It didn’t take much guessing to predict who was going to win – if “win” is the right word--the Washington Post’s weekly pick for "Worst Week in Washington": President Barack Obama.
If any week has made the POTUS wonder why he ever wanted this job, this was it.
Shortly after he and Congress dodged the default bullet with their cobbled-together debt deal, both were smacked with a backlash in the polls. The public found the deal to be as welcome as pond scum.
Other polls found the battleground states Florida and Pennsylvania, which voted for Obama in 2008, turning against him now.
Then the stock market collapsed into its worst days since 2008. A new jobs report showed more new jobs than expected, but not enough to lower the unemployment rate below 9 percent.
And as the week drew to a close, Standard & Poor’s dropped the nation’s credit rating a notch for the first time in history, ranking our creditworthiness below such industrial giants as Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and the Isle of Man.
(The Isle of Man, by the way, is a British protectorate whose symbol is an armored triskelion, a three-legged creation that appears always to be running despite having no head –much like some politicians who come immediately to mind.)
What a week. Where’s BHO’s mojo when he needs it?
His only consolation: Election Day is still almost 15 months away. Until then, his work is cut out for him.
What’s loud and clear is the message from his core supporters and many independent swing voters: Face reality. Toughen up. No more Mr. Nice Obama.
Louder than ever one hears a complaint that has haunted him since his candidacy: He gives away too much, even before negotiations begin. The result? He gets slammed for his losses and everybody forgets about his victories.
In hard economic times, the public looks for a leader who will speak and lead with confidence. But, unlike Harry Truman or Franklin D. Roosevelt, Obama backed away from a big stimulus package – despite the advice of Nobel Prize-winning Keynesian economists — and diluted what was left with tax cuts that went unappreciated by Republicans. The stimulus worked, but only partly, as a half-stepping stimulus was expected to work. It helped to save the auto industry, for example. But otherwise Team Obama is left to say only that things would have been worse had he not acted at all. That’s probably true, but hardly inspiring enough to put on a campaign bumper sticker.
Swing voters like compromise, so they say, but that sounds so last century for this Congress. Obama’s Tea Party-enflamed opposition sees compromise as a sign of weakness, politically and personally, in these polarized times—and they are not alone.
“Like most Americans, at this point, I have no idea what Barack Obama — and by extension the party he leads — believes on virtually any issue,” writes Drew Westen, author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation” in Sunday’s New York Times.
“THE real conundrum,” writes Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University, “is why the president seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue, encouraging voters to project whatever they want on him, and hoping they won’t realize which hand is holding the rabbit. That a large section of the country views him as a socialist while many in his own party are concluding that he does not share their values speaks volumes — but not the volumes his advisers are selling: that if you make both the right and left mad, you must be doing something right.”
Michael Tomasky, writing in Newsweek and The Daily Beast, sees Obama’s problem as less psychological than philosophical: a naïve belief in a civic virtue that his more Machiavellian opposition happily steamrolls like an elephant on a thin-crust pizza.
“It would have been great if Obama’s theory had turned out to be correct,” Tomasky laments. “The right wing was always going to savage him, but maybe if the financial crisis had never happened he’d have stood a chance of uniting most of the country and isolating the ‘he’s a socialist’ caucus to the fringe where it belongs. That, however, isn’t the hand he was dealt. So now what? He has to change.”
Good point. Obama’s appeal to reason is noble and his outreach to swing voters is essential, but not at the expense of the clearly-stated goals, principles and positions that he needs to organize and inspire his base.
As a frustrated former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming said after his fellow Republicans refused to budge on Obama’s “balanced approach” –the sort of balance for which Simpson called as co-chief of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission -- “If you can’t learn to compromise an issue without compromising yourself then you shouldn’t be a legislator.”
That’s what Obama’s base is telling him about being a leader. Voters admire a president who can compromise without compromising himself or, someday, herself. But first they want to know
what the president believes. Before they move up off their couches to go vote, they want to know what kind of a difference the person they’re voting for is going to make.