May 21, 2013
The System Works, Obama’s Approach Doesn’t
Posted on Mar 2, 2010
The new president and his advisers soon dashed the promise of November with his major appointments, which offered a too-painful reminder of the past. In quick order, he named Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, both enablers of the disastrous policies of the past three decades, to head his economic and fiscal team. Both men had close, warm ties to Wall Street bankers, precisely those in need of new regulatory actions to curb their excesses, and both had problematic personal issues.
Obama just as quickly signaled his intention to largely continue George W. Bush’s foreign policies and the militarization of foreign policy as he appointed Gen. James Jones as national security adviser and Adm. Dennis Blair as head of the intelligence community.
The president named Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter of the Iraq war and who had mocked his notions of change in foreign policy, to be secretary of state. And he continued Robert Gates’ tenure as defense secretary. When was the last time that a Republican president felt compelled to appease his opposition by naming a Democrat to a key post? Meanwhile, Greg Craig lost his job as White House counsel because of his advocacy for closing Guantánamo.
Alas, candidate Obama, the bold, dynamic advocate for change, has morphed into President Obama, a terribly cautious man, too eager to please and compromise. He displayed an unwillingness to challenge an opposition that wished him only ill and failure, whether for personal or policy reasons. Instead, he ironically allowed the drift of “politics as usual,” and he failed to deliver the message to the country that he had inherited and that he had a mandate to change failed, disastrous policies.
The president allowed the likes of Baucus and Grassley to run the debate. Finally, Joe Lieberman, the “senator from the insurance industry,” exercised his one-man veto to kill a “public option,” upon which the president had lavished generous words of vagueness. Lieberman did so with impunity (besides his usual self-righteousness), probably realizing full well there would be no reprisal, no loss of his committee chairmanship. The failure of the president and the Democrats to rid themselves of the strutting Lieberman even after he no longer was needed for a 60th vote speaks volumes. Meanwhile, the mistakes of the president, his advisers and his congressional leaders resulted in increased weakness, an inability to govern and the hardening of political fault lines.
Timing is everything. The flood of calls for new faces has some merit, although much of it is motivated by the long knives and memories of former insiders. (See Leslie H. Gelb’s article “Replace Rahm” in The Daily Beast.) President Obama is at the heart of the problem. He set his own table at the outset and his accommodating ways have only weakened him—and, worse, emboldened his enemies. The president is perceived as timid, floundering and reluctant to act. He is wounded. Can he recover? Can he hold on to congressional majorities and can he govern as the man we elected? Only if he adopts the boldness and cunning of his more effective predecessors.
Stanley Kutler is the author of “The Wars of Watergate” and other writings.
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