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Smart Campaign, Dim White House

There is certainly no shortage of boos for Obama’s Oval Office debacle Tuesday night. David Broder poses the “How can such smart campaigners be so dumb in governing?” question:

If there is any value in President Obama’s knocking himself out to dramatize on prime-time television his impotence in the face of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak calamity, I wish someone would explain it. His multiple inspection trips to the afflicted and threatened states, his Oval Office TV address to the nation, and now his sit-down with the executives of BP have certainly established his personal connection with one of the worst environmental disasters in history. But the only thing people want to hear from him is word that the problem is on its way to being solved — and this message he cannot deliver.

Part of the problem is a president who still believes in his oratorical abilities (despite abundant evidence that his powers of persuasion disappeared on Election Day 2008) — and a staff unable to tell the president that less is more. Part of it is panic, as Obama sees his presidency coming apart at the seams. But Broder himself supplies a good deal of the answer:

Uncertainties in Washington about energy policy, taxes, financial regulation — to say nothing about bad-news bulletins from Afghanistan and other overseas datelines — cloud the economic picture more than oil plumes pollute the gulf. But Obama seems focused on the relatively insignificant.

Indeed, Obama often seems to be off-topic — obsessing over health care while Americans are worried about jobs, and fixated on paper agreements for a nuke-free world and Jerusalem housing projects while Iran builds the bomb. He plainly doesn’t have a clue about how to solve the big issues (e.g., restoring economic growth, stopping the mullahs), so he focuses on what is within his grasp (jamming through health-care reform, bullying Israel). The things within his grasp, of course, coincide with his extreme ideological goals (displacing the private health-care industry, turning the screws on Israel while moving closer to its Muslim neighbors).

In answer, then, to Broder’s query, a smart campaign team becomes a disastrous administration by ignoring the political disposition of the country, embarking on ideological quests, and, of course, having a narcissist for president, one unable to hire or listen to anyone but yes men.



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