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Winging It

Karl Rove, in this radio interview, contends that the Obama administration has been “winging it.” On the stimulus, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner gave Congress only the barest outlines of what they wanted and then Obama sent David Axelrod up to the Hill explain the spin (e.g. “recovery” not “bailout”). That confirms a couple troubling aspects of this administration.

First, for all the brainy people they have accumulated and the fast-moving transition process, they seem not to be putting any of those fine minds to work on actual policy. Why didn’t Summers have a bill, or even an outline of a bill, that incorporated his “timely, targeted and transparent” standard? Why didn’t Geithner have a detailed bank bailout plan? Either there are too many cooks in the kitchen or the president hasn’t put a premium on moving ahead with the administration’s agenda.

Instead, they are spending time on politics, speeches and campaign events. They don’t have time to work on bank bailout legislation, but they’ve figured out they need to move the Census into the White House. The president spent days and days campaigning for a stimulus bill he had in the bag anyway. It is a matter of priorities, it seems. It is plain that the priority is to maintain a campaign-like, partisan fervor — whether or not the president has a substantive agenda of his own to present.

Second, they made a fetish of transparency and an end to business as usual, but nevertheless encouraged an entirely nontransparent legislative process for the stimulus bill. This, too, is par for the course. Many of their stumbles so far have come because of ethical misjudgments and rank hypocrisy. The Obama team knew about the problems of Daschle, Geithner, and Richardson, but proceeded anyway. They passed ethics standards, but tossed them aside whenever they came up with a nominee who didn’t meet them. An administration obsessed with image somehow doesn’t recognize the need to preserve a code of conduct supposedly espoused by the president.

It is not surprising, then, that they wound up with a junk-infested stimulus bill hatched in secret. When the White House doesn’t make clear what its policy objectives are, and doesn’t seek to enforce its standards of good governance, Congress will run wild. The congressional Democrats did precisely that and set a troubling precedent. If Obama wants to get his presidency back from Reid and Pelosi he better start crafting his own detailed agenda and insisting he won’t countenance business as usual.



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