The Obama Way
posted at 1:36 pm on December 29, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Carol Lee at Politico notices a disturbing pattern emerging from the Obama administration when bad news appears:
There is a sense of déjà vu in the Obama administration’s response to the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day. A by-now familiar pattern has been established for dealing with unexpected problems.
First, White House aides downplay the notion that something may have gone wrong on their part. While staying out of the spotlight, the president conveys his efforts to address the situation and his feelings about it through administration officials. After a few days, the White House concedes on the issue, and perhaps Barack Obama even steps out to address it.
That same scenario unfolded over the summer, when Obama said Sgt. James Crowley, a white Cambridge, Mass., police officer, “acted stupidly” when he arrested Henry Louis Gates Jr., a black Harvard professor, in his own home. It happened in March when the public was outraged over AIG dishing out hefty bonuses. More recently the public witnessed the dynamic after a security breach at President Barack Obama’s first state dinner.
But the fact that the issue now is a terrorist incident — albeit an unsuccessful one — makes the stakes much higher, and the White House’s usual approach more questionable. That this test of his leadership comes while he’s on vacation in tropical Hawaii further complicates things.
It’s also happened to a lesser degree on the economy. Obama insisted earlier in the year that Porkulus was saving jobs and creating new ones, but as the economic indicators continued to decline, Obama himself began to avoid the subject. Instead, he has mostly used proxies to make that argument (with a few exceptions), or has focused instead on other issues until forced to deal with massive job losses. Hence the “hard pivot” the White House announced last week — through anonymous sources, as per The Obama Way — away from ObamaCare and onto job creation and economic recovery.
We saw it even more with the decision on Afghanistan. Despite having campaigned on a COIN strategy and formally committing to it in March, Obama couldn’t make a decision for four months on whether to resource it properly. He rarely spoke about the subject publicly, preferring to float trial balloons through anonymous sources on different strategies and options. Obama took an Asian tour of no particular import or purpose in the middle of that process, making many wonder whether he even understood the stakes involved.
The modern American standard for political leadership was set by Harry Truman, who put a sign on his Oval Office desk that read, “The buck stops here.” After almost a full year in office, Obama and his administration haven’t figured out that Americans expect that attitude from every President, and not a series of blamehifts to one’s predecessor, regardless of how unpopular he happened to be. They expect not just leadership from a President, but visible leadership, a muscular sort of public presence that shows tough decision-making and command of the facts and concepts involved in the decisions.
Of course, many of us warned of this problem when the Democrats nominated a man who had never held executive office at any level for the toughest executive position in the world. Obama has demonstrated all of the leadership one would expect from a legislative back-bencher, a man who passed the buck a lot more often than he held it at both the state and federal levels prior to winning the election last November. He has passed the buck repeatedly this year, on Porkulus, ObamaCare, cap-and-trade, and would have done so on Afghanistan had there been anyone who could have handled it. The Obama Way is the anti-Truman, and his falling approval rating reflects the fact that Americans have begun to discover that.
Update: The Wall Street Journal concurs in a separate analysis:
The administration has sometimes struggled with how to convey its antiterror actions to the public. President George W. Bush’s administration frequently highlighted cases in which it contended terrorists were stopped. The Obama administration has continued some of Mr. Bush’s antiterror policies.
Jim Geraghty points out this passage:
The statement followed three days in which the White House had delegated public responses to subordinates. Officials debated over the weekend whether to state publicly that the security system had failed, according to a senior counterterrorism official.
Jim notes: “The situation calls for 24, and I’m getting Fawlty Towers: “Don’t mention the war!””