So which is it? Is Obama the brilliant politician we've been led to believe, or the bumbler of the past six months? Which is closer to the truth?
Well, you can probably guess my opinion. While I've said nothing about Obama in this space since his inauguration, I had plenty to say about him during the campaign last year. Looking back at what I wrote then, my main theme seemed to be that Obama was an empty suit, a man with little real-life experience that would suit him for the presidency, who displayed a startling lack of economic and historical literacy, and who was not, contrary to his admirers claims, some new type of liberal but rather a conventional one, one who had nothing to offer but retrograde ideas, retreads from the 1970s. Six months into his presidency, I've seen nothing from Obama that would cause me to change that opinion. In fact his performance to this point has done nothing but reinforce my views. It's been nothing short of pathetic.
So where's the Obama of the campaign? The one we were told was such a formidable presence? I would argue he is still here with us for his administration is one long campaign, and he is out there on the stump day in and day out, using his undeniably impressive voice and speaking skills to sell his programs. But governing is quite a different thing than campaigning. Now there are actual programs and policies that must be defended. Now persuasion comes into play, not to mention trust. Obama had all the good will in the world going for him on January 20. His party had solid majorities in both houses of Congress. He could have passed whatever he wanted. And he did - the stimulus, which was his first mistake. Not a mistake in going after a stimulus package, for the American people were solidly behind that. It was in the particulars of the legislation. He should have worked for a bipartisan bill that included tax cuts for business and on individuals in the upper income brackets. A capital gains tax cut would also have helped, along with an announcement that he was going to extend or make permanent the Bush tax cuts set to expire in 2011. That would have been stimulative. That would have been a success. But, alas, Obama is too much the ideologue to take such a step. Instead he blew up the budget with giveaways and people started to watch him, and wonder who they actually elected. The mainstream media did its best to cover up Obama's radical past from ordinary Americans during the campaign. They pressed the fiction that he was post-partisan, post-racial man, a healer of sorts, a wise-man who would lead us into a new future. That myth has now been exploded and polls show that the American people see Obama for who he really is, a leftist ideologue. A lack of trust has crept into the public opinion of the man, not to mention much anger over the health-care initiative. Everything he'd like to accomplish as president thus becomes harder. Had he started out of the gate with a real victory on the stimulus everything thereafter would have been easier. It mat have enabled him to ram cap-and-trade through Congress and even much of the health-care program because people would have trusted him. But now they don't, and folks are paying very close attention. That's not a good place to be six months into a presidency.
And so my opinion is confirmed. Obama was too inexperienced, too much the naive ideologue to become president. He's overreached, making the same mistakes Clinton did in 1993 and LBJ did in 1964-65. The economic and historical ignorance that I accused him of during the campaign is pretty much a given now. That said, things may turn for Obama in the future for you never know in politics. After all, Clinton's presidency was actually saved by his mistakes. So upset were the American people about his initial political initiatives that they swept the Democrats out of power in 1994. Clinton, faced with Republican rule in both houses of Congress, realized he needed to move to the middle. He became the free-trade president, he signed welfare reform, and he got out of the way of the Internet boom. By the time he finally got caught up in scandal the economy was in such good shape even cigars, stained blue dresses, and outright lies could not bring him down. If Obama were smart, if he is as smart as we've been told, he will seek out some sort of middle ground that will reassure Americans and reestablish some public trust. Will he? I'm not so sure. Clinton had been a governor for a decade before he became president. He'd won and lost elections and he knew what it took to succeed. He truly was a savvy politician. Obama has never really accomplished anything beyond what his public speaking skills could get him. He's never been associated with any issue or legislation. He is disinterested in policy (again, unlike Clinton, who loved talking policy and knew all the issues from both sides) and when he tries to talk about it off-the-cuff he is pathetically inept. His knowledge is all surface-deep. We've got a parochial-minded community organizer for president who has the arrogant mentality of a cloistered, pipe-smoking university professor. He's a faculty-lounge orator, utterly self-assured about his own righteousness and infallibility. No president can succeed with a mindset like that. If Barack Obama doesn't have the ability to rise above this outlook his presidency is almost guaranteed to be a failure.