Obama's problems: personality and policy
Today Michael Gersonilluminates President Obama's unique ability to offend and alienate opposing sides of an issue. Perhaps we should give it a name (Obamanomia?):
Rather than explaining the economic benefits of the bill and taking quiet credit for a moment of bipartisanship, Obama launched into an assault on both partners and opponents. Republicans are "hostage-takers" who worship the "Holy Grail" of trickle-down economics. Liberal opponents are "sanctimonious," preferring their own purity to the interests of the poor. The president did not just attack the policy positions of nearly everyone in the political class. He publicly questioned their motives.
It is difficult to imagine the president's advisers sitting in the Oval Office and urging this approach: "Mr. President, the best course here would be to savage likely supporters of the bill and to embitter your political base. This will show just how principled you are, in contrast to the corruption and fanaticism all around you." There can be little doubt this communications strategy was Obama's own.
This is not an isolated instance, of course. He managed to enrage conservatives and independents while disappointing liberals on health-care reform (as he bitterly reminded us during his news conference temper tantrum). In the Middle East, he figured out how to anger the Israelis, let down the Palestinians, annoy American Jews and frustrate the Arab states, which would rather he focus on the real menace (i.e. the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran).
So how does Obama manage to do it? Well, part of the problem, as Michael points out, is his public persona. (That's a nice way of saying "his personality.") "He is alternately defiant, defensive, exasperated, resentful, harsh, scolding, prickly. He is both the smartest kid in class and the schoolyard bully." So naturally, after a small dose of this, all sides find him more than a bit insufferable.
But there is something else at work here. His arrogance is inversely related to his intellectual flexibility and depth of understanding. Did he understand that going to Cairo to spout back to the Palestinians their victimology was counterproductive? Guess not. Did he grasp that his anti-Wall Street rhetoric was not helping our economic outlook? Apparently not. Did he perceive that closing Guantanamo was a pipe dream, not simply a function of his predecessor's stubbornness? No. He embarks on no-win propositions, derides those who question his understanding of the issues, and then blames others when his gambits fizzle. With two notable exceptions -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- he has made flawed policy choices, leaving detractors gleeful and supporters annoyed when things inevitably go haywire (e.g. the stimulus plan doesn't keep unemployment at 8 percent).
By eliminating the worst options for him (e.g. killing the omnibus spending bill), Republicans may spare him from bad policy moves. But no one other than Obama can save him from his own haughtiness and peevishness. He will either learn to mask his lack of respect for his political opponents, his supporters, the media and his fellow countrymen, or he won't. Repairing those relationships may be just as daunting as reviving the economy.
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