They called Karl Rove Bush's Brain, largely because while the man himself was full of conviction, he was notoriously light in the attic. Full of conviction, but no genius was George. Obama, on the other hand, has been touted for his smarts. Even when he began making patently foolish political/policy moves, clearly listening to voices who had been consistently wrong in their areas of expertise (economics for one, warfare for another), it was assumed he was playing a game so deep, so intricate, mounting a strategy so multi-dimensional that the rest of us mortals should simply sit back and sigh in awe.
So much for multi-dimensionality. I'm beginning to miss conviction.
Obama has taken a huge mandate and enormous political capital and squandered it as shamelessly as Pamela Anderson does her self-respect. He ignored voices warning of a jobless recovery and the need for a robust stimulus; now the jobless recovery is here and threatens Democratic prospects in the mid-term. He ignored voices warning that the American people reward politicians for making things better, not for keeping them from getting worse.
He showed a constitutional aversion to leadership on healthcare and grossly fumbled the politics. He ignored those who suggested that it was fool's politics to strip health care reform of its most popular and understandable aspects, like Medicare expansion for those 50 and over and a public option to compete with private insurers. He has proven tone deaf to messaging and has allowed Republicans, a group that helped drive the country to the verge of financial collapse and whose political cynicism and opportunism currently show a breathtaking contempt for the America; he took this bedraggled group and served them the upper hand as if he were their valet.
He has mired us in an Afghanistan expansion that has all the earmarks of a quagmire. He has alienated his most ardent supporters, enabled his most rabid critics, and lost the youth vote that helped put him in office. And he recently announced a Hoover-esque spending-freeze-amidst-downturn and tried to sell it as a route to Keynesian stimulus, making himself look both personally weak and politically dimwitted simultaneously. The Multi-Dimensional Man has accomplished this in just one year. Maybe it does take a sort of genius.
As a politician, Obama fails to realize that the American people want a captain at the helm. They want to believe that the ship of state is being steered--somewhere, anywhere, but steered. At least they know the Republicans will steer the ship. It will probably be toward the rocky shoals, but we Americans have are incapable of long-term thinking and crave momentum. We don't think about where we'll end up. We simply sigh with relief at the sensation of movement.
Obama is akin to the Captain on a ship under attack who turns to the crew, bloodied bodies all around, and tells them to do what they think best.
It's time for the verdict. Obama ran a great campaign, but he is no leader, and he's an abominable politician. During the primary, he was fortunate in Hillary Clinton's bloated walrus of a campaign and in the general election, fortunate in the fact that John McCain is, well, insane. But Obama made good moves throughout. Now that he's in charge, he's proving himself incapable of the political equivalent of simultaneous walking and spitting. You have to wonder who was responsible for his nimble campaign moves. David Plouffe, who managed Obama's 2008 White House campaign, is the obvious candidate.
One sure indicator is Plouffe's resurrection in the face of Obama and his fellow Spinelesscrats turning the slight setback of Scott Brown's Massachusetts win into a self-inflicted bloodbath of the mind. Plouffe was called in to stanch the pearl clutching and convince Democrats that there was, once more, a political brain inside the body for the upcoming election cycle.
His first order of business was to insist on the importance of passing the health care reform bill, which Democrats seemed perfectly happy to abandon and thus prove themselves weak, ineffectual and proud of both. We now have barely audible murmurings of pushing the bill through the Senate via reconciliation. Score one for the brain.
But has Obama so desiccated his political body that the reintroduction of the brain won't matter? His populist rantings ring hollow in light of his demonstrated fondness for the Big Money Boys. He condemnation of huge Wall Street CEO bonuses rang so thin that his later statement that he did not "begrudge" such bonuses as "part of the free market system" was taken as de facto endorsement and appropriately attacked. Real hopey changey there. Again, Obama demonstrates the political inability to walk and spit simultaneously.
The tragedy is that this was foreseeable. The Democratic primary electorate bought Obama's BS about "changing the way Washington works," and "bridging divides" in this country. It was either political snake oil, or painful naivete, but we heard soothing words from a black face (with a comfortingly white mother) and heard Pavlovian choruses humming "Kumbaya" as images of the ruthlessly sanitized Martin Luther King danced in our heads. Clinton was "mean." We didn't want "mean." She had a "political machine." We hated that. We were above it. Mark Penn was a bad man. Icky ick. We wanted purity.
Well, we now know that purity does not beget winning politics. In fact, the opposite is true. If we want policies that improve our lives, we have to be willing to sully our self-image for them. Maybe we'll have learned that lesson by 2012.