Steve Clemons reacts to a close look inside the Obama White House, written by Financial Times Washington bureau chief Edward Luce. Go read the whole thing, Steven’s comments are enlightening:
At a crucial stage in the Democratic primaries in late 2007, Barack Obama rejuvenated his campaign with a barnstorming speech, in which he ended on a promise of what his victory would produce: “A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.”
Just over a year into his tenure, America’s 44th president governs a bitterly divided nation, a world increasingly hard to manage and an America that seems more disillusioned than ever with Washington’s ways. What went wrong?
Pundits, Democratic lawmakers and opinion pollsters offer a smorgasbord of reasons – from Mr Obama’s decision to devote his first year in office to healthcare reform, to the president’s inability to convince voters he can “feel their [economic] pain”, to the apparent ungovernability of today’s Washington. All may indeed have contributed to the quandary in which Mr Obama finds himself. But those around him have a more specific diagnosis – and one that is striking in its uniformity. The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing, they say.
[…] An outside adviser adds: “I don’t understand how the president could launch healthcare reform and an Arab-Israeli peace process – two goals that have eluded US presidents for generations – without having done better scenario planning. Either would be historic. But to launch them at the same time?”
Again, close allies of the president attribute the problem to the campaign-like nucleus around Mr Obama in which all things are possible. “There is this sense after you have won such an amazing victory, when you have proved conventional wisdom wrong again and again, that you can simply do the same thing in government,” says one. “Of course, they are different skills. To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics. That still isn’t happening.”
(This reinforces what I recently wrote about Obama’s lack of executive skills. Seems like I’m not the only person who noticed.)
Clemons calls the piece a “vital” and “brave” article, noting that most of the insider media isn’t mentioning it at all:
But one thing essential to understand is that the kind of policy that smart strategists — including by people like National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other advisers like Denis McDonough, Tom Donilon, James Steinberg, William Burns, (previously Gregory Craig) — would be putting forward is getting twisted either in the rough-and-tumble of a a team of rivals operation that is not working, or is being distorted by the Chicago political gang’s tactical advice that is seducing Obama towards a course that has not only violated deals he made with those who voted him into office but which is failing to hit any of the major strategic targets by which the administration will be historically measured.
President Obama needs to take stock quickly. Read the Luce piece. Be honest about what is happening. Read Plouffe’s smart book again. Send Rahm Emanuel back to the House in a senior role. Make Valerie Jarrett an important Ambassador. Keep Axelrod — but balance him with someone like Plouffe, and get back to putting good policy before short term politics.
Set up a Team B with diverse political and national security observers like Tom Daschle, John Podesta, Brent Scowcroft, Arianna Huffington, Fareed Zakaria, Katrina vanden Heuvel, John Harris, James Fallows, Chuck Hagel, Strobe Talbott, James Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others to give you a no-nonsense picture of what is going on.
And take action to fix the dysfunction of your office.
Otherwise, the Obama brand will be totally bust in the very near term.
Steve’s an old-style conservative Dem (hence his advisor recommendations) but other than that, I think he’s on point.
The other thing I learned as an executive recruiter (and I brought this up all the time during the Bush era) is that when you put people into a job that’s over their heads, they will instead put all their energy into exercising whatever part of their skill set that makes them feel competent. That’s because people like to feel competent, and the more out of control the rest of their job becomes, the more energy they will put into the part they do know how to do – however irrelevant it may be at the time.