There's a reason why few in Washington are calling the floundering President Obama the next Comeback Kid. That's because unlike the most famous Comeback Kid of all, Bill Clinton, the Obama White House is riddled with self-doubt, finger-pointing, and a lack of direction.
That's part of the assessment of a favored Obama White House reporter, Richard Wolffe, who spent two months winning insider interviews to write his second account of the Obama administration, Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House.
In his sequel to Renegade, Wolffe, a former Newsweek reporter, reveals that the White House staff is split between revivalists who want to return to the weighty theme of change and survivalists who want to play the old game of compromise and combat. But what he also does in the book is point out the problems of the administration that have led to the current disarray and lack of confidence that the president can stage a comeback in time for his reelection. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
We've gone through the book to find the 10 Symptoms Of Obamaitis:
1. While Obama promised change, after two years it is clear that "Washington had changed him," writes Wolffe. He has governed like an insider who cut deals with the same old groups and he looked traditional, even riding in a traditional motorcade and giving "precooked remarks on a teleprompter." (Page 25)
2. Concerns about management and communications are so great that even first lady Michelle Obama has voiced complaints. "She feels he isn't being served well by the message." That feeling was made worse by the gate-crashing incident which prompted Mrs. Obama to worry about the safety of her family. "It is not a happy place right now," Wolffe quoted a staffer saying. (Page 54) [See photos of Michelle Obama.]
3. He may have left to run for mayor of Chicago, but former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a huge distraction as he focused on tactics, not strategy, and in a high-energy fashion. "His style is unbelievably bad. It's just too abusive," an aide told Wolffe. One example: "He changes his mind based on a conversation he just had with Paul Begala," a former Clinton aide, said the insider. (Pages 55-56)
4. The economic team is dysfunctional, in large part because economic adviser Larry Summers is a thorn in the sides of others, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "Many of the economic team's problems began with Summers moving into his West Wing office," writes Wolffe, who adds that Summers, a former Clinton-era Treasury secretary, wanted his old job back. He calls Summers "charmless, professionally competitive, and politically clumsy." (Page 167)
5. Obama fears having too many Clintonistas in his administration. Having named Hillary Clinton his secretary of state essentially barred any other Clinton-era cabinet head—like Summers—from running a cabinet position under Obama. "Obama's aides began to feel constrained by the choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Could they also afford to have a former Clinton cabinet official serving alongside her in Obama's cabinet?" writes Wolffe. (Page 168)
6. Obama caved in early to the spending ways of Washington. After jamming through the Recovery Act, he internally leaned toward vetoing the pork-laden omnibus spending bill left by the Bush administration. "It was exactly full of the kind of crap that he felt he shouldn't be signing at this time of economic distress," said a sympathetic Obama aide. But instead, writes Wolffe, "Obama got rolled" by West Wing advocates of doing business the old fashioned way. (Pages 183-184)
7. The media didn't play along. "I think the current state of our politics, of which the political media is a part, makes it hard to govern," Wolffe quotes Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer saying. "You don't get on TV for passing laws, or building coalitions, or working with the other party. You get on TV for saying the single most outrageous thing possible. Which is why Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are on TV all the time. And everyone wants to be like them. So in that sense, it makes it very hard to govern because the media has often come to highlight what is absolutely worst about politics." (Page 198) [See photos of Sarah Palin and her family.]
8. Even before the disastrous midterm elections, White House insiders started pointing fingers, especially at the political and communication teams. "None of the people at the top have ever run anything. They need to fire people. In politics and in communications, this White House has been terrible," Wolffe quotes a senior official saying. (Page 274)
9. Instead of catering to yellow dog Democrats, especially moderates, the White House political team played up to independents, who typically lean Republican. "We're losing the Democratic blue-collar, non-college-educated white male voter," an aide said. Because of unemployment, the aide told Wolffe that it will be harder to win them back. (Page 275)
10. Despite the talk of bipartisanship, the White House doesn't plan to work with the new Republican majority in the House. "This is a different breed of Republicans. Show me the Bob Dole leader of this generation," one aide is quoted saying. And the election didn't go their way: The book says the White House would be able to push the GOP around if the Democrats kept the majority in the House, which they didn't. (Page 276)