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.
In some areas - such as education reform or the tax deal - Obama's governing practice is better than his political skills. But these skills matter precisely because political capital is limited. The early pursuit of ambitious health-care reform was a political mistake, as former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel internally argued. But every president has the right to spend his popularity on what he regards as matters of principle. Political risks, taken out of conviction with open eyes, are an admirable element of leadership.
Yet political errors made out of pique or poor planning undermine the possibility of achievement. Rather than being spent, popularity is squandered - something the Obama administration has often done.
Friday, December 17, 2010
This, America, Is Who You Voted For
From the Washington Post: