Summers' Departure and Another Bad Economic Week for Obama

It is hard to recall a good week Obama has had since he took office.

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It is only Wednesday, but it appears that President Obama is having another bad week. In fact, it is hard to recall a good one he has had since he took office January 20, 2009.

It began with the “Business Town Hall.” Part political rally, in which Obama supporters had clearly papered the hall; part “homecoming,” in which a purported Obama critic in the business community felt compelled to tell a national audience that he works out with the president; and part infomercial through which MSNBC’s John Harwood peppered the president with softball questions in exchange for access and exclusivity. This latter component all but assured a complete blackout from the other networks.

That was all to the president’s good. It spared the country from seeing how little the president understands about how the American economy works. One rationale the president offered in support of his obsession with terminating the Bush tax cuts on upper-income earners was that they “would not spend the money anyway.” If those who earn more have more and will keep more through the tax cuts, and will not invest more in the economy, why does the president expect those who earn less and will receive less to do so? Obama can rest easy. There was no chance, after all NBC invested in touting the program, that Harwood would ask him. On the very day Obama joined Harwood on stage, the nation was told that the recession had officially ended sometime in 2009. To his credit, the president, anxious to avoid looking like a laughing stock, made no mention of this.

[See a slide show of the 10 keys to an Obama comeback.]

Tuesday brought the announcement that economic guru Larry Summers will depart his post by year’s end. This makes him the third of Obama’s four initial top economic advisers to depart. Like former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, who now occasionally opines against his boss’s policies, and Christina Romer, who was known to harbor reservations about them, Summers can be expected to let the world know why the blame for the policies he helped devise and defended left the country with a 10 percent unemployment rate. How the announcement of Summers’s departure--weeks before the Congressional midterm elections and on the eve of the GOP’s announcement of where they hope to take the country should they win control of Congress--will restore confidence in Obama’s leadership is unclear. On the other hand, with both Steven Rattner and Bob Woodward dueling for television time to unfurl their own behind-the-scenes accounts of how policy is made in Obamaland and what Obama advisers think of each other, the Republicans may find it hard to get airtime. (Putting all of this together, one Washington wag called me last night to remind me that, should Hillary decide to run in 2012, her economic team is already in place and her foreign policy one soon will be, courtesy of Woodward. Her absence from Woodward’s book is also being noted--evidence that unlike Obama, she learns from past mistakes.)

According to administration-inspired rumors, the president seeks a corporate type to blunt his “anti-business” image. Finding one willing to go along with policies even Obama’s departing advisers consider job killers will not be easy. But, there remains the attraction of going on television to describe the president’s workout regimen.

Meanwhile back at “Casa Blanca,” reporters covering what was supposed to have been the story of 2010, the congressional elections, keep an eye on Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s efforts to make himself Chicago’s next mayor. 

There will be enough quotes in Woodward’s book to add new luster to Rahmbo’s image.

Memory takes one back to Obama’s first press conference as president-elect. After he introduced this “crackerjack” team (plus Paul Volcker), many Obama friends and critics wondered out loud both why Obama had fallen back on so many retreads after raising expectations that “change” would be the order of the day. Why, in a nation of 300 million people a man who inspired more people to take an active interest in politics and public affairs than any candidate since, perhaps, Kennedy, proved incapable of drawing to his side people who were both loyal and capable is anyone’s guess. He got neither out of the departed and departing. He gets only half and the wrong half at that out of the two he is said to heed the most: David Axelrod (see Woodward on this) and Valerie Jarrett.

[See a slide show of Obama's 5 worst cabinet secretaries.]

Meanwhile, having started the week trying to persuade people that he really knows and cares about the American economy and how to fix it, Obama will end it chasing Bill Clinton around New York, trying to present himself as a statesman. Perhaps the Democrat most Democrats want to have campaign for them this fall and who has the best fix on the voters’ pulse will take Obama aside and tell him a bit more about the requirements of the job both men have held. If not, the president can join the rest of us and listen to Clinton this Sunday on Meet the Press.

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