Newsweek has transformed itself over the past two years into the cheerleading section of the media Obamabots, but Howard Fineman throws a little cold water on the Age of Obama. The meme of the Greatest Transition Evah has faded away as Barack Obama stumbles from crisis to crisis, and not just in finance. The impression of incompetence has started to spread, and while his approval numbers still remain average, the DC establishment has begun to lose confidence in him.
Even as he delivers the bad news, Fineman still sounds like an apologist:
Surfer that he is, President Obama should know a riptide when he’s in one. The center usually is the safest, most productive place in politics, but perhaps not now, not in a once-in-a-century economic crisis.
Swimming in the middle, he’s denounced as a socialist by conservatives, criticized as a polite accommodationist by government-is-the-answer liberals, and increasingly, dismissed as being in over his head by technocrats.
Luckily for Obama, the public still likes and trusts him, at least judging by the latest polls, including NEWSWEEK’s.But, in ways both large and small, what’s left of the American establishment is taking his measure and, with surprising swiftness, they are finding him lacking.
They have some reasons to be concerned. I trace them to a central trait of the president’s character: he’s not really an in-your-face guy. By recent standards—and that includes Bill Clinton as well as George Bush—Obama for the most part is seeking to govern from the left, looking to solidify and rely on his own party more than woo Republicans. And yet he is by temperament judicious, even judicial. He’d have made a fine judge. But we don’t need a judge. We need a blunt-spoken coach.
So he’s “swimming in the middle” while “seeking to govern from the left”? No wonder people have trouble with his competence. I’m not even sure how Fineman bases his “swimming in the middle” assessment on policy or tone. He’s allowed Nancy Pelosi to lock Republicans out of the legislative process on Porkulus and the omnibus spending bill, tacitly allowed Congress to pass the pork-filled omnibus spending plan, and has rolled out a half-baked plan to vastly grow government over the next ten years as a supposed economic stimulus.
That’s only swimming in the middle if you write for Newsweek, or Mother Jones.
People find him lacking because he keeps failing on tasks large and small. Three Cabinet appointments have gone under in less than two months, as have other senior staff assignments. He promised an economic plan from Tim Geithner during his first press conference, only to have Geithner appear the next day and say that the dog ate his homework. The administration has still failed to roll out the details of TARP II, the auto bailouts, and the full plans for the mortgage relief plan, despite multiple promises to deliver them. His failure to understand protocol during Gordon Brown’s visit embarrassed the US and the Washington establishment, which knew full well how insultingly Obama treated the British Prime Minister.
And what does Fineman write about? What a judicious guy Obama is, and that that’s the problem.