Why Obama Is Failing

There's still a lot of on-the-job training still going on in the West Wing.


Conservative writers have been calling the Obama presidency a failed presidency and have been comparing him to Jimmy Carter for a while now--for example, George Will writes in this week's Newsweek that "Obama's apogee is in his rearview mirror" and that his best days are behind him. But as widely distributed as George Will's columns are nationally, the "inside crowd" in Washington is probably reading today's top story in Politico. It's a long opinion/analysis piece by the two top editors there, Jim Vandehei and John Harris. Neither one of them is known as a conservative.

The gist of the piece, entitled “Obama Loses By Winning,” is that despite the passage of healthcare reform and the likely vote on financial reform this week, Obama is seen to be a failing president. And while he's accomplished some legislative achievements, he's widely viewed in Washington as an ineffective communicator and inept politically. They go on to list myriad reasons for why Obama is increasingly viewed as a flop:

  • He has lost Independent voters, who view him as a big-government liberal;
  • He hasn't defined his own ideology, instead reacting to the day’s news and shifting his views, which angers everyone from the far left to the far right;
  • His staff is not well-liked around town, especially among reporters who are regularly subjected to either foul-mouthed tirades or no response at all;
  • While his cabinet is well-respected (especially Clinton and Gates), his White House staff is seen as ineffective, most notably the communications and political shops;
  • He has done nothing to instill confidence in the economy, and promising that if the stimulus bill passed unemployment would drop to 8 percent was a bad mistake;
  • The liberal blogosphere, which expanded under George W. Bush, is easily distracted by off-message issues, and has not been a support to the administration at all;
  • Democrats, led by Rep. Ed Markey, thought forcing BP to broadcast the spill cam was a triumph for transparency; instead it emphasized the president's inability to do anything about the spill for months. [See who supports Markey.]
  • Everything in the article rings true to me, and much of it the White House has brought on itself. What's surprising is that no one goes on the record to defend the White House. They've built up very little goodwill around town, and now they could use some. If you read the whole article, you'll notice there's very little mention of Republican criticism; this is all about the fact that they're not even on good terms with people inside their own party, much less the press corps.

    Many of the people who led the Obama campaign are the ones leading the White House. Keeping those hardball, campaign war-room types in the White House--some at the highest levels--explains a lot of this. It doesn't seem like very many of the people working in the White House have ever been there before, or for that matter in a governor's office or a cabinet agency. I know I'm biased--President Bush #41 worked every day at the White House for eight years as vice president before he became commander in chief, and much of his staff stayed with him--but it sounds like there's a lot of on-the-job training still going on in the West Wing. And it sounds like the Washington crowd has had enough of it. I'm surprised it's taken this long.

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