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The Price of Weak Leadership in the White House

Over at Reason this morning,  Peter Suderman suggests something [1](Link repaired….Editor) … that I”ve been slowly coming around to, myself. He looks at the on again / off again agreement between the White House and the Democrats in Congress, on what is or is not supportable in a government run ‘option’. (We both know in the end, the thing will end up being a requirement, but let’s go with the mislabeling for now)

Peter Suderman [2]

Peter Suderman

Yes, Obama has consistently had good things to say about the inclusion of the public option (though he’s never demanded it be included). But lately, he’s waffled about which particular flavor of public option he favors. According to Ezra Klein [3], that’s proven irksome for Senate Democrats trying to figure out what, exactly, the administration supports.

I’m also hearing a lot of irritation from congressional Democrats at the mixed signals being sent by the White House.  If the White House wants to advocate for the trigger, fine. If the White House wants to advocate for the public option, fine.  But for the White House to host one meeting where they signal that they’re uncomfortable with Reid’s decision to push the envelope on the public option and then make a big effort to walk that meeting back after the left gets angry is confusing everybody.

…Since the administration is considered the most important actor here, no one knows quite how to structure their strategy so long as the White House refuses to fully show its cards.

The problem with this notion, it seems to me, is that it assumes the White House supports a very particular policy.  But as I’ve pointed out before [4], what Obama really supports is the passage of a bill—any bill, just so long as it can more or less legitimately be called “health-care reform.” Now, it’s obviously impossible to know for certain what the White House’s thinking is. But my guess is that what he supports isn’t so much one version of the public plan or another, but instead, whatever flavor of the public plan is most likely to result in successful passage—and thus, political victory.

I think that’s correct.

First of all, it’s well within the fantasy of the left to think that Obama, the Chosen One, supports whatever fantasy is brewing in the minds of his individual supporters, even if the individual supporters come to exactly opposite conclusions about what it is Obama suppsoedly supports. It’s easy enough to do… Obama has given his followers few in the way of specifics on what he does or does not support, and when he does, he is likely as not to reverse that support as maintaining his own political power demands. Such is the nature of political coalitions, anymore. Obama understands this, as few on the political scene do , these days.  It’s why the campaign that he ran was such an overwhelming success.  It’s also why his campaign which was so successful, gave us nothing but generalities, which do not even remotely resemble the policies he has put in place so far as president.  Obama seems to me to be doing his best to avoid dashing those illusions with anything resembling reality.

Secondly,  this is a trick we saw Bill Clinton do so many times… The whole of the Clinton Presidency was a pollsters bread and butter, the whole of which was done with one finger up watching for changes in the political wind.  It wasn’t until something came up that he  (And his advisers) felt he could support without damaging himself too badly, that he actually came out swinging. By that time, public opinion was already turning on him, and he had to get in front  of the political lynch mob, and act like the whole thing was a parade he’d arranged and was leading. Such is exactly what I see Obama doing now. As with all coalitions,  he is trying to placate both ends of the coalition, by giving everyone mostly platitudes, and as few specifics as possible.

Thing is,  far from being a trick that is limited to the government takeover of health care, Mr. Obama has been doing this  with nearly everything. Consider the Afghan situation, and the Obama non-response to it.  The real problem with that situation, is that while Mr. Obama is waiting for a political solution to rise to the top of the glass, he also ends up being perceived internationally, as a weak leader.  Already, our Allies in Afghanistan are strongly coming out in favor of General McChystal’s plan to bring more troops into the region, while we sit around and wait for President Obama’s finger gauge to bring him to a solution.  The image being given is that of the classic ‘Deer in the headlights” as opposed to a strong decisive leader.

The result is, intentionally, a reduction of influence in the world of these United States, at least, as the result of a weak international “leader”, and a disgruntled and worried electorate. The only positive thing that will come from this state of affairs, is the elections in 2010 and 2012.