Political Musings

Time for Obama 2.0?

With today marking President Barack Obama’s 500th day in office, I felt it appropriate to reflect on the state of his political brand, which has taken a hit as a result of recent events.  Those being the BP oil spill, and recent allegations that the administration attempted [rather clumsily] to lure candidates away from primary contests in Colorado and Pennsylvania.  To be sure, none of the President’s problems are matters of competence; at least not ostensibly.  Rather, Mr. Obama’s problems are mostly political.  Fortunately, he can correct these political problems, thus rebooting the Obama brand, by overhauling his political operation.  Doing so would ensure that some of the more notable political blunders of recent vintage are avoided.

Take for instance the oil spill.  Reasonable minds can agree that responsibility for the largest environmental disaster in our country’s history falls largely on BP.  Moreover, the sophisticated nature of deep-sea drilling has left all interested parties overly dependent on BP to “plug the hole.”  Given these unfortunate circumstances, no one expects the President to put on a wet suit, and dive down into the gulf and inspect the problem himself.  What Americans do expect is that the President shows some leadership on the issue.  Although I have no doubt that the President has been deeply engaged, most Americans do not share my belief.   A new USA Today/Gallup Poll that finds that a majority of Americans (53%) consider Mr. Obama’s response to the crisis as “poor” or “very poor,” illustrates this point.  Perhaps attending political fundraisers in California, or conducting interviews with Marv Albert might not have been the best way to convey a sense of urgency.

These suggestions would seem quite basic to even the most casual of observers.  Yet, Mr. Obama’s political advisers failed to see how such acts, albeit benign, might prove problematic.  Don’t get me wrong, I love San Francisco.  And I understand how important it is to help raise funds for political campaigns.  But wouldn’t it have been more wise to spend that time in the Gulf, at least looking engaged?

Compounding Mr. Obama’s oil spill problem is the recent revelation that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina tried to coax Colorado Senate hopeful Andrew Romanoff out of running in the primary by implicitly offering him a job in the administration.  Republicans have made hay out of this and a similar situation with Joe Sestak, who was asked to do the same in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary.  Like Romanoff, Sestak declined the administration’s offer, making the White House look impotent, and inviting charges from the right on political corruption.

Although these charges for an independent counsel are frivolous, they do bring forth questions regarding Mr. Obama’s supposed brand of change.  Rather than supporting upstart candidates that have chosen to eschew the political establishment, in a manner similar to that of Mr. Obama’s own presidential candidacy, the administration’s brand of governance has not resembled much change at all.  Mr. Obama would do well to take a hard look at those around him.  I suspect he may find that his political advisers have not served him well.  This is not to say that the Obama administration has been a failure.  Passing the historic health care bill alone ensures him of some place in history.  But these most recent political gaffes undercut not only the brand of politics on which he campaigned, but give voice to his critics.

2 thoughts on “Political Musings

  1. Very reasoned analysis of the current political situation for President Obama.

    As you well know I would be anxious to jump on any opportunity to criticize our current President, much of the recent press is off the mark. The BP oil spill will probably be Obama’s Katrina. Much like Bush took a huge political hit for the government’s response to that disaster, President Obama may well be impacted long term due to the oil spill. In my opinion, although Bush probably deserved more criticism for his administration’s handling of Katrina, than Obama deserves for the Gulf neither deserves the full extent of the criticism. In Katrina’s case local and state governments reacted far more poorly than they should have, but if reports are to be believed local and state governments are trying to do things and being held up by the Fed’s currently.

    Overall, I think Team Obama is learning it is a lot harder to lead and govern than to campaign and criticize. Right now President Obama appears to be a bit on the defensive because his polished rhetoric and campaign type style doesn’t work when you have to handle real issues and he is the one being criticized.

  2. Thanks for the comments Jeff! I think that the optics of the BP spill are indeed quite similar to what Bush experienced with Katrina. However, the circumstances are different substantively and that’s why the comparisons fall flat. For starters, the sophistication of the oil spill is much greater than what took place with Katrina, which was at its heart a failed search and rescue operation. I think the other thing that killed Bush was the whole “You’re doing a heck of a job Brownie” comment that demonstrated how out of touch Bush was with the problems. True, Obama is experiencing similar problems, but there are no clear solutions to the problem here, where as with Katrina, the solutions were more clear. I would also add that the scope of the harm with Katrina was much greater because it involved the loss of life. This isn’t to say that the economic and environmental damages inflicted by the oil spill aren’t substantial and problematic. Rather, humanitarian crises like Katrina always ring much louder.

    Either way, we can definitely agree that Obama is definitely better at campaigning than governing – at least right now. But his recent victory with passing healthcare, shows that he has not all talk. Regardless of whether you agree with the bill, it was one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation to pass through Congress in quite some time, and Obama played a key role in moving it along.

    I’d really like to see him make some personnel changes, but he seems to like his current crop of advisers.

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