July 22, 2009

Lessons from Obama-land 100

There will be many lessons that come out of the current Presidency, but the two most glaring examples of "What have we learned?" so far relate to the President's strategic approach to his agenda. The first lesson appears to be that you can be too aggressive for your own agenda.

By charging out of the gate on the stimulus package, and then the omnibus bill, by not letting the crisis 'go to waste', the President set himself up for resistance and potentially failure on any subsequent bill. Cap and Trade squeaked through Congress and may die in the Senate. The Health Care bill, once it exists, may face stronger resistance and may in fact fail entirely. President Bush, if you recall, wanted to spend the political capital from his second election win in 2004 (NOT his first, in case you are a stolen-election-of-2000 zombie). He tried to spend it on "Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror."

Notice what he said first - Social Security. Did it change? No. Did it go anywhere? Not really. Why? It was too aggressive an issue . It happened to President Bush and it's starting to happen to President Obama - resistance. When confronted with radical agendas, politicians in Congress scurry back to the middle of the political spectrum to protect their careers. The political middle is the same thing as inertia because change is hard and doing nothing is easier for people to take. The President may want to have universal health care, but the cost, rightly, scares many Democrats. Particularly those in vulnerable districts, but in general, Congressional Representatives don't want to rock the boat too much. They want to be re-elected.

The lesson is that if you are too aggressive, you lose support quickly. It's hard to imagine now, but at this rate, Obama could be a lame duck President by the end of his first year in office. No doubt it will end up being tagged as a problem of racism if that happens. As a corollary to the lesson, it may turn out that any future President's real impact ends up being determined in the first 100 days. Beyond that they might end up predominantly as an administrator. If that turns out to be the rule - beyond 100 days you can't get anything done, then the lesson is to be as aggressive as you can in those early days to take advantage of the grace period you've been given. Or perhaps it's a chicken and egg argument. Maybe a less aggressive first 100 days might free up more flexibility beyond that window. That version of events is not likely to happen to any future President. America is a quick fix society, with short attention spans and heavy political filters on the people's focus.

There's another lesson to be taken from Obama-land, just over 100 days into it. That lesson is that experience matters. Lack of understanding has led to a lot of questionable decisions by the President. From alienating Israel, to allowing North Korea to run wild, to embracing socialist dictators and responding slowly and meekly to an uprising in Iran, the decisions have lurched from wrong to bad to worse. On cap and trade and the stimulus bill he's put ideology before pragmatism - in the midst of a steep recession, he's spent trillions and loaded the country up with unsustainable debt.

Community organizer experience, a barely warmed Senate seat and a campaign for President, did not give the man any qualifications for the Presidency and it shows. He still views the Presidency as a soap box and will use it at every chance he gets to try to convince people of his ideology. That's not running the country, it's running his agenda. It's more in tune with his underexposed activist roots than what the country needs.

John McCain may have been a mamby-pamby ultra-soft lefty conservative, but you would not now be a majority shareholder in GM. Wait, scratch that, you aren't - the government is. The government isn't you - it's Obama and Pelosi and Reid. You get nothing.

Experience matters. Obama doesn't realize it, and neither does the press, or much of the public. But he's in over his head and things will only get worse until he is forced to cool his jets on his torrid pace of attempts at radical reform. It will be interesting to see if time, combined with the growing reluctance of Democrats manage to cool those jets for him.

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