The (inept) One

I’ve never read Thomas McClanahan of the Kansas City Star before. This is a good article on the meaning of Obama’s first year in office and the State of the Union and the state of Obama. He cuts through to some basic points about his subject. He sounds like a journalist from a previous generation, parachuted into this one. He sounds like a mature man, talking about an immature one.

President’s ineptness quite clear after a year
The Kansas City Star
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What happened to the bright dreams, the hope and change? A year ago, fate handed President Obama one of the most tantalizing political opportunities in history.

His party enjoyed a blowout election. The Republicans were leaderless and devoid of ideas. The Democrats had hefty majorities in both houses of Congress. Obama had stratospheric approval ratings and the support of a nation profoundly fearful of the future.

And then he threw it all away. He outsourced chunks of his job to a left-wing congressional leadership that has learned nothing and forgotten nothing for the past 35 years.

What came next was one appalling legislative blob after another: the stimulus package that hasn’t stimulated, the cap-and-trade monster, the health care power-grab.

When Obama assumed office, he was still something of an enigma. Many asked: Who is this guy?

Well, now we know a lot more. The bottom line: He isn’t a good politician. Politics is an art, and Obama’s basic competence is highly suspect. He lacks the personal radar an effective politician must have—the instinct to know when you’re on solid ground and when you’re tilting at windmills. Obama has spent a year tilting at windmills.

The “art of the possible” isn’t static. With steady accomplishments, an effective leader can expand the zone of the possible. A winner draws new adherents, builds coalitions, acquires new strength for the next challenge.

For a weak leader, the opposite applies: His credibility shrinks, and so do the ranks of his followers. His ability to accomplish anything becomes doubtful.

This is the vicious circle that now ensnares Obama. He has succeeded mainly in uniting his opposition and dividing his own camp. House and Senate Democrats are openly sniping at one another. The hard left—Obama’s base—is writing him off as inept.

The sense of disarray was only reinforced by his State of the Union speech.

Let’s give a cheer or two for the proposed cut in the capital gains tax for small businesses and the spending freeze plan—while noting that the latter applies to only a small part of the budget, doesn’t begin until next year and comes only after spending was recklessly accelerated. Obama wants to “freeze” outlays at stratospheric, stimulus-package levels.

If Obama is serious about two of his main points—a second stimulus package and his renewed call for Congress to pass health care reform—then he has learned nothing from the last year and the political earthquake in Massachusetts.

Despite its enormous cost, last year’s stimulus package has failed to live up to expectations. So, his response is: Do it again?

On health care, he offered no suggestions to deadlocked Democrats as to how they should pass a bill disliked by most Americans. The House can’t pass the Senate bill and the Senate couldn’t pass the House bill. Obama’s advice: Keep trying what isn’t working. [My interpretation was that he was saying this to save face and keep the support of his base, not that he seriously was pushing to do it.]

Like Jimmy Carter, Obama squandered much of his political capital in his first year. Before last week’s speech, it was possible to argue that it wasn’t too late for him to adopt a new approach and move toward the center. Now it’s clear he has no such intention.

A big clue to Obama appeared long before his election, when he was still a senator.

He’s stubborn. With the tide indisputably turning in Iraq, he remained opposed to the troop surge and claimed it was bound to fail. When he took office, the economic landscape was completely transformed. But he refused to put off health care and cap-and-trade, even though voters thought the economy was a much higher priority.

He has another problem, most evident in his handling of foreign policy.

He sold out the Czechs and Poles on missile defense to appease Russia—and got nothing in return. He stuck with “engagement” on Iran, missing an opportunity to voice full-throated support for the Iranian opposition. In dealing with China, he shrank from the topic of human rights.

The question raised by French President Nicolas Sarkozy—“Is he weak?”—must be answered in the affirmative.

The media portrait of Obama during the campaign made much of his cool, unflappable temperament. But that ignored his most telling qualities. Stubborn and weak is not what you want in a president. No wonder he’s already talking about the prospect of a single term.

To reach E. Thomas McClanahan, call 816-234-4480 or send e-mail to

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 31, 2010 10:50 PM | Send

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