Friday, July 31, 2009

Surprise: Legislator-In-Chief Obama is Not So Good at Legislating

Democratic Party leadership had the choice in the 2008 primary to support the inexperienced Barack Obama for its presidential nominee or Hillary Clinton with her years of proven leadership skills, knowledge, and experience. There were even on-the-air debates as to which was more valuable, Obama’s high likeability factor (that’s what gave George W. Bush the edge in 2004) or Clinton’s more substantive qualifications.

We all know what happened. The DNC went to extraordinary and even unethical lengths to nominate Barack Obama, the haloed motivational speaker, over the wonky down-to-earth Hillary Clinton.

So it should surprise no one today to read Michael Barone’s post at RCP titled Obama Has Aura But Doesn’t Know How to Legislate. What is surprising is that Barone very clearly describes Obama’s lack of legislative experience and pinpoints the problems our president’s thin resume means for a country facing major domestic and foreign relations problems. (Tina Brown was on to something like this in her recent post advising Obama to enlist the aid of Bill Clinton.)

Barone writes (emphases mine):

Aura dazzles, but argument gets things done. Consider the debate on the Democrats' health care bill and the increasingly negative response to Barack Obama's performance. Democrats have the numbers to pass a health care bill -- 256 votes in the House, 38 more than the 218 majority; 60 votes in the Senate, enough to defeat a filibuster. But they haven't come up with the arguments, at least yet, to put those numbers on the board. It's something not many predicted that bright January inauguration morning. We knew that day that Obama was good at aura, at generating enthusiasm for the prospect of hope and change. His inspiring speeches -- the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Des Moines, the race speech in Philadelphia, the countless rallies in primary and caucus and target states -- helped him capture the Democratic nomination and then win the presidency by the biggest percentage margin in 20 years.

But it turns out that Obama is not so good at argument. Inspiration is one thing, persuasion another. He created the impression on the campaign trail that he was familiar with major issues and readily ticked off his positions on them. But he has not proved so good at legislating.

And the reason Obama is not so good at legislating:

One reason perhaps is that he has had little practice. He served as a legislator for a dozen years before becoming president, but was only rarely an active one. He spent one of his eight years as an Illinois state senator running unsuccessfully for Congress and two of them running successfully for U.S. senator. He spent two of his years in the U.S. Senate running for president. During all of his seven non-campaign years as a legislator, he was in the minority party.

In other words, he's never done much work putting legislation together -- especially legislation that channels vast flows of money and affects the workings of parts of the economy that deeply affect people's lives. This lack of experience is starting to show. On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap-and-trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.

Barone concludes:

Obama's July 22 press conference was intended to rally support for the Democrats' health care bills. It didn't. The president eschewed serious arguments and rattled off campaign-type talking points. Those used to be enough to elicit cheers from enthusiastic audiences in Iowa and Virginia.

But aura can only take you so far, particularly when you diminish it by disrespecting the Cambridge police department. Being president means being more than commenter-in-chief. You need to know how to legislate. You need not just aura but argument.

Yikes! As the renowned David Brooks once mentioned, George W. Bush never learned the difference between campaigning and governing - yet one more similarity between Dubya and Obama.

Here’s my favorite reader’s comment following Barone’s post:

Posted by S. Valenti

We needn't look any further than the trajectory of our Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick for a blueprint of how Obama's presidency is unfolding. Like Obama, Patrick came out of nowhere and was swept into office with the same rhetoric of 'hope and change' and with the help of their shared svengali, Axelrod. Many had high hopes for Patrick. He's been unable though to work with the overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature to accomplish any meaningful legislation and his handling of the economy is not reassuring. His poll numbers tanked within his first year and it appears that he'll be a one term Governor.

I supported Patrick back in 2006 but quickly learned that rhetoric is no substitute for a substantive record of accomplishment. I didn't see any reason to buy into Obama's rhetoric last year or make the same mistake twice.

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