Can Obama Reboot?

While I don’t agree with everything Frank Rich wrote in his column today — for example, Rich seems to think Congress should abandon health care reform — but he’s right here:

Obama’s plight has been unchanged for months. Neither in action nor in message is he in front of the anger roiling a country where high unemployment remains unchecked and spiraling foreclosures are demolishing the bedrock American dream of home ownership. The president is no longer seen as a savior but as a captive of the interests who ginned up the mess and still profit, hugely, from it. …

…Obama has blundered, not by positioning himself too far to the left but by landing nowhere — frittering away his political capital by being too vague, too slow and too deferential to Congress. The smartest thing said as the Massachusetts returns came in Tuesday night was by Howard Fineman on MSNBC: “Obama took all his winnings and turned them over to Max Baucus.”

President Obama is only one year into his term. Can he reboot his administration? Can he recapture some momentum? I think it’s possible for someone of great political skill — Bill Clinton comes to mind — to dig out of a hole and reclaim public confidence, but whether Obama can do it remains to be seen.

The return of David Plouffe indicates the White House knows it has to change course. However, it shouldn’t be the job of a political adviser to tell the President to stop being vague, slow and deferential.

Other Stuff to Read: Bob Herbert, “They Still Don’t Get It

Update: It won’t happen, but here’s one way the Obama Administration could shake things up.

20 thoughts on “Can Obama Reboot?

  1. Krugman for The Fed? Be still my foolish heart!
    Sadly, it’ll never happen…

    As for President Obama (I still LOVE writing that, even after a year – take that, Republicans!!!), I think he’s starting to come around to realizing that wishing, and working for, bipartisanship, is about as useful as doing estate planning every time you buy a lottery ticket.
    My suggestion would be to continue to try to make it a huge point of including Republicans. But every time, and I mean EVERY TIME, they dig their heels in, you make a HUGE point that. Huge, huge, HUGE POINT OF THAT!!!
    If I could draw a cartoon, it would be 50+ people, with “D’s” on their suits, pulling the others on a rope towards a sign that said, “Our Future,” and 41 others, with “R’s” on their suits, whose heels are firmly dug in, and with about 5 to 8 others, with question marks on their clothes, standing around patting each other on the back for not playing.
    I still have some hope.
    Oh yeah, I forgot about the SCOTUS ruling.
    Hell, somehow or other I still have hope, so sue me!

  2. From The Baseline Scenario: Would Krugman be opposed by the Republicans? Yes, potentially.

    Potentially? Serious understatement there. I think this would be a brilliant nomination, and I think there would be a firestorm from both the right and the DINOs. Forget “best guy for the job;” he’s simply too liberal.

    Can Obama reboot? Sure. Will he reboot? I’m not optimistic. I think he’s too invested in his common-ground approach to Congress.

    More to the point, can he reboot in time to save the Democrats in the midterms? Doubt it. If he does a 180 degree turn this week and starts to channel Lyndon Johnson, there’s going to be a long delay before we start to trust that it’s real and permanent. And he still has to get results against Republicans and DINOs coming off fresh wins. I’m afraid it’s too late.

  3. Re: Baseline Scenario article on Krugman as Fed Chief

    First, Peg shouldn’t read it. Too much right-wing anger.

    Second, a fascinating article as much for the comments as for the article.

    Third, I am guilty of selective-agreement: blog enjoyment. I found this MAH-velous comment from RA (a gentleman and a scholar) that most excellently states what I have previously stated:

    ” But if they oppose his appointment – despite his qualifications and in the face of our weak economy – what signal would that send about their priorities?”

    Wake up – signal to whom?

    The underlying problem is that the Republicans have discovered and nutured a large reservoir of stupid people who are angry and afraid of what’s going on in the US economy. The looter party knows how to poltically manipulate and activate them.

    The real tangible sign of that, is how costly US healthcare is, how the existing system works against many of these people, and yet they remain ignorant about the situation and resistant to reforms that would favor them.

    The last thing Republicans want is any real or apparent successes by Obama and the Dems going into Nov., 2010.

    You can depend on them to be already looking for ways to make the Supreme Court “corporations” ruling work for them in the coming months.

    Obama and the Dems better wake up to the fact that they are dealing with a hard core foe, not with some normal “honorable oppostion”.

    Didn’t I tell you he was a gentleman and a scholar?

  4. I don’t get this “too deferential to Congress” meme. What exactly is he supposed to do differently? I suppose he could put a little more pressure on them to act more quickly, but doesn’t that just feed the “Dems vs. Dems” meme? Substantively, Congress still gets to write legislation, so even if you think Obama shoul have drafted his own bill and submitted it, Congress would take it apart and send back what they were going to send back anyway. I’m open to the idea that Obama should be a little more fiery, and maybe should have snuck some anti-banker rhetoric into his day more often, but I just don’t understand how “getting tougher with Congress” is supposed to do anything. Or, for that matter, why I’m supposed to want a President smacking the other co-equal branches around. Didn’t we just go through Unitary Executive hell?

  5. There was in FDR’s first term a plot by Wall Street to take over the government under threat of a military coup. The general they selected for the plot reported it to Congress and the conspiracy was widely reported in the press at the time. History has decided it was a non-event, but its impact at the time served to underscore that Wall Street in the time of the Great Depression was at war with the White House.

    The impact of the Wall Street Plot was to enhance the popularity and POWER of the executive branch which allowed the vision and agenda of the president to be advanced as real policy. There is the perception today, partly true IMO, that President Obama has allied himself to closely to Wall Street. This alliance began when he was trying to forestall as second Great Depression, but now the Congress (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street) and the White House are under a cloud of suspicion that their loyalty is not with the people.

    The dynamic from the left and the right is distrust of government as a pawn of corporate special-interests. Independents decided races the reverse of expectations in NY or MA in Special elections for the House and Senate. Any candidate who can be credibly portrayed in the vest pocket of big business is courting disaster – regardless of how much money they raise from those special interests.

    President Obama can reboot – reclaim his mojo – and produce the change he has as a VISION – translating it into policy – if he takes on publicly and head on – the mega-banks – the mega-insurance entities – and the energy cartel. Obama will have to publicly shun campaign money from sources he doesn’t need money – but he will put democrats who take money from those sources in a very bad light.

    If democrats don’t wise up to the new dynamic of dissatisfaction, the elections of 2010 will be a bloodbath for democrats and establishment candidates of the GOP – leaving teabaggers who are outside the system the big winners.

  6. Doug,
    Supposedly, Obama’s starting to listen to Volcker again. Now, if he dumps Geithner and Summers, and Bernanke isn’t put back in charge of the Fed, he can look like he’s starting over.
    Krugman would be a great choice. But, there are other liberal economists who could also do a great job.
    But, there’ll be no progress until there are jobs. And here’s where they didn’t make their sale for health care. I firmly believe that the single greatest thing we could have done to stimulate the economy, would have been a (phased-in) single payer plan. It’s too late to resell the current health care mess as a job-maker, though I still want it passed.
    Can a 2nd stimulus package pass? I don’t think so. So, I don’t know where the jobs are going to come from, since the banks pocketed their money as bonuses, instead of spreading it around to small businesses. Maybe a new economic team could force the issue. Taxing the shit out of bankers who took money and used it for bonuses would gladden my heart. If you can prove anything illegal, throw the bastards in jail. Due process, of course…
    Maintaining the status quo is a recipe for disaster in November.

  7. “…even if you think Obama shoul have drafted his own bill and submitted it, Congress would take it apart and send back what they were going to send back anyway.”

    Obama really should have acted as a leader and drafted his own bill. He said/treatened in Nov./Dec. that he would, but didn’t. Congress has been totally owned by Democrats all year. Obama had the numbers in BOTH the House and the Senate. The Congressional Democrats have been begging all year for Obama to direct them. Had Obama really led, they would have followed.

    I don’t think leadership is part of Obama’s skill set.

  8. Brien, I’m thinking in terms of how Johnson got his social programs through. Clearly, there was nothing he could do to “force” his programs through congress, but he knew how to work the hill to his benefit. We’re talking old-school politics: arm twisting where required, quid-pro-quo where required, promising election support to the incumbant – or his opponent. Discrete, man-on-man calls for party unity. Back-room, strong-arm politics. The guy is from Chicago, for cryin’ out loud, he knows how it’s done.

    The republicans were worried about Raum Emanuel just after the election. There were all these stories about how brutal he was, and how Obama was going to bring strong-arm Chicago politics to Washingon. I see no evidence that he did. It’s a real shame.

    • Truly it can be said of LBJ that he didn’t let scruples hold him back much. But he didn’t get everything he wanted. As I remember, his biggest successes came early, in 1964 and 1965. After the 1966 midterms Republicans were able to pretty much block any further progressive legislation Johnson proposed.

  9. ..and one only has to rewind to Obama’s campaign to understand why he would not nominate Krugman. Team of rivals Pffffttttt…

    Krugman predicted what has happened, not only with the economy, but with the challenges Obama would face and the hardball, bare-knuckles fight that would be needed with the forces summoned against him. He is the one who ridiculed the “cum-ba-ya” approach and expressed concerned regarding the persona which needed to be assumed for the job. As I recall he used the term Obambi.

    Personally, I can hardly see how Obama can make progress without personifying the greed, self-interest and irresponsibility by the architects of our present demise, something he’s not demonstrated any inclination to do thus far. This represents a shortcoming in his fundamental strategy and a challenge so basic that I wonder whether he is able to change.

    Let’s not forget that Obama is a politician and that memories run deep and long.

    Nice thought though…this Krugman nomination, like Camelot, Nirvana and other such fantasies.

  10. Ok, I like rugman quite a bit, but let’s not be crazy. The guy has almost no background in banking or finance, his specialty is trade. He’s really not qualified to chair the Fed.

  11. Pat,
    I agree with you.
    And why would anyone pick Krugman? He was right about everything. Who wants that?!?
    I think it was Mo Down who coined “Obambi.”
    She’s like the little girl with a girl: When she’s good, she’s good. But, when she’s bad…. Hoo boy!

  12. Dave,

    As has been pointed out numerous times before, the main difference between LBJ and modern Presidents is that LBJ never had to deal with the requirement to invoke cloture on every single vote.

  13. Whether or not Obama reboots, I suspect it will be moot after the Nov 2010 election. I suspect the following two years – with fewer Democrats in Congress – will be even more gridlocked – if that’s possible – than this last year. And Republicans will be even more giddy at this turn of events.

    Obama had so many windows of opportunity to truly change things, opportunities all missed that have only emboldened the opposition, which he so assiduously (and stupidly) courted. The momentum is against him now, so my sense is good luck with that reboot, if it occurs.

  14. If he acts decisively he can reboot. Maybe he should lift the ban on homosexuality in the military, as commander in chief he has no obstacles to overcome in order accomplish that,unless of course he wants to confer with his generals and Sarah Palin and Rick Warren and Rush Limbaugh and a million others who are willing to tell him what the right thing to do is. The same idea that Harry Truman had in conferring with Strom Thurmond, and George Wallace, and a million other decent folks in deciding whether allowing negroes to be integrated into the armed services is the right thing to do.

    The point is: He’s got to reverse the momentum that he’s allowed to build against him, and establish himself as decisive, and true to his soaring rhetoric ..Are we the ones who we have been waiting for? He’s got to get in that bully pulpit and reconnect with the power that propelled him into office. He should do all that he can do within his constitutional powers and then tap into the power that Paine, Washington, Lincoln, King and even Ghandi tapped into to accomplish change.

    Take a look at the Guantanamo fiasco and how he got jerked around by a bunch of clowns in Congress..As President and commander in chief Obama had the power to transport every suspected terrorist to American soil and shut down that monument of shame. But instead he allowed a bunch of clowns to neuter his lofty rhetoric…Sure..We’ll return to our best traditions..When a pack of self serving hacks gives him permission

  15. Regarding Krugman – I cribbed this from Badtux about a Krugman book that was reviewed by another economist: From BT –

    It’s a book of essays called The Accidental Theorist, and economist Brad DeLong reviews it. To quote Brad:

    Critics of Paul Krugman call him acerbic and boastful, unfair on the attack and unwilling to make concessions on the defense, certain that he is correct, and always sure that those who disagree are mendacious or foolish (or both). And I cannot deny that these criticisms are accurate. But all these are outweighed by one fact: he is almost always–not always, but almost always–right.

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  17. I have a photo in my office of my Grandfather (next in line for chairmanship of ways and means committe when he decided not to run again…then Wilbur Mills then chairman was found drunk in a fountain with a stripper) and Grandmother in the White House with LBJ and Lady Bird. My grandfather, a dem, found LBJ disgusting and had many stories to tell about him.

    Still, he got things done but I doubt you’d like it personally if he ran over you like a steamroller.

  18. I wonder what this is all about?

    Seems to me that one wouldn’t even broach the subject unless one was prepared to move things along. After all, who needs to paint themselves as a middle of the road indecisive do nothing at this juncture… there’s always that possibility that come Wednesday night some god fearing folk will be bouncing off the walls in a howl and calling down legions of angels to smite the wicked slave for delivering our nation into the arms of Satan.

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