On Fox News Sunday, Mara Liasson commented on the AIG bonus tax frenzy, calling it “a dangerous game to play”:
When you’re trying to surf a wave of popular anger — I think a lot of people in Congress, not just the president, said, “Look. We have to vent our outrage, show we identify with the American people, because otherwise we’ll get run over by this.”
I think what they’re hoping is now that this thing is going to the Senate, which is, you know, in the cliche, the saucer where these passions cool, that they can rein some of this stuff in.
This is a danger to two things. Number one, it’s going to make it — it was already almost impossible, now it’s going to make it completely impossible to go back to Congress for any more bank bailout money should they need it. And number two, it’s going to make it harder for them to do the number one job which is get these toxic assets off the banks’ books and get them lending again.
She’s right on both counts. But more important, this speaks volumes about the level of presidential leadership we are witnessing. Is the president there just to surf populist anger ? Some might have hope he is actually there to lead, to demonstrate a degree of emotional and political maturity.
It was bad enough when he admitted to having been “stunned” by bonuses which his Treasury Secretary helped secure. But the real lapse was in play-acting anger to ingratiate himself with the mob and then cheering Congress along. But wait. Now he appears to be reversing course. This is what he gets from an aide on a Sunday talk show:
“I think the president would be concerned that this [House] bill would have problems going too far,” said Jared Bernstein, chief economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. “That said, let’s see what comes out of the Senate.”
“He has not said he won’t sign that bill,” Bernstein added of the president’s position on the House surtax legislation.
Got that? We are left to wonder what is next. We are witnessing a heretofore unique style of fickle presidential leadership. Emotions — real or feigned — rather than clear legislative direction rule the day. His mood swings in the space of forty-eight hours. And once again he is cast in the role of passive observer of Congressional action. None of this bodes well for the future.