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Comment on ‘What Didn’t Happen’ (Paul Krugman, 01/18/2010)

January 18, 2010

In response to:

What Didn’t Happen

New York Times | January 18, 2010

The theme that reappears throughout all of these episodes is the Obama administration’s utter incompetence in managing the political requirements of holding the highest office in the land.  Tragically, Mr. Obama has – as President Clinton did before him – simply lacked the testicular fortitude to match his Republican opponents.

As someone who was much more drawn to candidate Obama’s message of discipline, hope and redemption than to Mrs. Clinton’s transparently visible entitlement and the horrible mismanagement of her campaign, I must now admit that her key criticism of him was right: he simply isn’t tough enough. Worse yet – and staggeringly ironic – is that he seems to share some of President Bush’s inability to adapt in the face of strong evidence that things aren’t working out as planned. As a result, the Republicans have been able to successfully use their ability to block action in the Senate on health care reform in exactly the same way that they used it to gut the stimulus. And the writing’s on the wall as regards financial reform.

In all of these instances (and even in Afghanistan, although it was less noticeable because the outcome wasn’t at all controversial as viewed from the right side of the aisle) Mr. Obama has shown a palpable lack of the decisiveness which is necessary to inspire true confidence in main street America. In each instance he has exposed too much of his own decision-making process – perhaps, like President Clinton, out of a constitutional need for approval, or perhaps out of the misguided notion that more Americans respect thoughtfulness more than fear weakness (they don’t).

President Obama was handed as clear and compelling a mandate as any President since FDR (yes, more even than Mr. Reagan – the issues that confronted him in 1981 were lightweight compared what was on the agenda in January of 2009). Yet rather than seizing the high ground and bringing clear leadership to Washington’s badly damaged political culture, he created a vacuum into which all manner of pestilence and decrepitude has rushed.

The tragedy is that the Republican Party, like Al Qaeda, can succeed merely by sowing fear, rage and hopelessness.  Perhaps, back at a time when the Fifth Estate took its role as a critical institution in the enterprise of Democracy a little more seriously, when fewer voters were easily swayed by appeals to their ignorance and rage, when people had a firmer grasp on the American ideal and the distinction between superficial political muckraking and sensible policy was a little easier to understand and articulate, Obama’s approach would have had a chance at success (and, it’s worth saying perhaps no such time ever existed….) But in today’s toxic and cynical environment the nation cries out for true, unapologetic and clearly articulated leadership. As much as it burns me to agree with such detestable figures as Mark Penn, it looks like Mr. Obama is a little too lightweight for the job.

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