When a Democratic President has lost Ruth Marcus, then something’s amiss. Barack Obama didn’t lose the Washington Post’s liberal columnist because he’s been too conservative, or too liberal, or even that he’s been too much. Obama lost Marcus because Obama is hardly visible at all, at least as a leader:
He didn’t want to get mired in legislative details during the health care debate for fear of repeating the Clinton administration’s prescriptive, take-ours-or-leave-it approach. He doesn’t want to go first on proposing entitlement reform because history teaches that this is not the best route to a deal. He didn’t want to say anything too tough about Libya for fear of endangering Americans trapped there. He didn’t want to weigh in on the labor battle in Wisconsin because, well, it’s a swing state.
Yet the dots connect to form an unsettling portrait of a “Where’s Waldo?” presidency: You frequently have to squint to find the White House amid the larger landscape. …
My biggest beef is with the president’s slipperiness on fiscal matters. Obama has said he agrees with some of his fiscal commission’s recommendations and disagrees with others. Which ones does he disagree with? I asked this question the other day to Austan Goolsbee, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Here’s what I got: “The view espoused by some of the … commission that we ought to do Social Security 100 percent off of benefit cuts for sure he doesn’t agree with.” But of course, the plan that 11 of the commission members endorsed did nothing of the sort.
Not to worry, though, Andrew Malcolm writes today — Sheriff Joe is on the case:
Thanks to GOP demands, Obama’s party confronts another set of under-the-gun fiscal negotiations over the next two weeks, again on the opposition’s homefield. And likely again after that.
Republican Speaker John Boehner is asking the cameras how can he negotiate when his side is the only one putting forth specific plans? Harry Reid, the Senate’s top Democrat, hasn’t got the answers. And Chuck Schumer, who’d like to be the Senate’s top Democrat, volunteers that he’s sent ideas to the White House for approval.
So who do you call? Naturally, Biden is sent back up to the Hill by Obama, who’s got a couple of important school visits scheduled in coming days. Not to mention some more I-really-mean-it-this-time warnings to Middle Eastern dictators.
There has not been one major issue on which Obama has led. His one bright moment of leadership came in January in the aftermath of the Tuscon shooting, but the only other example Marcus can find of Obama’s leadership was in his address to the Democratic convention — not as a Presidential candidate, but as a Senate candidate in 2004. Otherwise, when it comes to leadership and specific policies, all Obama manages to produce are slogans like “Winning the Future” that are so banal as to be meaningless — and in this case was lifted from one of his political opponents.
Marcus calls this administration a “Where’s Waldo” presidency, but perhaps WTF Waldo would be a better title.
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