Barack Obama may have promised Hope and Change, but Mark Halperin writes today in Time that Obama has brought More of the Same instead. That doesn’t extend to policy, Halperin argues, although Obama keeps backing into George Bush’s policies by default. Halperin mentions Afghanistan, but here he forgets that Obama ran on the promise to fight in Afghanistan more robustly than Bush did, and so far he’s kept that promise after wasting four months trying to make up his mind. On military commissions, the Patriot Act, and even Gitmo at the moment, Obama has found himself pushed back to Bush-era policies as his own unrealistic promises collapse around him.
Halperin, though, refers to process in his criticism, and says that Obama didn’t learn from his predecessor even while spending most of two years blasting him from the campaign trail:
Who would have thought that one of Barack Obama’s biggest missteps as president would be repeating some of the bad habits of George W. Bush? No single factor was more instrumental in Obama’s 2008 victory than his pledge to completely reverse the nation’s course once in the White House. Instead, over the past year, Obama has mimicked some of Bush’s most egregious blunders, leading to much of the political predicament in which the present decider finds himself today.
This is not to say that Obama has maintained Bush’s policies, although his administration’s continuity on issues ranging from Afghanistan to Wall Street has alienated the left. And he certainly hasn’t done himself any favors by failing to inspire the general public to rally around his agenda. But Obama’s stumbles atop the high-wire of running the federal government has created perhaps the greatest danger to his presidency, and they are oddly reminiscent of the misguided practices which tripped up his predecessor.
These are the four mistakes Halperin accuses Obama of repeating:
- No chief economic spokesperson
- Failure to integrate policy, politics, and communication
- Tying his administration’s fate too closely to Congressional leaders
- Failure to empower Cabinet members on domestic policy
Three of these are inside-baseball issues, hardly the kind of supposed failures that would cause 20-point shifts in public opinion polls. The second makes almost no sense at all; Halperin accuses the White House of failing to move “strong, serious ideas” from his policy wonks to Obama’s speeches in an effective manner. That may be the only thing working as intended in this White House. The President gives good speeches almost every day, and has “dramatic public events” almost every week. Obama’s failure is not recognizing that his “strong, serious ideas” are outside the mainstream in the first place, and that his speeches aren’t enough to convince a center-right nation to adopt his leftist agenda.
Halperin hits the bullseye on the third point, but fails to understand why it happened:
When Bush ran for president, he, like Obama, suggested he would regularly cross his own party’s congressional wing when he thought they were dead wrong. And Obama, like Bush, has lashed himself over and over to the political fortunes of the Capitol Hill portion of his party, allowing the agenda and vision of Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid, and a covey of mostly liberal committee chairs to define the public image of the Democratic Party and determine what his administration can accomplish.
Bush got less interested in leading on legislative issues after 9/11, and his big foray back into that realm in 2005 with Social Security reform flopped on partisan bickering. Obama, on the other hand, has yet to take any interest in leadership at all — and on his own policy agenda items, such as ObamaCare. His problem is that he’s too interested in the integration of politics and communications; all he ever does is give speeches. From the first days of his presidency, Obama has abdicated that role to Nancy Pelosi, and more than a year later, still hasn’t demanded it back.
Why did he let Pelosi run wild? Obama had no experience as an executive, and allowed himself to get rolled by party leadership. Many of us warned about his inexperience during the campaign. Obama not only had no experience as an executive, he had very little experience as an effective and actice legislator. It’s not much of a surprise now that Obama has delegated most of the policy work back to his party leadership, which he mostly did in the Senate and in the Illinois legislature.
The real lesson here is not that Obama is making the same mistakes as Bush. It’s that Obama was unprepared for this job in the first place, and the media didn’t bother to report that when it counted.