Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Crisis Management

Jon Favreau has a piece in The Daily Beast that, if I read it correctly, is meant to put all us "handwringers" and "bed wetters" in our place. As one of Barack Obama's speech writers, he knows the man better than most.

In his defense, he does make a number of salient points. A lot of us on the Left do tend to overreact. I remember the Denver debate very well. While I certainly wasn't calling for the President to "resign" over his performance, I was, nevertheless, extremely concerned; the same way a football coach who just saw his team squander a three-touchdown lead would be concerned. The specter of Mitt Romney stealing the election was more hellish than I could imagine.

Favreau is correct when he says that Obama isn't interested in "chasing news cycles" or adhering to Washington's "timeline." But while it might be admirable to have a president who would prefer to be "right" over being "first," I suspect that might be part of his problem.

Throughout most of his presidency, Obama has resisted the knee-jerk, reactionary, politics as usual approach to governing. Because he tends to be cautious, sometimes to a fault, more often than not, his opponents tend to get an early jump on him. That was clear all throughout the healthcare debate. Obama believed that in the end the public would see through the rhetoric and rationally come around to his way of thinking. He clearly underestimated the resilience of the opposition. The GOP redefined the whole debate and turned the tables on him. Yes, "Obamacare" eventually was passed, but to this day it remains the single most controversial piece of legislation ever signed into law. Astonishing, considering it is nothing more than Romneycare on steroids.

The debt-ceiling crisis of 2011, which Favreau cites in his piece, is, sadly, another example of Obama badly misreading the resolve of his opposition. Lost in all the insanity of that summer was the fact that his inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to strike the right deal in the 2010 lame-duck session was what brought the whole issue to the fore in the first place and, I might add, brought about the now infamous sequester that supposedly nobody wanted, but which we can't seem to get rid of.

And now we come to Triplegate (the Benghazi, IRS and AP scandals). Nobody not seriously hooked on crack or an escapee from an insane asylum believes for even a minute that the President participated in a coverup. Charges of Watergate and Nixonian behavior are sheer lunacy.

And yet this White House has spent most of the last week and a half having to defend itself, not so much against the facts, which as they slowly come out continue to exonerate the President from wrongdoing, but from the perception of ineptitude.  While Obama may not want to admit it, perception counts, especially in a town as polarized as Washington. That he hasn't come to grips with this reality is quite revealing.

It has been his failure to see the urgency of the scandals as they were brewing, more than the scandals themselves, that has plagued him the most. When Jon Stewart and Carl Bernstein start throwing you under the bus, your problem isn't merely narrative building, it's good old fashioned common sense.

Yes, many of us on the Left are nervous ninnies. And maybe we could all take a chill pill now and then. But Barack Obama would do well to remove some of that ice water that flows through his veins and occasionally see the political forest for the trees. It wouldn't eliminate every bump in the road, but it would make the journey a little less haphazard.

Link: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/05/20/how-obama-handles-crisis.html

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