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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obama's Waffling Noticed

Following the mood of the country rather than just trying to determine a course to follow to fix the economic problems, has cause many to see Barack Obama as waffling on the issue.

AP, on Yahoo news brings this into focus.

President Barack Obama raced to the front of the pitchfork crowd last week, feeding public furor over bonuses paid to publicly rescued companies.

But now, amid signs that rescinding the bonuses might undermine his financial-sector bailout plan, the president is waving an olive branch.

Obama's tone changed dramatically over the weekend, after the House voted for targeted taxes to take back most of the $165 million in bonuses paid to executives of the largely nationalized insurance giant American International Group. Many lawmakers felt Obama had encouraged their step, because he called the bonuses reckless, outrageous and unjustified.

In the White House, however, the situation seemed to be spinning out of control. Some fellow Democrats questioned the constitutionality and wisdom of the harsh reaction.

On Sunday, Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes" the House's plan to slap a special tax on the AIG executives would be unconstitutional. Borrowing a line from his Feb. 24 speech to Congress, he said he would not "govern out of anger."

Many presidents have had to learn that they cannot gauge everyone, cannot keep everyone happy and cannot match their rhetoric and actions to fit a "mob mood", yet Obama has consistently tried to do this and people are starting to notice it, write about and realize it is his weakness.

At a time when it is not just our country watching, but the whole world, the last thing we need is the appearance of weakness from our president and yet that is exactly what we have right now.

Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House GOP leader John Boehner of Ohio said "We're getting whiplash watching the administration careen back and forth."

Yes we are, but it is worse than that, whiplash is the least of our worries when our President is seen as an appeaser, a waffler, someone who cannot stay on track instead of a firm decisive leader.

Obama's handling of this crisis, is an indicator, to us and to others, of how he leads and as of right now, he is being found wanting.


More from Richard Cohen who lays this out nicely:

Earlier in the administration, the White House allowed Congress to write the $787 billion stimulus bill. It was bad enough that the candidate who promised change had no choice but to prop up some of the country's most reviled or antiquated institutions -- financial firms, auto manufacturers, etc. -- but what's worse is that the bill came blinged with extra spending. That allowed Republicans to pose as longtime and passionate opponents of pork, producing a noxious cloud of hypocrisy that drifted from the Capitol to the White House. This was not the fresh air of change but the stale air of business as usual.

Something similar happened with the $410 billion omnibus spending bill. Earmarks were permitted. This was not the president's bill since it originated under the previous administration, but Obama did not fight the earmarks or seem upset by them and indeed pronounced them yesterday's news. The speaker, as is her wont, got her way and so, once again, change was parked at some scenic overlook, biding its time until it is allowed into Washington. It is already way late.

The president is slipping in the polls. Last month, he had a 64 percent approval rating. This month it was 59 percent, but more to the point, the National Journal's astute Charlie Cook noticed that political independents were trending Republican. Some of this was bound to happen, but some of it is a consequence of Obama remaining undifferentiated, defined more by allies like Pelosi than by enemies like the GOP.

In foreign policy, where a president is monarch, Obama has been a change agent. But in domestic matters, Obama's image has become muddled. He remains more popular than credible. Where does he draw the line? Not at tax delinquency, clearly, and not at earmarks, clearly, and not at real school reform, which he advocates but has done little to implement. He sometimes says he's angry, as with the AIG bonuses, but it's a parental pose designed to fool children and is not a genuine emotion. Obama eschews symbolic politics.