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December 17, 2010
Obama's ego keeps getting in the way of politics
A trenchant piece of analysis in WaPo by Michael Gerson this morning regarding President Obama's monumental ego where even a slam dunk like extending the Bush tax rates is botched.
Gerson echoes what many on the right have been saying about Obama for years; it doesn't matter what the issue is, it's all about him:
It is the president's favorite rhetorical pose: the hectorer in chief. He is alternately defiant, defensive, exasperated, resentful, harsh, scolding, prickly. He is both the smartest kid in class and the schoolyard bully. Once you start a list, and the evidence is right before your eyes, it is truly shocking to realize how much of an incompetent politician Obama really is. Forget his missteps as a statesman or as chief executive. This aspect of the Obama's failure is much more damning because it is directly linked to his ability to get things done.
There are many problems with this mode of presidential communication, but mainly its supreme self-regard. The tax deal, in Obama's presentation, was not about the economy or the country. It was about him. It was about the absurd concessions he was forced to make, the absurd opposition he was forced to endure, the universally insufficient deference to his wisdom.
The administration further complicated its communications task by presenting Obama as ideologically superior to his own agreement. The upper-income tax rates and the estate tax provisions, in David Axelrod's description, are "odious." As a rule, staffers should not use such a word to describe policies a president has agreed to accept. It makes a president look compromised and weak. Instead of a leader brokering a popular agreement, Obama appears to be a politician forced under threat to violate his deepest convictions.
At this point in the Obama presidency, even Democrats must be asking: Is he really this bad at politics? The list of miscalculations grows longer. To pass the stimulus package, the administration predicts 8 percent unemployment - a prediction that became an indictment. It pledges the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison - without a realistic plan to do so. It sends the president to secure the Chicago Olympics - and comes away empty-handed. It announces a "summer of recovery" - which becomes a source of ridicule. It unveils a Manhattan trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed - which nearly every New York official promptly turns against. Press secretary Robert Gibbs picks fights with both conservative talk radio hosts and the "professional left" - which uniformly backfire. The president seems to endorse the Ground Zero mosque - before retreating 24 hours later. He suggests that Republicans are "enemies" of Latinos - apparently unable to distinguish between hardball and trash talk.
And in that department, he is found wanting.
Hat Tip: Ed Lasky