By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The conventional wisdom in Washington, since the days when Jim Baker was running Ronald Reagan's White House, holds that presidents do better by focusing on a few key issues.
Simplify the agenda, get the nation's attention, and use the star power of the presidency to roll your foes.
Barack Obama is confounding that wisdom. By design or necessity, or a little of both, his is a game plan that is anything but simple. Its strength may lie in its abundance and complexity.
There is so much going on, in so many sectors of government, politics, and foreign affairs, that Obama's critics are the ones having the hard time focusing.
How does this help the White House? Audacity's move to transform the U.S. healthcare system is a case in point.
Remember when George W. Bush (a firm believer, since his days as a Texas governor, in the "simple agenda" strategy) announced that the privatization of Social Security would be a top domestic priority of his second term?
For months, the press, the public, and alert interest groups gave intense attention to every cost and benefit, flaw and wrinkle of Bush's proposal. It collapsed under the scrutiny. The same can be said for Bill and Hillary Clinton's attempt at reforming the healthcare system in 1993.
Obama's healthcare plan may eventually fail as well, now that the insurance industry and its lobbyists are lurching into gear. But right now it is quietly chugging along, as are his plans for aiding education and igniting a green technology boom, screened from attack by billowing clouds of chaff thrown from AIG and TARP and PPIP and TALF; GM and the IMF and START and the G-20; by Afghanistan and Bibi, Kim Jong-il and Petraeus of Pakistan; by Rush and Blago and Michael Steele, and the White House teleprompter and Audacity's NCAA basketball picks and the first lady's J. Crew ensembles.
Welcome to the politics of dispersion. It is especially effective in an era of fragmented media. Who can tell what is really important? What to really fear or what to heartily applaud?
To test the theory, I tuned into the Bill O'Reilly show last night, where he and Laura Ingraham spent the first 10 minutes happily splashing in right-wing fantasies about black helicopters and star chambers and the loss of American sovereignty to world government, and whether Obama is "selling out" the country to (wait for it) the socialistic Danes.
"How about standing up for the United States of America?!" said Ingraham, apropos of nothing.
The Danes! The Danes! Beware the Danes!
Momentous changes that might otherwise be gnawed to the bone by the wolves of Capitol Hill are each day quietly processed by the Democratic majority, inching closer toward becoming law, as Republicans scramble for traction.
Great con men and magicians get you looking at one hand while the other does the work. Good politicians too.
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