It was an old joke during the campaign that if Obama is elected, he'll just vote "present" in the Oval Office when it comes time for the heavy lifting as he often did in the Illinois State Senate. As we conclude the first month of the Obama presidency, it doesn't seem like such a joke anymore.
Obama basically voted "present" all throughout the process of creating and passing the monstrous hogzilla "stimulus" bill that may define whether his presidency succeeds or fails. Sure, he got out on the stump and mouthed dire warnings about crisis and catastrophe (which stand in stark contrast to his hopey-changey campaign rhetoric). But Obama basically left House and Senate Democrats to craft the bill themselves and lard it up to historic highs with spending that no reasonable person can conclude has anything to do with saving the economy from catastrophe.
I'm reminded of how hands on President Reagan was when his signature legislation of tax cuts was moving through congress. He worked the phones to drum up votes in the House and held numerous personal meetings with legislators who were on the fence. There's nothing to suggest Obama did any of this.
Two recent articles question just how serious Obama is about the job he has been elected to. First, Karl Rove warns that "Obama's reputation for competence is at risk." The second article by Tony Blankley is a must read:
The new president's governing style#4 seems to hit closest to the mark and fits the profile of an egotistical politician which we know Obama to be.
Detachment and too many chefs could spoil the soup
By Tony Blankley
February 17, 2009
...Prior to the November election, the only evidence we had of Mr. Obama's managing style, and that evidence was indirect, was the management of his campaign - which was brilliant. But whether he was its active manager or merely took guidance from a shrewd Svengali remains to be known.
Since the election, we are beginning to get hints of his management style in four items Mr. Obama himself has described as of the highest priority to him - and thus, one presumes, items to which he would have given his personal attention: Cabinet selection, closing Gitmo, the stimulus package and bipartisanship.
Regarding the Cabinet selection, he famously said he "screwed up." But from a management perspective the unanswered question is how did he "screw up"? Did he actively design the failed vetting process and actively assess the various negative information and fail to see its significance? Or, did he "screw up" by letting others design the failed system and assess the data inflow? The former would show poor substantive judgment. The latter would show he wasn't paying sufficient attention to a presumably vital matter. We don't know yet which kind of "screw-up" it was.
The second item, President Obama's performance at the Gitmo executive order, provided a brief but revealing insight into the president's personal involvement in vital decision-making. He had campaigned hard on closing Gitmo. His first public signing as president was of that executive order to close it down. The central issue of the Gitmo closing was, and is - what do we do with the dangerous inmates? President Bush kept it open primarily because his administration couldn't figure out an answer to that question.
Thus it was breathtaking that at the signing ceremony, President Obama didn't know how - or even if - his executive order was dealing with this central quandary:
President Obama: "And we then, we will then, uh, provide the process whereby Guantanamo will be closed no later than, uh, one year from now. We will be... Uhhh ... Ummm. ... Is there a separate executive order, Greg, with respect to how we're going to dispose of the detainees? Is that it, eh, uh, what we're doing?"
White House Counsel Greg Craig: "We'll set up a process."
To be at the signing ceremony and not know what he was ordering done with the terrorist inmates is a level of ignorance about equivalent to being a groom at the altar in a wedding ceremony and asking who it is you are marrying.
Once again in the third item - the stimulus process - his lack of personal involvement in its design is curious. He has recently said (incorrectly, I believe) that his presidency will be judged only on whether he fixes the economy or not. Thus, as he has identified the stimulus as essential to the recovery process, his willingness to let House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid design a bill that even after it passed, Mr. Obama has continued to criticize as needing improvement (on bank executive compensation) leaves one puzzled as to why he didn't use his currently vast political clout with his own party allies to shape a bill more to his liking.
The final item to examine here is his repeated campaign and post campaign commitment to bipartisanship. While he was gracious in inviting leading Republicans to the White House for a Super Bowl party, he permitted his congressional allies to completely shut out (except for the three collaborators) all Senate Republicans and all House Republicans, including their leadership and the GOP's titular leader, Sen. John McCain, in the drafting of the bill and the final conference committee.
He says he wants bipartisanship. Why would he permit his congressional allies to kill any hope of bipartisanship by their egregious conduct?
I can think of four possible explanations for this almost unprecedented presidential detachment from the decision-making of policies the president publicly declared to be vital to the country and his presidency:
(1) He is a very, very big picture man and he delegates decisions even on the central points of vital issues.
(2) For tactical reasons, he has decided these matters were not worth using up political chits.
(3) He is either hesitant or unskilled at management and let matters drift until it seemed too late to personally intervene.
(4) Or his personality type leaves him surprisingly uninterested in things that aren't personally about him.
The question is: will Obama learn to overcome this personal defect or is it too ingrained in his character with the problem being compounded once he took the top job and is surrounded with the perks and pomp?