that he is too weak to get the job done, rather, its that he HAS succeeded in doing things that I disagree with.

  • llbroo49

    Obama’s problem is that he thinks the American public wants him to to behave as a Constitutionaly elected President with all the inherent checks and balances. Turns out we were all expecting something a little more dictatorial.

  • chicago_guy

    Brooks’ column completely forgets to mention that Obama came into office with an opposition party who staked out, as their position, an absolute stand against any sort of compromise with him and the majority party on EVERY issue, even if he proposed something they’d said they wanted before (like uh, individual mandates on health insurance).

    The fact that Obama’s first three years are shaping up as productive as they are indicates that his style might be exactly what was needed in order to get anything done in a country whose government is as dysfunctional as this.

  • HighCountry

    I think it is a very good point that Republican criticism of Obama has been so over-the-top that they have been blinded. As I have stated in several other threads, there are PLENTY of reasons to criticize Obama, disagree with him, dislike him, etc., but the debate is much better served if we talk about ACTUAL things that he’s ACTUALLY DOING, instead of just making things up.

  • dugfromthearth

    It is amazing that Obama can spend years making policies daily that drive Republicans and Democrats wild with anger and then ends up being labeled passive and not a leader. Just like he has spent years being labeled by Republicans as both doing nothing and bringing about radical change that is destroying America.

    The simple fact is that Obama is competent and effective, and since we have not seen a competent and effective president since the first Bush, people have no idea how to handle it.

    Saving the auto industry, saving the economy, managing the withdrawal from Iraq, turning around Afghanistan and preparing its withdrawal, getting Obama Bin Laden, getting Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed, getting both healthcare reform and a deal to reduce the deficit at the same time. Obama’s accomplishments are almost miraculous, and his calm, patient manner in the face of partisan rants on both sides is miraculous.

    Yes, Obama is his own worst enemy – because he spends his time working for America rather than on self promotion. Voters get the government they deserve, and when once they don’t – they hate it and want a government that is ineffective but aggressively so.

  • Hunter01

    This is the second in the DF series to find an effective critique of Obama. None of the other narratives is working — for too long the Republican rhetoric was just downright crazy. Now the question is can the moderate Republican effort to appear thoughtful and responsible in any public discourse about Obama be taken seriously. Probably not. The well of good faith has been poisoned, for this cycle at least. I should also note that neither Romney nor Bachmann, the front-runners at the moment, are inclined to dial it back.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    I think KRH67 analysis nails it, though I disagree about the ACA, which I like.
    “Obama probably anticipated both results. ” No, I fundamentally disagree with this, Obama’s economic team pushed this, it was understandable that he paid heed to them. Christine Roehmer has publicly admitted she was wrong. It would have been harder to get the stimulus package done differently but I am sure if he came out stating how dire things were he would have still gotten the votes. I think Roehmer, Geithner, and Summers underestimated how bad the situation was, why the hell else would they have predicted that unemployment would not exceed 8%?

    I have no problems with people questioning his negotiating style, Democrats feel he is not maximalist enough, but Clinton was that way with his health care plan and it failed, in a lot of ways Obama has been triangulating as Clinton did, he did that getting DADT repealed. The main difference between Obama and Clinton was the economy was growing much more quickly under Clinton. If Obama had Clinton’s job growth numbers Republicans would be finished right now.

    I used to be quick to jump in thinking Obama wasn’t doing enough things fast enough. But I have found the direction to my liking. For example I was geniunely shaken that I thought he had no intention of acting in Libya, I was unaware that he was getting his ducks lined in a row and Nato acted appropriately.

    “As ready as Obama is to surrender to uncongenial political pressures, he is strangely inattentive to negative real-world results.” So I take it David thinks that Obama was wrong in taking out Osama Bin Laden, that he “surrendered to uncongenial political pressures” to the detriment of negative Pakistani opinion?

    Of course David doesn’t believe this. Obama, and his team, had nerves of steel. He went to a comedy roast and acted completely natural and relaxed even though he had just ordered a mission that could sink his Presidency.

    It was 100% his call, he had a host of options. He chose the riskiest one of all.

  • Noah Kristula-Green

    First!

    And we have gone for long without people posting that…

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Noah, consider the source, little smeggy is our resident troll. I have never understood why anyone would take pride in that, I would kind of feel it is like being first to show up at a dinner party.
    In fact, I often don’t post on topics I read here unless others post first. It feels odd to post something and be the only person who posts on a thread, it feels like talking to yourself in public.

    • Smargalicious

      I’m your resident conscience, frumpy. You know, the little red devil in your ear that tell you the truth about Democrats.

      You’re welcome.

  • Saladdin

    I think it’s the difference between winning ugly and losing pretty. The president wins, but he does so in an ugly way, that ticks both sides off immensely.

  • rbottoms

    Obama has balls of steel, none of his circus freak opponents can touch him.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    I actually think Frum is, for the most part, exactly right, but I’m not as convinced that Obama is, at heart, as liberal as Frum’s critique suggests. Obama is a conventional mainstream Democrat – maybe even a right-of-center Democrat. His opposition to the Iraq war, his push for HCR and probably his race seem to have caused everyone to believe he’s further to the left than he actually is.

    Yet, what the country needed in 2008 – and still needs today – is someone who is considerably more liberal than Obama. His conventional mainstream policies aren’t much of a match for the country’s problems.

    We’re clearly better off than if a Republican was president, but we’re not doing nearly as well as we would be if a more liberal Democrat was president.

    • KRH67

      If I may, what more liberal policies would you like to see enacted? Why? I’m curious to see where you feel Obama has fallen short.

    • wileedog

      A more liberal President would have gotten exactly nothing done with this staunch obstructionist Congress. Even when the Dems controlled both houses they could barely get through what were essentially Republican ideas like mandated insurance. You think something single payer would have somehow gotten through?

  • nwahs

    We get it David. You’re a conservative above all conservatives, so far above that conservative think tanks and magazines have rejected you as a conservative. Woe is our poor naive judgement. Now if your ego is sufficiently massaged perhaps you can post the latest gossip on Sara Palin.

  • sweatyb

    Spartacus said:

    Obama is a conventional mainstream Democrat – maybe even a right-of-center Democrat.

    That is exactly right. Obama’s weakness is that he’s not much of a liberal. The sitting President is not going to get primaried, so I don’t see how that works against him in the general election. I suppose the Republicans can try a back-channel attack to suppress turnout of Progressive voters, but it wont work.

    Frum says:

    Listen to Brooks, he shows the way forward.

    Brooks says:

    If he can overcome his aloofness and work intimately with Republicans, he may be able to avert a catastrophe and establish a model for a more realistic, collegial presidency.

    Which is nonsense (and contradicts the part of his piece Frum highlights). If Obama surrenders to the hostage takers in the House it wont improve the position of his party or his candidacy. Ceding to the demands of Boehner and Cantor wont make him appear to be the dynamic-leader-this-country-needs-at-this-crucial-time.

    Brooks is an incredibly smart person and he’s great at making his ideas appear to make sense. But when you actually try to put what he says into context; when you try to make his pieces line up with reality, you find there’s nothing there. It’s all just bloviating and navel-gazing puffery.

  • rubbernecker

    Listen to Brooks, he shows the way forward.

    This is all you need to read to dismiss Frum’s post out of hand. David Brooks, a dishonest shill who has managed to convince people that he is a thoughtful moderate, is supposed to be a guiding light? You have got to be kidding me.

    (sweatyb got in ahead of me.)

  • balconesfault

    So the biggest Republican critique of Obama is that he hasn’t attacked Republicans, and their big bucks constituent groups, fiercely enough?

    That’s a rather thin gruel to run on when asking Americans to vote for a Republican next election.

    He’s so weak, he keeps trying to deal with crazy people – we should just cut out the middle-man and elect the crazy people instead!

  • drdredel

    I frequently disagree with Brooks, but a “shill”? for whom?
    However, both Davids have it wrong here, and this has already been said, but it’s worth repeating. Obama is up against what is effectively a brick wall. You know the expression “arguing with a brick wall”? that’s who Obama is arguing with. Given said reality, he’s gotten a lot done. Would his supporters like to see more? Yes. Would Christians like to see Jesus come back? Yes. Do they keep going to church anyway, even though they realize Jesus isn’t coming back? Yes.

  • jcm433

    They hate him because they LIKE to, not because he deserves it.
    “It’s not like the Tea Partiers hate black people. It’s just that they’re shockingly willing to believe the appalling horseshit fantasy about how white people in the age of Obama are some kind of oppressed minority. That may not be racism, but it is incredibly, earth-shatteringly stupid.” – Matt Taibbi

  • rubbernecker

    but a “shill”? for whom?

    The GOP. Before I quit reading Brooks it was always the same: he’d offer an ostensibly fair-minded and reasoned piece before springing a little shiv at the end to forward some talking point (“Obama is passive”–a classic formulation from the party that prizes aggression), at times with a breathtaking disregard for truth or decency. The maddening thing about Brooks is that he’s gifted and could have been so much better. But he allowed himself to become a hack.

  • Slide

    I love Obama’s style. Does he get all the experts together and hear their point of view before acting? I certainly hope so. Isn’t that what we want in a leader or do we prefer the George Bush method where he only listened to those that agreed with what he had already planned to do. Invade Iraq? Should we talk to General Powell who actually invaded Iraq previously? Nah… lets talk to some moronic neo-cons who had a whole different agenda and it wasn’t the USA.

    Did Obama delegate too much when he went after OBL? Too many committees? Too laid back? What utter nonsense. Thank God we have an adult in the WH that behaves like most top executives and not some tin horn dictator.

  • John

    I agree with some of the points above about Obama’s centrist pragmatism. I reluctantly voted for him in 2008 (what with gramps McCain admitting that the economy, and finance in particular, wasn’t really his forte) and got pretty much exactly what I expected. Its shaping up to be more of the same in 2012. Among the current field of challengers, who does everyone like? If its between Romney and Bachman (I literally guffawed when I typed that), its Romney in a landslide. But between Romney and Obama… I think I’d have to reluctantly support Obama again.

  • NRA Liberal

    He’s a passive wimp, he’s a socialist tyrant….something’s bound to stick!

  • sinz54

    The most important thing a leader can do is inspire people to follow him and support him. That’s what distinguishes leadership from management.

    Obama has never figured out how to inspire anyone who isn’t already sold on his doctrinaire leftism. The reason he seems so quiet, is that he knows he is unable to sell Krugman/Reich-style progressivism to Red states and Red communities, and even to most Independent voters. (What got Obama elected in 2008 was disgust with Bush, not a newfound infatuation with leftism.) So Obama stays quiet and tries to get things done behind the scenes.

    As long as he remains in office, Obama can get things done behind the scenes without being an inspiring leader. But because he can’t inspire anyone besides his own true believers, he has no hope of changing American politics for years to come as FDR or Reagan did. They left a legacy of a changed American political climate. Obama, it is now starting to dawn on liberals, won’t do that.

    • Watusie

      “Obama has never figured out how to inspire anyone who isn’t already sold on his doctrinaire leftism.”

      If one believes this statement to be true then one has to conclude that the majority of Americans are “doctrinaire leftists” – after all, the man did get 53% of the vote, 69.5 million people ticked the box next to his name.

      • balconesfault

        Doctrinaire leftism.

        That’s so silly, I can’t believe that Sinz said it.

  • rokkitman

    David and David, geniuses of the right. You guys crack me up. Obama gets the stimulus passed, then gets what he wants in Afghan, then Health Care, then Financial, then he runs the table in the Lame Duck. All the while, you guys keep refining your brilliant argument that he’s too naive, too passive, too weak. Why isn’t he more like W? Why doesn’t he think with his butt, er, gut? You guys are like Herbert Hoover in 1931. Beating Obama is always just around the corner. Again and again, you get around that next corner, and there he is. Waiting for you. Again.

  • Slide

    sinz54 did you see the crowds and enthusiasm that he generated during the last election? Hold onto your panties and see what happens this election cycle again. I have not seen crowds that “inspired” in a long long time. Can’t wait to see the comparisons between his campaign crowds and that of Romney.

  • think4yourself

    I like David Brooks, but I don’t entirely agree with his central point:

    “]The Obama style has advantages, but it has served his party poorly in the current budget fight. He has not educated the country about the debt challenge. He has not laid out a plan, aside from one vague, hyperpoliticized speech. He has ceded the initiative to the Republicans, who have dominated the debate by establishing facts on the ground.”

    Yes he has a pattern of letting others (Congress, Biden, etc.) do the initial negotiating. The fact is that worked on ACA (people disagree, but I haven’t heard a compelling argument that another path would have worked better), and it worked on finishing last year’s budget. It may work here. Obama is not Christie – laying down the law and daring anyone to cross him. Instead he quietly gets things accomplished, that doesn’t make him look like a star, but does make him effective at his agenda (which may different than the party’s).

    As far as ceding ground to the GOP, he lets them dominate the airwaves, which doesn’t mean they have established the facts. Here are the facts, if the debt ceiling isn’t lifted, someone’s gonna get blamed. Cantor and the GOP walked away. I suspect the President thinks they’ll remember that.

    He is a centrist (not center right, but certainly not a lefty). He hasn’t gotten all that he wants and certainly hasn’t gotten near what he promised, but so far he doesn’t have any big losses (for Bush he lost on Social Security and immigration along with vast repudiation of much of the justification for torture).

    As far as Frum’s point that the job has overwhelmed the man and that he is not tough enough or imaginative enough. I’m sure that Obama’s people will happily point to a dead Bin Laden time and time again. Obama is in a marathon reelection campaign, not a sprint. Hillary Clinton underestimated him as well. If it really looks like a campaign barb about not being tough is sticking when it’s important, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone leaks photos of a dead Bin Laden. Obama plays basketball, if your opponent is up 6 points in the first 5 minutes of the game (which is not the case here), that’s not a reason to panic. It’s about closing out.

  • ottovbvs

    Would this be the David Brooks who wrote this or is it another David Brooks? And when you’ve read it tell me why anyone in his right mind would pay ten cents worth of notice to anything that the real David Brooks has to say about the character and competence of presidents.

    George W. Bush should be president

    Forget his image as a callous, empty-headed frat boy. People like him, and that means he’ll attract and retain the best minds.

    By David Brooks

    “This confirms something I’ve always suspected. George W. Bush is not a ruthless hard-ass. He’s not even an arrogant frat boy, capable of cruelty. He is, deep down, a very nice guy who likes people….

    So I am planning to vote for George W. Bush because he is a nice guy. As a nice guy he will attract and retain the loyalty of outstanding administration officials, and together they will promote policies that are smarter and bolder than we ever would expect, just from looking at Bush himself. As a nice man, he will prove remarkably adept at working with Congress, with Democrats, with the media and with all the other different people you need to handle as president. He will set a tone of bonhomie that will grease the machinery of government; things will actually get done in Washington again.

    Niceness isn’t normally the sort of talent we think qualifies you to be president. We look for greater qualities, like genius or experience or past heroism. But look at what niceness has done for Bush already. When he was running against Ann Richards to be governor of Texas, he attracted a superb staff. Richards looked unbeatable, but Bush ran a brilliant campaign and did beat her. As governor, he bonded with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock (the Texas Constitution gives the lieutenant governor more power than the governor), and he worked extremely well with the state Legislature. He met with almost every member of the Legislature in his first few weeks in office (something Richards never did) and established personal bonds of friendship. Talk to a Texas Democratic legislator about Bush; they are rhapsodic about what a great guy he is.

    His administration worked quickly and effectively. Bush is no policy genius, but he does have an instinct for the bold move and then sticks with aides who draw up the plans. His administration suggested a bold tax reform package, which moved the state’s revenue base from income to property taxes. It infuriated members of the business community, who were scarcely paying taxes under the income tax regime, and in the end he had to compromise away key elements of the plan (it was the state Republicans who opposed it). But in that episode he demonstrated a surprising penchant for innovation.

    Bush has run a superb presidential campaign, much better than Bob Dole, for all his experience, was able to run; much better than Bush the elder was able to run in either 1988 or 1992. Again, he has attracted an outstanding and loyal staff and he’s shown the instinct for the bold idea. Most GOP candidates would not have endorsed a Social Security reform plan that involved letting people open private accounts. It’s a politically risky venture. But Bush exceeds expectations.

    Now you might think that being nice is no great shakes. Aren’t all politicians nice? You naive fool. In fact, most politicians who are mad enough to run for president are not nice. They are freaks. They are solipsists. They are consumed by a desire for power or a desire to be loved all the time. They can only think of their Queen Bee selves. That’s why so few presidents actually have close friends. Either they are aloof from anybody who could possibly address them as an equal (like Nixon) or they have personally useful contacts in place of friendship (like Clinton), and they discard those people when they are no longer useful.

    Look at Al Gore. He is a deeply un-nice man. He was an unpopular senator because no one could penetrate his phoniness. Unlike Bush, he has not been able to attract and retain talented staff. Bush has created a smooth-running campaign team. Gore runs through people at an alarming rate, and many (though not all) of the Gore people are un-nice — ask the reporters who have to cover the campaign.

    On foreign policy matters, for example, Bush has attracted the policy wonk version of the 1927 Yankees. You look at the people who will fill key slots in his administration, from Condoleezza Rice down through less-prominent advisors such as Paul Wolfowitz. They are the best out there. Gore has not acquired a talented foreign policy team. He is aloof from most experts except one: a man named Leon Feurth, who is also secretive and distant.

    I’ve come to appreciate that while Bush appears callow, he continually exceeds expectations. And he does it not through force of intellect but through force of personality. We are lucky enough this year to have a man running for president who has not spent his life consumed by the idea that he must be president.

    In other words we are lucky to have a relatively normal person running for president. Maybe Willy Loman was right: It’s important to be liked and even more important to be well liked. “

    • rubbernecker

      ^Oh man, that is priceless.

    • pnumi2

      otto

      “He is, deep down, a very nice guy…”

      Proving once and for all that nice guys finish last.

      • ottovbvs

        Proving once and for all that nice guys finish last.

        Proving either that Brooks has lamentable judgement or he’s a Republican shill. Either way any opinions he may have on Obama’s management style and capabiilities are less than worthless. They are as reliable as Greek credit.

  • Smargalicious

    The job has overwhelmed the man. He’s not an alien, he’s not a radical. He’s just not the person the country needs. He’s not tough enough, he’s not imaginative enough, and he’s not determined enough.

    Indeed. He wants the paycheck and the perks, and used a gullible lamestream media to propel him, completely un-vetted, to get him the seat.

    Now the economy, and the world, is suffering from a vastly weakened America.

    God help us all.

    • pnumi2

      Smarg

      Do you know anyone that’s not in it for the paycheck and the perks?

      btw, I’m glad you said “first.” It makes me think you’re more like the rest of us ex-teenagers.

      • ram6968

        this is smarg’s porch……he can’t play with the bigdogs at huffpo….they’d make fishbait out of him…..so here he sits….

  • armstp

    “…he has a nonhierarchical style. “

    Although I doubt that Brooks really has a good feel for how Obama leads, as he is not prive to the inside scoop, is there something wrong with a nonhierarchical style? Someone who considers all viewpoints and then thinks things through sounds pretty good to me.

    I agree with Slide above. Obama has an amazing ability to inspire. Even today when you hear him speak, he really gets you thinking and moving in a certain direction.

    I would say no one on the Republican side has any particular leadership style or even skills. Romney sat on his big money at Bain. He was good at raising private equity. He was a mediocre Governor and not a particularly good leader as Governor.

    The thing about Obama is that everyone always underestimates him and then he gets big things done. What he has so far achieved from a legislative point of view is quite remarkable. Biggest and most important piece of social legislation in generations, biggest financial reform in at least 30 years, he gave the military their Afghan surge and now he is appropriately switching gears in Afghanistan, biggest nuclear arms treaty since 1980s, biggest fiscal stimulus ever, gutsy call on taking out Bin Laden, gays in the military, etc. etc. All of this and more during the worst economic downturn in generations and an opposition party that has tried to block everything.

  • pnumi2

    Gee, I always thought that a leader’s policies were determined by the times. You know,

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

    It probably is the best of times in China these days and, except for a handful of superannuated individuals who were alive during the Great Depression, it is the worst of times here. Does anybody remember worse economic times?

    As far as Obama is concerned, when you inherit an economy that’s in the toilet (any objections to that characterization?), eventually your economy ends up in the main line sewer on the way to the sewage treatment plant.

    Obama hasn’t turned things around yet and the spoiled Conservatives are getting impatient for results that are beyond their own abilities. They are incapable of anything but creating problems like the ones they expect Obama to solve. And complaining that the fix is taking too long.

    • Kevin B

      It probably is the best of times in China these days and, except for a handful of superannuated individuals who were alive during the Great Depression, it is the worst of times here. Does anybody remember worse economic times?

      I’m not superannuated, but I remember long lines for gas. I remember inflation so high that my savings account paid twelve percent. I remember the crash of, when was it? 1987, I think. I remember college, and ramen noodles. I was a sandwich artist before Subway came up with that term (there were only fifteen stores in the state of Texas at the time). The sandwich I got each day as a perk was pretty much my entire diet. I remember struggling to make my student loan payments. Looking back, the total amount I borrowed was in the low thousands–if I got a bill for that amount now, I’d just pay it all off.

      I remember losing all the money I had in the stock market, when I chased a bad dot com investment all the way to zero.

      I survived, and I eventually got back in the stock market, doing much better. But in 2008, my net worth dropped by 60 percent when the market tanked again. My low point was 2009, about a month and a half after Obama took office. Since then my net worth has tripled.

      I haven’t worked since the first week in January. My employer took me off their payroll (and insurance) in April. But I’m doing okay. I seriously considered just living off my savings for the rest of my life, but I have someone who really wants me to come work for them, and I guess I could use the health insurance for a year or so.

      It certainly isn’t the worst of times for me.

      • pnumi2

        Kevin

        My bad. I should have quoted more of the enchilada.

        “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way …”

        I never meant to suggest that it wasn’t also the best of times for some Americans. And all right times for others.

        I am glad to hear that you’re doing all right and I hope you continue to do so.

        I have 4 couples who are good friends and they have between them 9 kids, the eldest being 11. It’s the kids I worry about most. By the time most of them are old enough to read this Dickens, who knows what the times will be like?

  • “We Deserve To Be Punched In The Face, But No One’s Doing It. Vote For Us!” | Poison Your Mind

    [...] Frum reads David Brooks so you don’t have to, and concludes: Brooks says Obama is too passive and withdrawn? That’s it? What about the threat to the [...]

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    KRH67: “I’m curious to see where you feel Obama has fallen short.”

    Firstly, the stimulus should have had much fewer tax cuts and a lot more infrastructure spending.

    Secondly, Obama should not have surged in Afghanistand and he should be pulling many more forces out of both Afghan and Iraq, and he should be doing it more quickly.

    I would also add that he should have pushed harder for a public option in the ACA. You may recall that GOP Senator Snowe was willing to agree to one with a trigger.

    Equally important, if, as he once claimed, he wants to be a transformative president (a la Reagan), then he’ll need to use more ideological (not partisan) rhetoric like Reagan did. It’s useful to have an ideological theme that can be used to shape policy even after he’s left office.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    wileedog: “A more liberal President would have gotten exactly nothing done with this staunch obstructionist Congress. Even when the Dems controlled both houses they could barely get through what were essentially Republican ideas like mandated insurance. You think something single payer would have somehow gotten through?”

    A more liberal President would have used stronger, more assertive rhetoric to push back against all the “death panel” nonsense. And, a more liberal President would have been more effective at rallying the base in support of HCR. As Bill Maher said at the time, the President should stick up for the 70% of the country that’s not crazy. Congress won’t respond to the President, but it does respond to the public.

    As for single-payer, I absolutely do not think Obama could have gotten it through, nor do I think that would have been necessary. As I pointed out in my previous post, GOP Senator Snowe (and others) were prepared to accept a public option with a trigger. That would have been a huge improvement.

    • armstp

      Spartcus,

      You are wrong.

      “The President should stick up for the 70% of the country that’s not crazy…” It does not matter if 70% of the country supported a public option, so long as less than 60% of the Senate did not.

      Obama likely got about as much as he could on many of these issues, particularly given a requirement for a super-majority in the Senate and a GOP that blocked him at every turn. The Bluedogs are the ones who sold out the left, but if these Bluedogs were more “liberal” they would not have been elected in the first place. Most were really just GOP-lite candidates that Rahm Emanuel recruited.

      “GOP Senator Snowe (and others) were prepared to accept a public option with a trigger. That would have been a huge improvement.”

      You have no idea what went on and I suggest you go back and read what happened. The Public Option looked like it was going to pass with Snowe, but it was Lieberman that killed it at the last minute.

      Try this.

      “Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was formerly a Democrat but who is now an independent, announced today that “if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage.” In other words, Lieberman will support a filibuster. “I can’t see a way in which I could vote for cloture on any bill that contained a creation of a government-operated-run insurance company,” Lieberman said.”

      http://www.slate.com/id/2233743/

    • think4yourself

      Spartacus, I’ll also disagree.

      First, being more liberal is not the same as being more assertive. In my view Obama is consistent. He ran as a Democrat centrist and a thinking President, so I don’t fault him for operating that way. I personally preferred a public option. After Scott Brown won the election, there was no chance for anything more than they got. Did the President try and negotiate with the Senate GOP to make this a more bi-partisan bill? Yes he did and they first led him along and then abandonded the effort (as they did on stimulus, etc.).

      Liberals want him to go after the GOP just as Bush (and Cheney and Rove) went after liberals. He doesn’t do that. Politically, he may also decide it’s better to be the statesman than the partisan even if it means that he gets whacked from both sides. He also may deciding that getting a bunch of half a loaf’s is better than none (ACA, stimulus, the end of DADT, pretty good record). If he decided that he should be like Howard Dean 20% of the electorate would love him. The rest would consider Mitt Romney for President.

  • elizajane

    To quote my Republican neighbors, “Of course Obama will be reelected. He’s very effective. He’s gotten everything he really wanted — Health Care, Supreme Court nominees, Osama bin Laden, lower-profile things too. He’s moderate and he’s good. And” (with a sigh) “what do we have to offer as an alternative?”

    I mean, you can’t suggest that Pawlenty or Romney is going to be a snarling tiger driving through strong conservative ideas against a filibuster, and you can’t really want a pit-bull type like Bachmann or Cain or Palin.

  • ottovbvs

    To quote my Republican neighbors, “Of course Obama will be reelected. He’s very effective. He’s gotten everything he really wanted

    I just got back from a two day sailing trip with a friend of mine who is a rock solid Republican (although not a crazy) and he say’s exactly the same. Or to be more precise after a few beers “Ok you got me, the guy’s f****ing good.”

  • SteveT

    Brooks is definitely a shill. When he takes the GOP leadership to task for their continuing support of the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to claim their “income” as capital gains, he will have taken a step towards my respect.

    I’m waiting.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    Armstp, what a you talking about? Yes, Romer said unemployment would not exceed 8%:
    Frank: Obama admin ‘dumb’ to predict no higher than 8% unemployment
    By Michael O’Brien – 08/18/10 06:45 AM ET
    It was “dumb” for President Obama and his aides to promise that unemployment would not surpass 8 percent if the stimulus act passed, a top House Democrat said Tuesday.

    Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, called into question the wisdom of projections issued by the Obama administration during the congressional fight over the stimulus bill that argued it would prevent higher levels of joblessness.

    “President Obama, whom I greatly admire … when the economic recovery bill — we’re supposed to call it the ‘recovery bill,’ not the ‘stimulus’ bill; that’s what the focus groups tell us — he predicted or his aides predicted at the time that if it passed, unemployment would get under 8 percent,” Frank said Tuesday evening during an appearance on the Fox Business Network. “That was a dumb thing to do.”

    The administration famously released a chart during the fight over its signature $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) showing that, if that package were enacted, unemployment would not exceed 8 percent. The projection, authored by Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) Chairwoman Christina Romer, argued that without the stimulus, unemployment would reach a high of 9 percent in the third quarter of 2010.

    And then read this:
    http://www.economy.com/mark-zandi/documents/The_Job_Impact_of_the_American_Recovery_and_Reinvestment_Plan.pdf

    • armstp

      Frump,

      You are not answering my request to prove your original statement. You are bringing in irrelevant info.

      Can you give me a quote from any of the three you mentioned: Roehmer, Geithner, and Summers where they explictedly say that the unemployment rate would remain below 8% after the stimulus? After all that is precisely what you are claiming!

      In fact lets open it up even more. Can you give me a direct quote by anyone in the Obama adiminstration, including Obama, who said that the unemployment rate would remain below 8%? You have the entire Internet at your disposal. Go for it.

      It does not matter what Barney Frank is saying. He is also completely wrong. He believes the lies spread by the right. As Politifact has checked over and over, no one in the Adminstration has ever said that the unemployment rate would stay below 8% as you said in your original post. Did you even read my links? Did you read the Politicfact fact checking?

      Prove it…!

      Let me help you with regard to what you are quoting? take a look at the full report from which you quote and put it in context. For example, you leave out from your quote the very next paragraph where the numbers are qualified, which makes all the difference:

      “In a report issued by his economic advisors on January 10, 2009 (BEFORE Barack Obama was even sworn in as President), economic advisors Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein issued a report titled “The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan”. The VERY FIRST WORDS in the report are these:

      “A key goal enunciated by the President-Elect concerning the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is that it should save or create at least 3 million jobs by the end of 2010. For this reason, we have undertaken a preliminary analysis of the jobs effects of some of the prototypical recovery packages being discussed. Our analysis will surely evolve as we and other economists work further on this topic. The results will also change as the actual package parameters are determined in cooperation with the Congress.”

      Got that? The report is a PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS of a PROTOTYPICAL PACKAGE which will EVOLVE. Could it be stated any more clearly than that?

      Now, here is the statement that has somehow been taken out of this PRE- PRESIDENTIAL report and put into the President’s mouth, as if by magic:

      “First, the likely scale of employment loss is extremely large. The U.S. economy has already lost nearly 2.6 million jobs since the business cycle peak in December 2007. In the absence of stimulus, the economy could lose another 3 to 4 million more. Thus, we are working to counter a potential job loss of at least 5 million. As Figure 1 shows, even with the large prototypical package, the unemployment rate in 2010Q4 is predicted to be approximately 7.0%, which is well below the approximately 8.8% that would result in the absence of the plan.

      Second, as emphasized above, there is considerable uncertainty in our estimates: both the impact of the package on GDP and the relationship between higher GDP and job creation are hard to estimate precisely. . .”

      Once again, it is CLEARLY STATED that these are ESTIMATES and LIKELY to be incorrect. So why is the media pretending like the President predicted definitively that the stimulus would keep unemployment under 8% when he NEVER DID?

      The unemployment rate in January 2009 was 7.6%, so CLEARLY nobody in there RIGHT MIND thought that the Stimulus package was going to be able to hold it under 8%. The stimulus bill wasn’t signed into law until mid February . . . the unemployment rate then was ALREADY 8.1%.

      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/07/26/758135/-Debunking-the-Obama-said-unemployment-wouldnt-go-over-8-LIE

  • Frumplestiltskin

    It has a chart that shows 8% as the top.
    First, the likely scale of employment loss is extremely large. The U.S. economy has already lost
    nearly 2.6 million jobs since the business cycle peak in December 2007. In the absence of stimulus,
    the economy could lose another 3 to 4 million more. Thus, we are working to counter a potential
    total job loss of at least 5 million. As Figure 1 shows, even with the large prototypical package, the
    unemployment rate in 2010Q4 is predicted to be approximately 7.0%, which is well below the
    approximately 8.8% that would result in the absence of a plan.

    The chart is absolutely clear. Now maybe they did not mouth the words, but the report is clear.
    Now people are saying because it was a projected estimate it was somehow not…what exactly? Not to be taken seriously? Liable to be wrong? Listen, we are all laughing at the absurdity of the Ryan projections. No way should we cut him some slack when we know full well they are bullshit.
    Romer made a mistake, and hell she has apologized for it.

    Anyway, my point is that the Administration did misjudge the severity of the recession, I think we can agree on that.

    • armstp

      Frump,

      See my reply above. No one in the Obama adminstration every said the unemployment rate would remain below 8%. Again provide a direct quote if you can? Not some lame ass paragraph you quote that is completely out of context, as you completely ignore the very next paragraph where the forecast is quantified. I would hardly say this paragraph in one report that was put out before Obama was even President is big evidence that the Obama adminstration (specially as you say Roehmer, Geithner, and Summers) was loudly trumping up a below 8% number. Complete BS. The only ones trumpeting the 8% number were Republicans, as they lied.

  • ChallengingFrum

    Neither of you guys are perceptive.

    Obama likes to appear passive and withdrawn so that he can get the most liberal policy possible without the political ramifications. He allowed Pelosi to push as hard as she could to get a public option but when they couldn’t get it he swooped in and pretended that he was a disinterested mediator. Same with the bush tax cuts. Now that the republicans control the house, the game has changed marginally. Now Obama makes no proposal and receives no criticism and negotiates through Biden.

    Its his version of Reagan’s “amiable dunce” tactic. Stay aloof and withdrawn, wear lots of suits and smile. I’ll give him credit, he understands game theory. But with Obama, it will always be Reagan’s words and Carter’s policies.

    PS David why would you want republicans to win, then they would have power.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    armstp: “It does not matter if 70% of the country supported a public option, so long as less than 60% of the Senate did not. Obama likely got about as much as he could on many of these issues, particularly given a requirement for a super-majority in the Senate and a GOP that blocked him at every turn.”

    It absolutely does matter that 70% of the country supports something if that 70% is willing to make its preference known to Congress. I fault Obama for not being more assertive and tenacious in publicly rebutting all of the false claims about HCR. He seemed to focus primarily on negotiating a deal among Congressional reps while not bringing any public pressure to bear on those reps.

    It’s unreasonable to believe that he could not have obtained a more progressive bill if more public pressure had been placed on Congress. And, in light of the fact that he didn’t tenaciously rebut all the public lies, it’s unreasonable to believe that he couldn’t have inspired more public pressure.

    • armstp

      sparta,

      “It absolutely does matter that 70% of the country supports something if that 70% is willing to make its preference known to Congress.

      The key to your statement was the second part I bolded. That is the difference. Not much Obama can do if less than 60 Senators are unwilling to vote for Obama bills. The reality was that the 70% of the population was putting no pressure on their congress men and women and making their preferences known (although the teaparty clear was) and if they were the Congress men and women were ignoring them. 70% is a big number, so why did no Republicans vote fore Obama bills, given that likely a majority of people in their own districts were for much of what Obama was proposing? Progressives did nothing. They just laid there and took it in the ass. Obama needed a big push by progressives in their millions to help him and they did nothing. Where were the Progressives at these townhalls to counter the spin of the Tea Party? Progressives have to take some of the blame here. There is only so much a President could do. Why did they not come out in the 2010 elections?

      I agree Obama lost the PR war, but that was going to be hard to win when the healthcare industry was spending hundreds of millions on advertising against him. Instead of completely going to war Obama made the decision to continue to try and work with the opposition to get something done. If he had completely went to war, he likely would have gotten nothing done and 50 million people would not be getting health insurance in 2014. Was that a gamble you would have been willing to make?

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    think4yourself: “First, being more liberal is not the same as being more assertive. In my view Obama is consistent. He ran as a Democrat centrist and a thinking President, so I don’t fault him for operating that way.”

    I don’t think we’re disagreeing. I said Obama is centrist, maybe even right-of-center, and so he has governed that way. My critique is that the country’s problems require more than centrist policies. Liberal policies are required and Obama has not aggressively pursued these more liberal policies despite the fact that he has often used rhetoric that would suggest that he believes they would be appropriate. So, his rhetoric would indicate that he’d like more progressive policies, but he has not been assertive in marshalling public support for those policies.

    I’m not arguing he hasn’t accomplished a lot significant legislation – he clearly has. It’s just that his accomplishments fall short of what he himself said would be required, and he has not been very skillful or tenancious in creating the kind of public sentiment that would give Congress the incentive to pass the kind of legislation that he once believed was necessary. His failure/inability to rally public opinion has made his job harder.

    I’m also not arguing he needs to be nastier – he does not. But he does need to be more engaged with the public. It’s a mystery he’s not because he does have high likeability ratings. He should use that to rally people to his views.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    armstp: “Progressives have to take some of the blame here. There is only so much a President could do. Why did they not come out in the 2010 elections?”

    But Obama didn’t do all that he could have done. He didn’t need to sit idly by while TPers were shouting “death panels.” He should have been getting his message out there. Also, most of that 70% are not Progressives; they’re just regular, middle-of-the-road people who do require more engagement than your typical activist. Obama did not engage them. And that is why he lost the 2010 elections.

    “If [Obama] had completely went to war, he likely would have gotten nothing done and 50 million people would not be getting health insurance in 2014. Was that a gamble you would have been willing to make?”

    I’m not sure what you mean by going “completely to war” but if it means making sure that the facts get out there and in a charming, charismatic way, then I absolutely think Obama was capable of doing that and he should have done that. Had he done it I don’t for one minute believe he wouldn’t have gotten a bill through. I believe he would have gotten a better bill than he did get.

    • armstp

      Sparta,

      I think you are nieve. You think if Obama had got “out there and in a charming, charismatic way” he would have gotten a better deal.

      It was a PR war that the Dems lost. They faced a mountain of advertising cash and a MSM that was unwilling to challenge the assertions of the GOP. They got no help from their progressive masses.

      He is lucky he got the deal he did. After 1 year and endless games by the GOP he got his bills passed by only a couple of votes. Lieberman was not going to vote for a Public Option.

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