Left frustrated with Obama, White House staff
By Ben Pershing
In the weeks since the Massachusetts election gave the White House a wake-up call, President Obama has made a series of gestures toward the middle even as liberals have grown increasingly frustrated.
Bloomberg writes that "Obama's politics may be drawing inspiration from an unlikely source: Ronald Reagan. The late Republican president may become Democrat Obama's most relevant role model as the U.S. economic and political climate mirrors Reagan's first term, which began in 1981." The Wall Street Journal reports "Obama's willingness to keep Bush-era policies on government-backed religious charities opposed by many liberals is helping to woo traditionally Republican evangelical leaders who can influence key blocs of voters. The approach, according to conservative leaders and liberal critics alike, is part of a broader strategy by Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats to regain credibility with centrist and conservative voters who tend to be more religious and have supported the GOP in recent polls and elections." But Politico has Obama "running into resistance from congressional Democrats over several key economic proposals -- blunting the party's ability to send a clear message to middle-class voters that Democrats feel their pain. Obama has run into friction from fellow Democrats over plans to freeze some federal spending, to use bailout funds for small-business lending and to limit the reach of big banks."
Rahm Emanuel has long cultivated good relationships with reporters and, coincidentally or not, has rarely received bad press despite some potential flaws. But in the wake of his "retarded" controversy -- first reported in a tough Wall Street Journal story -- perhaps the media's gloves will come off. The Los Angeles Times takes a crack Friday: "A senior presidential aide is supposed to solve problems, not create or compound them for his boss. So the White House was knocked off-stride when Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was forced to issue a public apology for using a derogatory word for people with learning disabilities. But even before the gaffe, Emanuel was becoming a magnet for criticism of President Obama's difficulties in turning his ambitious agenda into achievements. ... [F]or all of the relationships Emanuel built in helping Democrats recapture the House in 2006, he has not succeeded in greasing the way for Obama's programs. The healthcare overhaul is in limbo. And the president's political fortunes seem to have dwindled, with his approval rating falling and Democrats suffering embarrassing setbacks in a trio of elections over the last year."
Might David Axelrod be the next target of frustrated liberals? Politico writes: "Sen. Al Franken ripped into White House senior adviser David Axelrod this week during a tense, closed-door session with Senate Democrats. Five sources who were in the room tell POLITICO that Franken criticized Axelrod for the administration's failure to provide clarity or direction on health care and the other big bills it wants Congress to enact." Huffington Post has Sherrod Brown "call[ing] out the White House publicly for abandoning the leadership role that is needed to get legislation passed." Jonathan Cohn worries that "giving Congress so much leeway now could invite a replay of the summer spectacle--when negotiators in the Senate Finance committee dithered and dithered, slowly but surely eroding reform's support. Obama eventually ended those negotiations, saving reform in the process, by threatening to introduce his own bill."
With Scott Brown sworn in, "Obama and Congressional Democratic leaders sought to reset their agenda as they lost their 60th vote in the Senate on Thursday," the New York Times writes. The economy has become Job One on the Hill, where the Senate is working on a jobs bill and the House enacted new spending rules. "Eager to portray themselves as responsible stewards of the economy, congressional Democrats on Thursday pledged to enact a package of measures to spur job growth while taking steps to tackle the burgeoning federal budget deficit," the Los Angeles Times reports. Will the GOP play ball on the jobs bill? "Democratic and Republican senators struggled to hammer out a modest bipartisan job-creation package Thursday, reflecting how a turbulent political atmosphere is snarling even legislation with popular support," the Wall Street Journal writes. Steven Pearlstein thinks "the most common misconception is that bipartisanship means finding common ground and focusing on the things most everyone agrees on. In reality, that turns out to be a pretty small set of ideas and proposals that, taken together, would not address the major challenges before us."
With some bills, Republicans are perfectly happy to leave Democrats to their own devices. "House Democrats passed a record $1.9 trillion increase in the federal debt limit without any help from Republicans on a 217-212 vote Thursday afternoon," Roll Call reports. David Rogers writes, "Final passage took two highly partisan House votes, but the end product was something of a coup for the embattled leadership cheered on by a flash from their past: former President Bill Clinton. ... Obama himself welcomed pay-go as a return to what he called "a simple but bedrock principle: Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere. But the day belonged more to Clinton, who returned like an old coach bucking up his team and suggesting a few new plays of his own."
Paul Krugman complains about "fear-mongering on the deficit" and adds, "To me -- and I'm not alone in this -- the sudden outbreak of deficit hysteria brings back memories of the groupthink that took hold during the run-up to the Iraq war." But The Economist frets that "Obama's budget reveals a road-map to fiscal catastrophe. At no point over the coming decade will the deficit be below 3.6% of GDP; and after 2018, it starts rising again. ... It is a deeply depressing picture--and Mr Obama did nothing this week to lighten it." Speaking of debt, stocks fell Thursday and the Associated Press says "world stocks tumbled again Friday as investors worried that the debt crisis enveloping Greece may spread to other vulnerable countries in Europe such as Portugal, and amid fears that jobs data later will show that the U.S. recovery is weaker than expected."
In Nashville, the Tea Party Convention is underway amid an intense media focus on the divisions within the movement. USA Today asks, "Will the real Tea Party please stand up? Most political conventions are designed to showcase party unity, but the National Tea Party convention where Sarah Palin is to speak Saturday is sending a very different message. The squabbles that erupted over this weekend's Nashville gathering reflect larger challenges facing a hot political phenomenon." Charlie Hurt writes "the infant organization called Tea Party Nation has been riven by infighting, dogged by accusations of impropriety and can, at best, point to just one successful candidate. All of this has been catnip for the battalion of liberal reporters eagerly covering every disjointed mishap of this free-wheeling and unorganizable band of rebels. But it would be wrong to think tea partiers have not had any successes.
ABC News watched Tom Tancredo's speech Wednesday: "The opening-night speaker at first ever National Tea Party Convention ripped into President Obama, Sen. John McCain and 'the cult of multiculturalism,' asserting that Obama was elected because 'we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.'" The Fix says "this weekend should tell us something about whether the tea partiers are a passing political fad or have staying power within the political arena. ... Passion in politics is in short supply and it's clear from their town halls protests last summer that the members of the tea party movement are mad as hell. But, is there something beyond that anger that they can rally around heading into the 2010 midterms and, eventually, the 2012 presidential race?"
February 5, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
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