Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Bob Herbert in today's New York Times:

The big question on the domestic front right now is whether President Obama understands the gravity of the employment crisis facing the country. Does he get it? The signals coming out of the White House have not been encouraging....

Americans need jobs now, and if the economy on its own is incapable of putting people back to work -- which appears to be the case -- then the government needs to step in with aggressive job-creation efforts....

The Obama administration seems hamstrung by the unemployment crisis. No big ideas have emerged. No dramatically creative initiatives....

See, here's the way Barack Obama approaches a problem.

1. First, he announces that he's seeking bold, transformative change, the kind that some people are certain to resist. But he's going for it. He's going to get matter and antimatter to coexist happily. He's going to persuade the lion to lie down with the lamb.
2. Even as he's promising bold change, he's reaching out to likely antagonists -- and, predictably, getting rebuffed on the notion of bold, transformative change. And he doesn't wait for antagonists to show up -- he welcomes some of the less antagonistic antagonists into his inner circle. And he's somewhat taken aback when even they rebuff aspects his bold, transformative vision.
3. More antagonists have come out of the woodwork; they're piling on objections in addition to the ones raised by the inner-circle antagonists. Now all Obama wants to do is get to yes; now, to him, it seems transformative just to get to yes. And I mean with anything. And it's all happened so fast that he thinks barely eking out a small victory is a natural extension of his original push for bold change. He doesn't know where the bold pronouncement ended and the margin-tinkering began. For him, they're the same thing.

Obviously, this is what's happened on health care -- he let Big Health in to pre-compromise it, then the GOP and teabaggers conservative Democrats had at it. But it's also what happened on his economic recovery package -- first the Wall Streeters in his administration kept it weak, then Congress weakened it further.

When I thought about writing this post, I considered saying that the recession is Obama's Iraq, because (as Herbert says) he doesn't seem to understand the fact that he's failed and the need to correct the failure. I think that's the right analogy up to a point -- but his psyche and Bush's are a bit different.

Bush's primal wound was believing he was the regarded as the dolt in his family; on some level he wanted the war to go on throughout his presidency, so he'd never stop being Important. Obama has a psychological need to be both the mighty leader and the calming presence in the midst of chaos; alas for him, in order to be the former, he has to embrace the process of pissing some people off, which means abandoning the latter once in a while. I'm afraid he can't get himself to do that.

And so he does the bold/timid two-step, on health care, economic recovery, and (I'm afraid) a lot of other issues.


ALSO: Scroll down in the comments here for aimai's analysis of the Obama/Emanuel dynamic (she thinks Rahm is the sharp-elbowed guy Obama won't let himself be).

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