By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Obama’s bankrupt opponents

In recent days I’ve been struck by the overwhelming nature of the problems that face us, and the utterly bankrupt nature of the conservative response. Because the more mindless of those responses drives me crazy, I will instead present the rational but wrong David Brooks, who writes today:

Readers of this column know that I am a great admirer of Barack Obama and those around him. And yet the gap between my epistemological modesty and their liberal worldviews has been evident over the past few weeks. The people in the administration are surrounded by a galaxy of unknowns, and yet they see this economic crisis as an opportunity to expand their reach, to take bigger risks and, as Obama said on Saturday, to tackle every major problem at once.

I think Brooks is fundamentally mistaken in his assessment of what the Obama administration would like to do. Everything we know about President Obama tells us that he is an exceedingly cautious politician — a mainstream liberal, not a creature of the far left, who, given his choice, would have liked to proceed deliberately.

He can’t. Not with the economy falling apart, the auto industry careening toward bankruptcy, the financial system in meltdown and housing as dead as it’s been in decades. (Let’s not forget, too, he’s also dealing with war and terrorism on multiple fronts.) Finally, as Obama argued during the campaign, a lot of what ails us economically can’t be fixed without finally doing something about health care.

In the midst of all this, it is striking that the Republicans have nothing to say. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who will deliver the Republican response to Obama’s address to Congress tonight, is getting a weird amount of attention for rejecting about $90 million in federal unemployment assistance — while eagerly grabbing $4 billion in stimulus money.

I don’t know if you caught Jindal on “Meet the Press” Sunday, but he came across as Sarah Palin with better syntax: plenty of pre-rehearsed soundbites, but little or no ability to answer moderator David Gregory’s simple questions.

It’s no wonder that Obama’s job-approval rating is so much higher than that of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at a similar early stage of their presidencies.


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  1. lkcape

    What we know, Dan, is that President Obama has set incredibly high expectations with increasingly scarce resources with which to address them. This is not a Reoublican issue or a Democratic issue. Our failing world is a functional reality that must be addressed be addressed. Obama has proclaimed “we won” and his party is insisting on returning to the failed policies of the liberal past.Republican policies have failed, too. But that is no reason to return to them, either.What is needed is less political posturing, including the posturing in your statement, and more commitment to finding a viable solution and a cooperative attitude.

  2. Bill Baar

    Obama’s a creature of Emil Jones’s ward organization.. the Regular Democratic Party of Chicago. He’s running things just like Chicago too… with Rahm, David, and Valerie…. forget this left / right stuff. It’s all about power, money, and an enduring political machine.They’re just in a tad over their heads and come the first attack from a foreign foe, it’s going to be a mess.God help us… and god help the people they’ll strike out upon for fear of looking weak.

  3. Bill H.

    Obama has been in office for one month and four days. Let’s give him a little time before we judge his administration.

  4. Peter Porcupine

    DK – “…plenty of pre-rehearsed soundbites, but little or no ability to answer…”. How odd – I would have siad the same thing about Obama’s Cabinet picks and financial team.We ALL have a tendancy to gloss and fill in in the blanks for pronouncements we agree with, regardless of political orientation, and an equal tendancy to hyperanalyze the words of opponents, made more viral by YouTube and other context-free sources. To me, Obama sounds like a younger, less confident, even more hollow Ted Kennedy – yet he’s allegedly a master rhetoritician. Go figure.Conseervatives generally don’t like to attack a President, especially so early in his tenure – even Clinton got a bye for the first couple of years. For Democrats accustomed to running about in ‘He’s not MY President’ tee-shirts, this might be a foreign concept. (Congress – not so much. Obama’s greatest failing is not hitting them upside the head with a 2 x 4).

  5. Bill Baar

    Regarding the right’s bankrupt response, note Jonah Goldberg today on the continuity between Bush and Obama.It may turn out Obama’s failure is going to be the failure to act boldly when boldness needed. It’s going to happen in Foreign Affairs, with a nuclear Iran or North Korea (check what UU and Obama advisor) William Perry has been saying, or maybe an American Army at risk for a Dunkirk in Afghanistan.Letting Congress write a huge spending bill doesn’t show much creativity on Obama’s part. Right now he looks to me the organization guy plodder he’s always been… that’s all these guys know.

  6. Mark

    Well said Peter.I would like to add that the Democratic talking points on the Souther governors not accepting portions of the stimulus make no sense. Chuck Schumer was on Morning Joe trying to make Jindal seem like a hypocrite for turning down a small portion and accepting a large chunk.They are turning this money down because it would permanently alter the states’ unemployment laws and allow part-time workers to collect unemployment.

  7. jvwalt

    “Even Clinton got a bye for the first couple of years”?Whaaaa?Would that be the couple of years that included gays in the military, the ill-fated health care reform effort, and all the allegations that Hillary was the real president? Or all the accusations, true and otherwise, about Bill’s inability to keep his pants zipped? Or, above all else, the baseless allegations over Vince Foster’s death? Oh sure, Bill Clinton got a pass. In actual fact, Peter, conservatives love to attack Democratic presidents. They do it constantly. The conservative attack machine is at least as powerful and persistent as the liberal equivalent.

  8. wseattledave

    One thing we can count on for sure from tonight’s speech: The punditocracy will universally pan Obama and say he failed to live up to expectations, but the polls will show about 2/3 to 3/4 of the people will respond favorably to the President.

  9. lkcape

    No elected official deserves a “bye” on any subject, at any time. The should ALWAYS be responsive and accountable. Need I remind you of the politicians recently in the spotlight for their less-than straightforward approach to their obligations?

  10. O-FISH-L

    Dan, you’re right. Obama’s Gallup approval numbers after 30 days are much higher than Clinton’s and G.W. Bush’s were. They are much closer to Jimmy Carter’s. Mazal tov.Dan wrote, “Finally, as Obama argued during the campaign, a lot of what ails us economically can’t be fixed without finally doing something about health care.”If health care needs fixing, why is Ted Kennedy venerated for all that he has done for it? This is more observation than criticism, but after 47 years in the Senate working on this issue, why isn’t it fixed? And if it was due to Republican opposition, does Ted (or his huge staff) have a solution ready now for the veto proof House, Senate and Democrat President?

  11. Tunder

    I’ll second jvwalt’s incredulous take on Clinton getting a free pass for “the first couple of years.” Puhleeze! Meanwhile, Obama is presiding over one of the worst messes this country has seen in over 30 years. And, as Dan mentioned, things keep piling up each day. But, in this world, 30 days is plenty to judge a president’s performance.Bill Baar – I’m assuming that when Robert Gates was chosen for Sec. of Defense by Bush you assumed that “come the first attack from a foreign foe, it’s going to be a mess.” YOu probably didn’t, yet Obama has received kudos from Republicans of all stripes for staying with Gates and choosing a highly talented and qualified national defense team. Maybe you should move to Canada if you are so frightened.BTW – “God help us… and god help the people they’ll strike out upon for fear of looking weak.” All I could think about was Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush after 9:11 needing to find a way to show their manhood and thus WMD’s and the squandering of potential goodwill around the world for the US.

  12. Ani

    On the health care issue: may I take this opportunity to express my hope that unless someone has had an employer offer a health plan that does not does meet Mass. health insurance requirements but which does make the employee ineligible to be part of Commonwealth Care, that that person not claim that the Mass. health care reform works well and should be a model for the nation (in other words, it seems to leave a lot of people without access to real — minimum certified coverage — health insurance but fines them anyway).

  13. mike_b1

    Only the GOP thinks the solution to a given problem is more of the problem itself.

  14. lkcape

    Sen. Kennedy has been a fierce fighter for healthcare reform. His success can be measured by the healthcare that he, his Senate colleagues and the entire House of Representatives enjoy. Wish we had the same.

  15. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, not quite sure of your source on the NYT poll. Here’s the Gallup poll linked from the LATimes (not Human Events or WorldNetDaily): little different spin on things (as if they really matter anyway).

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: The Gallup poll showed that Obama’s drop was entirely among Republicans — his support is actually up among Democrats and Independents. See this.

  17. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, think more the point is this:Historically, 63-62% approval after a month is about average; Ronald Reagan had the worst at 55%, and Jimmy Carter had the best at 71%. Look how they turned out.In fact, after 30 days, the Gallup Poll shows Obama has about the same approval rating as did George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush, the man whose eight years in office the Illinois senator so often denounced as destructive during the recent campaign.Not sure that the drop being among Republicans means anything (wouldn’t you expect that type of result with any new president – come in as a blank slate, then folks on the opposite side of the fence remember why they vote on that side – nothing earthshaking with that pattern).

  18. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: The drop among Republicans is totally meaningless — that’s the point. Remove that, and Obama’s ratings actually went up among Democrats and Independents.That said, these polls don’t mean much.

  19. mike_b1

    Is it Gallup or is it Zogby that is notorious for adding subjects to its polls in order to balance the political spectrum, which of course, is a highly misleading approach because Dems outnumber Repubs by 10 points nationally.

  20. Jim S.

    Obama took office in January. His administration has barely warmed to the task. It’s simply too early to asses his progress, but in this 24/7 news cycle/instant solution environment, we want our answers and we want them NOW.That’s insane.

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