Obama, the Passive-Aggressive President

by Steven F. Hayward

Like everyone else who has commented, I too have been watching with mounting amazement at how weakly Obama is starting out of the gate.  It was not that hard to imagine that a Congress with public-approval ratings in the single digits would set out so assiduously to drive its ratings asymptotically to zero, the Democrats having long ago become, for a long list of profound reasons, predominantly a congressional rather than executive party, which is why both Carter and Clinton came to grief on Capitol Hill.  But I didn’t think Obama would botch it so badly as to put his near 70-percent approval rating in peril so quickly.

What’s wrong with this picture, and why, seemingly, can’t David Axelrod see it?  No wonder Republicans suddenly have a spring in their step and a zip in their speech.

Sorry always to bring things back to my (our) hero, Ronaldus Maximus, but the Gipper didn’t make the mistake of thinking a landslide election win meant he could declare “I won.”  To the contrary, a report of the Initial Actions Project–the detailed blueprint for Reagan’s first year in office–says this: “The election was not a bestowal of political power, but a stewardship opportunity for us to reconsider and restructure the political agenda for the next two decades.  The public has sanctioned the search for a new public philosophy to govern America.”  In other words, “we’re going to need to argue for our program.”  This was a practical necessity, since Democrats still controlled the House.  

There is one other passage from that strategy memo that the Obamanauts could read with profit, reflecting on the mistakes of Jimmy Carter–mistakes that Obama seems to be following:

When Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency he tried to move on many fronts simultaneously—energy, welfare reform, government reorganization, a tax stimulus package, tax reform. . .   He had so many priorities that he had no priorities.  After a frantic week in announcing his energy program, a struggle he called the ‘moral equivalent of war,’ he seemingly lost interest in the issue.  He laid it all out and expected the country and Congress to respond.  He failed to realize that leadership means more than ‘laying it all out;’ it also means keeping at it.