Sunday, September 06, 2009

Obama, the next Carter?

The Obama administration is on the defensive on health care in part because it is promoting an ambiguous and ultimately feeble health reform bill, but partly because health insurance has become a lightening rod for larger economic fears. Voters are not yet convinced that this president is on their side in the battle for economic security. Major steps to improve job opportunities and wages would be a good place to redeem the popular good wishes that accompanied President Obama as he took office.

They were hanging close to the arbiter of the status quo, Lawrence Summers; they had invited the Republicans to join the big plan; the mainstream media were on board and meanwhile they had committed themselves to nothing in particular. What could go wrong?
Between Obama's Cairo speech in early May and his town-hall meetings in August, more than a sense of initiative was lost. It seemed that the White House had confined itself to a decorous standing-in-attendance; as if the conduct of the presidency had become a matter of waiting for Congress and the people to download and revise at pleasure a very large attachment. The president's timing of his entrances and exits has been bewildering. In his first half year in office, he gave 100 personal interviews to mainstream media outlets. Yet there has never been a major speech on the economy, and, until Wednesday, no single speech on health care. Obama loses something too, besides the conveyed impression of warmth, by wanting to appear above the battle. Is he too good for fights he himself has brought on?

In his Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said that we couldn't be divided into blue states and red states. We were all Americans together. Well, it is true, and it is half-true. Obama's aspiration was to teach us again to be Americans together. But a politician less wishful and less keen on the sound of sentiments would not have chosen a moment when his approval had sunk from 58% to 42% to address the nation's schoolchildren. The idea of such a speech, like the recent town-hall appearances, spills over the brim of the usual push for popularity. The town-hall performances were a reminder that Obama sometimes lacks economy of speech; the progress of the summer has been a reminder that he often lacks economy of gesture. This flaw is occasional, not predominant, and it is concealed by his personal grace and the evident fact that Obama thinks. Bill Clinton had a different balance of vices and virtues, but in the curious failure to reckon the actual scale of vast undertakings, which must be done wholeheartedly if they done at all, there is an unhappy resemblance between them.
Does the president yet recognize that his domestic enemies are implacable? They cannot be bargained with. They must be fought with words as well as laws. And the rest of the American people must be -- indeed deserve to be -- reasoned with; given a clear explanation of the path of policy, whether the economy or health care is in question; and not merely assured that the establishment is with the president. If a clear explanation cannot be given, that is a sign of something wrong with the policy

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