More Chickens Roosting

March 16th, 2009

I wrote Chickens Coming Home To Roost a couple of days ago to highlight the fact that the expectations created and some of the promises made during the Obama campaign aren’t being fulfilled.  It’s still early days, of course, but there are discouraging signs, particularly Obama’s questionable focus on the economic crisis. 

If you present yourself (or allow yourself to be presented) as the Messiah, you have to follow-up by turning wine into water and raising the dead–or at least by making a serious, concerted effort to fix the economy.  Obama’s chickens are going to continue coming home to roost until the Administration gets its act together and begins to operate effectively, particularly in regard to the economy.

In a March 13 column in the WSJ Opinion Journal headlined Please Get Serious, Mr. President, James Taranto wrote:

Optimism and patience were not on offer just a few weeks ago, when the president was telling us we were on the verge of CATASTROPHE!!!! unless Congress immediately authorized the spending of some $800 billion. Obama is asking us to believe that the so-called stimulus was both necessary and sufficient to turn things around in less than a month. He is straining the limits of our credulity and testing the limits of his own credibility. …

…everyone knows the crisis is real, even if it falls short of a catastrophe. And hardly anyone is gullible enough to think that socializing the health-insurance business, imposing massive taxes on energy, and increasing the power of unions are going to resolve a crisis that has its origins in the credit markets.

Obama seems to care about the economic crisis only to the extent that it is an impediment to or an instrument for winning support for policies in unrelated areas. It is as if President Bush had responded to 9/11 by launching an all-out campaign for private Social Security accounts.

Obama is president today not because Americans were enamored with his policy proposals but because they were persuaded that he was, by dint of temperament and intellect, the better man to lead the nation in a time of crisis. If he fails to live up to that expectation, he risks letting the crisis worsen–and finding himself in the center of a political catastrophe.

Of course, die-hard Obama supporters will turn their noses up at anything written in the Wall Street Journal.  So, how about…

In End of the Honeymoon in The Washington Post, David Broder, certainly no foe of Obama or liberals in general, said:

Among those who follow government closely, there has been an unmistakable change in tone in the past few weeks. These are not little Rush Limbaughs hoping that Obama fails. They are politicians and journalists measuring him with the same skeptical eye they apply to everyone else.

I think the shift began when Obama moved beyond the stimulus bill to his speech to the joint session of Congress and his budget message. For the first time, the full extent of his ambitions for 2009 became clear — not just stopping and reversing the steep slide in the economy but also launching highly controversial efforts in health care, energy and education. …

Congress has taken note of the way Obama backed down from his anti-earmark stance, a clear signal that he is leery of any showdown with the lawmakers. Despite his popularity, Obama is not an intimidating figure, and so he can expect to be tested time and again.

Meantime, on the main challenge — the economy — the criticism has begun to infect the mainstream media as well as the conservative wing. I was struck last week to read heartfelt pleas to Obama from my Post colleague David Ignatius and David Brooks of the New York Times to get his priorities straight and concentrate on the crucial task of rescuing banking, credit, housing and jobs.

These are people who deeply admire and respect Obama and wish him nothing but success. But, like some thoughtful congressional Democrats with whom I have spoken, they worry that he has bitten off more than he can chew.

Criticism of this kind is not an augury of failure. But it does signal that the honeymoon is over.

This criticism is going to become more widespread, even in normally supportive media quarters, until the Obama Administration begins focusing much more intently on the economic crisis and can show some progress.  Beyond that, Obama has to make a serious effort to honor his campaign promises, and his domestic agenda must be debated in the open instead of being hidden in legislation intended to deal with the economy.

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5 Responses to “More Chickens Roosting”

  1. Kevin |

    Obama has only ever been referred to as “the Messiah” by his irretractable political opponents, over whom he obviously never has and never will have any control whatsoever. In order for him to disallow presenting himself as “the Messiah” he would have to have the dictatorial powers of a police state and the willingness to ruthlessly repress dissent. And even that wouldn’t effectively disallow it. It would merely drive it underground.

  2. Tom |

    You’re right, Kevin, in the sense that Obama never struck a heroic pose before styrofoam columns in front of an adoring mob and read from the teleprompter, “I am the Messiah!” Of course not. However, the tone and tenor of his campaign and the way he specifically presented himself invited that sarcastic term from his opponents. His campaign promises and proclamations often begged for some rational person with a cool head to mutter to himself, “Who does he think he is, the Messiah?” Here are a few, but there are many, many more:

    Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

    People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.

    America, this is our moment. … I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when…the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal….

    For Pete’s sake, even Moses couldn’t pull off anything bigger than parting the Red Sea!

    I support Obama because he’s our president. I want him to be successful, first in managing the economic crisis, and later in all other ways. I don’t agree with all the things he wants to do, but if after open debate the majority wants what he wants, then so be it. But right now, he’s beginning to show that he can’t fulfill all those promises (tax cuts, earmarks, hiring lobbyists, etc), and his performance in even staffing the critical (at this moment) Treasury Department is woefully inadequate.

    I support him, as I said, but I don’t worship him. He’s going to have to do better than he has been, or the cacophony of clucking chickens is just going to get louder and louder, and I’m not willing to pretend they’re not there.

  3. Kevin |

    Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.

    That’s nothing more than a rephrasing of one of the most widely known truism in the English language, most commonly phrased in contemporary times as “if nothing changes, nothing changes”, and the gist of which predates Barack Obama’s birth by millenia.

    People of Berlin – people of the world – this is our moment. This is our time.

    Seriously? So he’s a populist. Was Ronald Reagan being Messianic when he practiced his own form of populism in Berlin?

    America, this is our moment. … I am absolutely certain that, generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when…the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal….

    I don’t know what kind of news coverage on the Kyoto Protocol you get over there in Serbia but Bush famously opposed it and McCain and the vast majority of Republicans did/do too. Oceans rising and the health of the planet are integral parts of that entire issue…

  4. Tom |

    Ronald Reagan spoke in Berlin as the President of the United States, with all the power and influence that implies. And it had absolutely nothing to do with populism. He wasn’t being messianic–he was a world leader determined to end the Cold War on terms favorable to the U.S. and the free world, and he was largely responsible for achieving that goal. Barack Obama spoke in Berlin as a political candidate trying to win an election. That had nothing to do with populism, either.

    The Kyoto Protocol was symbolically signed by Al Gore in 1998. The Clinton Administration didn’t submit it to the Senate for ratification because the Senate had already voted 95-0 to indicate that it would not ratify an agreement that would seriously damage the U.S. economy and did not include developing countries like China and India, which are huge greenhouse gas emitters (in fact, China is now the number one emitter in the world). The Bush Administration never submitted it to the Senate for the same reasons. It’s accepted now (even by the UN) that even if every country were to sign up to Kyoto and meet all its goals, the overall reduction in greenhouse gases would be very small.

    So, what is it you would have President Obama do, Kevin–have the U.S. sign on to a seriously flawed treaty that doesn’t include huge greenhouse gas emitters and wouldn’t make much difference even if it were perfectly followed (which it hasn’t been), then by doing that further damage the U.S. economy at the worst possible time? Are you serious?

    I actually get my news coverage, including coverage of the Kyoto Protocol, through a complex system of carrier pigeons. Each day they deliver The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, et al., plus digital video from CNN and BBC. On days the pigeons are tired or get blown off-course (by Global Warming, of course), I turn to a broadband internet connection and cable TV. But only as a last resort.


  5. Kevin |

    Re: Berlin, Reagan and Obama – you say pot-A-to and I say pot-AH-to.

    And our friend Merriam-Webster says that it was textbook populism.

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