Saturday, December 18, 2010

Obama Fails to Persuade

The inexperience of the community organizer turned President of the United States is showing. Again. This time the outcome blew any chance of getting his much desired omnibus bill passed before the Christmas break and before the government ran out of money. The only hope turned out to be the solution struck, a solution favored by the Republicans in the Senate - a continuing resolution to keep everything chugging along until after the first of the New Year. Then the grown-ups will come into help straighten everything out as the newbies are sworn in and the dead weight is out of there. Barack Obama has got to learn to put the ego away and deal with those for whom he courts support in a more conciliatory manner.

The tone was set when the president appeared before the White House press corps and offered a statement on the deal he struck with Senate Republicans on the tax code extension bill. He was angry and used words not used by Presidents towards the minority party, much less against his own. It was not a dignified or adult way of delivering his message.

The tax extension bill and the omnibus spending bill - another huge 'stimulus' - were stalled on Capitol Hill as Congress prepares to adjourn for the Christmas break. Then, in the middle of the night, after Democrats threatened to vote against it in order to get more taxes squeezed out of taxpayers at the upper end of the roster, the bill was passed. Much over-wrought rhetoric was heard on the floor of the House of Representatives from Democrats refusing to acknowledge the unfairness of taxing at higher levels those most successful, those who pay the most in taxes, those who employ wage earners. It was classic class warfare being waged by Democrats.

And, after the votes were clearly not there to pass the omnibus bill in the Senate, Senator Reid pulled it from the line-up of votes to be taken.

The president has yet to learn how to persuade fellow politicians to pass his agenda.

It is the president's favorite rhetorical pose: the hectorer in chief. He is alternately defiant, defensive, exasperated, resentful, harsh, scolding, prickly. He is both the smartest kid in class and the schoolyard bully.

There are many problems with this mode of presidential communication, but mainly its supreme self-regard. The tax deal, in Obama's presentation, was not about the economy or the country. It was about him. It was about the absurd concessions he was forced to make, the absurd opposition he was forced to endure, the universally insufficient deference to his wisdom.

The administration further complicated its communications task by presenting Obama as ideologically superior to his own agreement. The upper-income tax rates and the estate tax provisions, in David Axelrod's description, are "odious." As a rule, staffers should not use such a word to describe policies a president has agreed to accept. It makes a president look compromised and weak. Instead of a leader brokering a popular agreement, Obama appears to be a politician forced under threat to violate his deepest convictions.

After two years on the job, President Obama has failed to learn how to effectively deal with Congress - on either side of the aisle.

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