Obama’s fault: excessive responsibility

Had he been less responsible, he might now be more popular.

The extent to which right-wing politics in this country has become subject to cocooning, and the extent to which the Republican party has become a captive of its right wing, is illustrated by the oft-repeated mantra that Barack Obama’s poll numbers have slipped because, having campaigned from the center,  he’s “governing from the left” (“far left” to the dybbuk that seems to have seized control of the body of John McCain).

Shall we take a look at the replay tape?

1.  Obama kept his predecessor’s appointee as Secretary of Defense, chose his more hawkish primary rival as Secretary of State, and made a retired Marine General his National Security Adviser.

2.  Having campaigned on a prompt withdrawal from Iraq, he took the advice of the Joint Chiefs and allowed that pace to be slowed, at the same time ramping up the fight in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda actually lives.

3.  In the face of the financial meltdown, he has done virtually nothing to rein in bankers’ pay, or to demonize them publicly.  The two key players on his economic team (Summers and Geither) are relentlessly centrist.

4.  He allowed himself to be bargained down to a stimulus package that was too small and weighted too heavily toward tax cuts.  Nonetheless, virtually no Republican voted for it.  The slow recovery that resulted has had more to do with souring the mood of the country than anything else Obama has done or omitted to do.

5.  Having campaigned on health care reform, he ignored the single-payer option (preferred by the activist left and by many experts).   And instead of concentrating on giving out goodies, he decided to try to tackle the problem of spiraling medical costs:  something that the right has been bleating about for years in the form of the “entitlements crisis,” which consists mostly of out-of-control Medicare costs.   Much of the teabaggers’ fury comes from elderly people on Medicare who have been terrified (by the people who opposed Medicare from the beginning and have been campaigning for ten years on the demand that its growth rate be cut) into thinking that Obama is going to deprive them of medical care.

6.  Having campaigned on the repeal of Dont Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, Obama has moved on neither.  I think that reflects good judgment, but it was hardly the way to pander to his base.

7.   He appointed a Secretary of Education whose primary policy thrust – teacher accountability – outrages the teachers’ unions, and put money in the stimulus package that’s available only to states that do what’s necessary to improve teacher accountability.

On some of these points I think Obama’s moderation has been wise; on other points, otherwise.  But the assertion that he has run an extremist administration simply wouldn’t pass the giggle test if the right wing hadn’t entirely lost its sense of humor.  The real lesson of these first eight months is that every attempt on Obama’s part to reach out to Republicans has been rudely rebuffed.  Had he been less responsible, he would now be more popular.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Obama’s fault: excessive responsibility”

  1. You forgot that his administration has tried to present honest budget numbers, allowing the deficit to be presented as even worse than it is.

  2. Meanwhile, he has gotten minimal support from the left, and particularly the left blogosphere. If I write a comment on most blogs, even those as relatively sober as Steve Benen's or ObWi actually praising him for moving forward slowly against a number of unexpected obstacles, I immediately get blasted by people who seem to have written their "Obama's selling us out" comments before John McCain finished his concession speech. He is condemned for not being a Prime Minister assured of a party-line vote behind him. He is criticized for not using the weapons that an LBJ or FDR did — which are no longer available to him or are no longer considered to be 'acceptable.' (People forget how many compromises an FDR actually made, including the racist exclusion of agricultural workers from Social Security; people forget how many Republicans could be counted on to go with an FDR or LBJ to counterbalance the conservative or racist Democrats.)

  3. Jim, that's because, as Mark has mentioned, Obama's strategy for the first six months was to move to the right, f*ck the liberals, and even trash things which reasonable centrists supported. All to gain support on the right which could be characterized as jack to jack sh*t. Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional 'leadership' has made it clear that they'll give nothing to the left wing of the congressional party, but everything to the right wing.

    If you reward your enemies and punish your friends, you'll find that your friends are discouraged, and your enemies emboldened.

  4. President Obama has not governed from the left, or the center, he has failed to govern at all. he seem incapable of hiring anyone competent. How many appointments has he made that were withdrawn because of tax issues? That was pure stupidity, when you want to make big changes its important to keep on topic. Those were all unforced errors. Especially when your trying to push through a stimulus bill. The stimulus was probably the best your going to get out of congress, but was it worth breaking a campaign promise in the very start of your presidency by not waiting five day before signing it. Then the overly optimistic unemployment chart with or without a stimulus, since actual unemployment has exceeded both curves.

    Then he let Pelosi push through a cap and trade bill that is possibly the worst piece of legislation ever written. It accomplishes nothing for the environment, and it treats carbon permits like ambasadorships where they are given out to politically favored groups. Cap and trade was supposed to finance health care. Once that fell apart Health care was doomed. He has been unable to lead congress to accomplish any of his campaign promises on health care, there were three themes. 1) no taxes on 95%, 2) better care, 3)cheaper care. None of the proposals accomplish any one of those three promises, because without the cap and trade revenue its too expensive. He went public with a push to pass healthcare before the August recess, and FAILED! When you make a push like that publicly you better know you have the votes. He campaigned ineffectively for health care with 5 different bills in varying stages of being written. You cannot counter arguments over the contents of a bill without having a bill to defend. The "death panels" are not in the bill, but the bill isn't finalized, he couldn't hold up the text and defend the accusations as baseless because he didn't have the bill. He made back room deals with the insurance companies then Pelosi back stabbed him publicly for it. Is she planning to run in 2012? Then there is Van Jones, the guy shouldn't have been anywhere near the Whitehouse. Say what you want about scalps, but any idiot could have a reasonable assumption that signing a petition saying the government DELIBERATELY and KNOWINGLY let 9/11 happen is going to draw heat. This is another distraction when the issue needs to be health care.

    President Obama is right to talk to schoolchildren, Its a great idea and he is uniquely qualified to have an impact. However, he didn't release a preview of the speech with the announcement. Whoever organized this debacle tried to tell the teachers how to do their job by giving them a lesson plan, when a competent administrator would have waited until school was in session for a week or two, then simply given the teachers the contents of the speech and let the teachers integrate lesson plans ahead of time. Possibly even a week worth of preparations culminating in the Presidents speech on a Friday afternoon.

    President Obama is incompetent, and we are all going to be worse off because of it. The best opportunity to accomplish meaningful changes wasted.

  5. At first, I was really happy to see that comments had finally been enabled on this blog. And then I got to Bernie's fact-free, Fox News inspired nonsense. That comment reminded me of why I stopped reading comments on certain blogs, like Balkinization. I suppose my comment can be seen as an instance of "feeding the troll," since Mr. Bernie, knowing that he's gotten my goat, will be emboldened to try to do so again. But what I really want to express is the rather unoriginal lament that web 2.0 really can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Now, I'm far from the first person to note this, but Bernie's comment just brought it back to me with almost all of the force with which I first realized it back in, what was it, 2003?

  6. An honest poll should try to find out if people are opposing him because he is too right or too far left and if the opponents are Dems or GOP. What they would find most GOP oppose him and most dems think he is too far right.

    So Obama is trying to suck up to his enemies and losing both sides. Period.

    The pollsters gets paid to obscure this fact for their corporate clients.

  7. I'm not trying to piss in anyones wheaties, I just believe that we should demand good effective government. We suck less than they do is not acceptable. Politics should not be the equivalent of watching a tee ball game where no one really knows how to play and whoever makes the fewest errors wins. We need to hold the politicians accountable regardless of which party they represent. Americans have a short memory when it comes to politics and I don't believe the democrats will win another election just because the republicans sucked 4 years ago. The president has over three years left in his term, he has plenty of time to accomplish some worthwhile things and get re-elected based on merit, but I don't see where he has been successful at anything yet.

  8. he seem incapable of hiring anyone competent. How many appointments has he made that were withdrawn because of tax issues? That was pure stupidity, when you want to make big changes its important to keep on topic. Those were all unforced errors.

    Sorry, this sounds like complete nonsense. Majority of presidential appointment have been quite competent and properly credentialed. The tax issues were new–this is something that would not have raised a single eyebrow in the past but came sharply into focus because of the economic conditions. In fact, the only place where Obama really fell down on the job is in the financial sector. He brought in mostly corporate appeasers and all banking-related legislation had no teeth. Of course, Congress is responsible for the final language, but Obama failed even to lead the horse to water.

    It is understandable that the administration cannot do everything and does not want to twist too many arms early on. But I also disagree with claims that they've spread themselves too thin–this is why you have hired help, so to speak. Sure, many administration position, including crucial undersecretaries, have remained unfilled, Senate GOP has been obstructionist in approving those who have been appointed and crises change from week to week. In fact, they've stepped back on every single issue. No priorities that must pass as is–with or without Republicans. No ultimatums to floundering allies. Nothing. Sure, there were successes, but they were relative successes, not absolute ones. House passed the energy bill? Right–watered down already and panned by "centrists" in the Senate. Stimulus bill? Sure–it was necessary to pass something. But it was weak, and too compromising on a number of issues. And, in the end, Republicans did not vote for it anyway. STOP KISSING THEIR BUTTS, DAMN IT!!!! Ignore them! Ignore their rhetoric, ignore their complaints, ignore their supporters. If you bills are worth passing and will have an immediate effect, you will reap the rewards. If you compromise, your reforms will be weak and ineffectual and they will still vote against them–quit this nonsense!!!

  9. Geithner, Daschle, Killefer, Bill Richardson, Freeman, Sebelius, Adolfo Carrion. These are just the easy ones. There are more.

    I agree that he has made some good choices, Steven Chu and Sotomayor were both good picks, The majority my even be good, however the standard should be zero failures.

    Congress is an issue by itself, but thats largely out of the presidents direct control. The president is directly responsible for his cabinet positions.

  10. The tax issues were new? Maybe, but were they "new" in a "Nobody used to care if the Treasury Secretary was a tax cheat." sense, or a "Previous administrations knew better than to nominate a tax cheat to be Treasury Secretary" sense? The latter, I suspect.

  11. Dan, 'killfiles' are soooo 1990's. The kewl, leet blogware writers don't use those anymore; they just let people spew (translation: it's amazing that a simple idea developed 15 or more years isn't used, even as it's needed more).

    Bernie: "he seem incapable of hiring anyone competent. How many appointments has he made that were withdrawn because of tax issues? That was pure stupidity, when you want to make big changes its important to keep on topic. Those were all unforced errors. "

    ShadowFox says: "Sorry, this sounds like complete nonsense. Majority of presidential appointment have been quite competent and properly credentialed. The tax issues were new–this is something that would not have raised a single eyebrow in the past but came sharply into focus because of the economic conditions."

    Please note that Cheney filed his taxes under as a resident of Texas, and then claimed to be a resident of Wyoming (?). This makes him a tax evader. IOKIYAR, of course.

    "In fact, the only place where Obama really fell down on the job is in the financial sector. He brought in mostly corporate appeasers and all banking-related legislation had no teeth. Of course, Congress is responsible for the final language, but Obama failed even to lead the horse to water."

    This is a prime example of f*cking not just the left, but everybody who's not in the top 10% of the wealth distribution. The financial industry has enormous lobbying power; the only time when it's possible to rein it in is after crises. Time is on their side, not the government's. I seriously fear that Obama's strategy – not just lack of action, but deliberate hiring of financial scum – will doom us to more crises. It wouldn't surprise me if we're in a pattern where every recession involves some sort of Wall St meltdown.

  12. Barry, Greasemonkey works well on comment threads and would work here too. It may not be kewl for the hepcats, but it is effective.

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