What it Looks Like vs. What it Is

Barack Obama doesn’t have the extraordinary political instincts that his predecessors–presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan– had. At least, he hasn’t honed them yet. He is, dare I say, too focused on solving problems and not focused enough on looking like he’s solving problems. He doesn’t understand that an integral part of solving problems is garnering public support for his solutions, or that an integral part of garnering public support is the superficial stuff: the photo-ops, the meet-and-greets with the citizens, or the burgers from the local diners.

He thrived off of it during the campaign; it kept him going. He kissed every baby, shook every hand, walked through every factory, and asked all the right questions. But the box in which he packed that politic sense of what it means to be a public official got lost during the move from Chicago to Washington. In the wake of low approval ratings and deteriorating public opinion of his policies, it seems that Obama and his advisors would have had to go out of their way not to hop onto Air Force One, and get down to the south ASAP. James Carville said last week, Obama needs to “Get down here and take control…we’re about to die.”

In a case like this, where POTUS isn’t realistically in a position to do very much, the best thing he can do is look like he’s doing something. This is a wasted opportunity. He should have immediately been in small towns up and down the shores of Louisiana and Mississippi, shaking hands with the locals and talking to the heads of the cleanup crews.

Forget the political aspect. Had he been there the day after the spill, or even the week afterward, BP would have felt a heavy weight on its shoulders and been pressured to work at a breakneck speed. Instead, Obama let slip both his political and tangible grasps on the situation.


3 thoughts on “What it Looks Like vs. What it Is

  1. I think President Obama has tremendous political instinct, but it’s different from his predecessors’. While Reagan was seen as telegenic (I could never figure this out because he always seemed so fake (or just plain out of it) to me) and Clinton as a sensitive 90s guy (a bit too sensitive, it turned out), I think of Obama as shrewd. He tries to find win-win situations for everyone, even if it’s to his own detriment. With health care, Israel, and now with the BP disaster, he gives the benefit of the doubt to his opposition or those who are in the wrong. He gives them every chance to show their true colors, and eventually he settles on a solution that makes sense. Now, as we’ve all seen during the past 1-1/2 years, he tends to be a bit too trusting of the other side. He let Rs demand too much in the health care bill they would ultimately oppose. He has shown that he wants to give the Palestinians a chance (I think he will eventually realize how insincere they are). He also trusted BP to clean up its own mess. Throughout it all, I think he’s very engaged, and after giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, he’ll show a pragmatic way to fix what others have broken. In the long-term, I think this approach helps reveal true colorsthe Republicans, the BPs of the world, the Palestinans and others, and Obama can then use the public awareness of this help in his pursuit of his agenda.

  2. If Obama’s approach is to be a “long-term” one, though, then shouldn’t he start by working to secure reelection? This spill will still be on the table in 2012, no doubt, and if you and I think that Obama is the right man to solve the problem, then shouldn’t he be working on getting reelected? Getting on the ground in Louisiana? If he doesn’t garner support, then he won’t get reelected– then he won’t be able to solve the problem. The same applies to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

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