Commentary Magazine


Don’t Worry, Obama is Putting on His Thinking Cap

President Obama’s bus tour of the Midwest was intended to boost his sagging popularity ratings and give people suffering from the double dip recession the impression he has a handle on the crisis. The problem is that he has no plan and has been limited to merely carping about his political opponents and boasting  of his good intentions. Seeing how poorly he’s coming across, the White House has now announced that Obama will give a speech after Labor Day detailing new ideas about job creation and the country’s debt dilemma.

Since these problems have been at a crisis level for months, one might ask why the president is keeping the country waiting to hear his plans. The answer is twofold. One is that, as was readily apparent throughout the debt-ceiling crisis, Obama doesn’t have any new ideas and needs time to repackage his old ones. The other is that he seems to enjoy the process of researching a major speech that allows him to ponder endlessly on possible answers while weighing them against political considerations. But going by past experience, the result isn’t likely to be one that will do the country much good.

This is a pattern that has been clearly established as the norm in the Obama presidency. Faced with a problem for which the president’s ideological blinders allow him no ready solution, he announces that he will give a speech about it sometime in the future. He did the same thing last summer when preparing his decision about continuing the war effort in Afghanistan and this spring with his Middle East policy speech. Characteristically indecisive when it comes to policy decisions that do not fit into his pre-established ideas about the world, Obama plays the role of deep thinker with gusto. Yet rather than actually synthesize differing ideas into a coherent response, the product of this rumination is usually a hodge-podge of differing ideas cobbled together in order to satisfy constituencies.

That was the case with Afghanistan when it took him months to decide that the United States would do the responsible thing and not abandon that country to its fate but still tacked on an early withdrawal date that might please anti-war Democrats while also encouraging the Taliban to hang on and keep fighting. His Middle East policy speech was the product of months of research aimed at encouraging the Arab Spring protests but also included a diplomatic ambush of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The first part of the speech about the Arab world was treated as irrelevant by its intended audience while the latter half turned into a political disaster for him when Israel’s supporters in both parties rallied to support Netanyahu’s riposte to Obama’s attack.

So what we can we expect from the president’s jobs research project?

Obama’s natural response to any economic question is to spend more money and raise taxes. Yet with the nation is already crippled by a debt that has been exacerbated by the stimulus and Obamacare legislation he rammed down the country’s throat during his first two years in office, he can’t revert to the same proposals that have already failed. Instead, he will probably offer us a slightly different mélange of existing proposals to cut some taxes and to cut spending elsewhere. No doubt the president will call this yet another “balanced” approach like his stand on the debt ceiling debate that was rejected by Congress. But if, as expected, he tries to appeal to those who want more government spending while at the same time seeking to play the fiscal hawk, he’s likely to fail.

Having a president who likes to think is, of course, not a bad thing. But in Obama’s case, the elaborate process during which he publicly puts on his thinking cap and attempts to seek out solutions is more of a ruse than anything else. Keeping us waiting for weeks while he crafts yet another unsatisfactory compromise is a waste of time for both the president and the nation. If he actually has any new ideas, he ought to share them with the nation now.