Saturday, August 29, 2009

I Think He's Clueless

They said their final goodbyes to Ted Kennedy today in a funeral mass that featured a eulogy by Barack Obama, a man who might well never have become president if not for Kennedy's endorsement.

I'm sure there are many who are still ooohing and aaaahing over Obama's speech today. He is indeed an impressive orator, and I mean to take nothing away from that skill.

But it is a talent that seems best suited for political campaigns. It can be helpful when a campaign is over and the orator must lead as well as persuade, but one must know how to make that transition. Once one is in office, oratorical skill is beneficial only when it is used effectively to implement policy.

In that regard, I have come to the conclusion that Obama is clueless.

Obama has a well deserved reputation for sharp political instincts. But that is a reputation that was honed on the campaign trail. If the public gets the idea that such a person is not so effective once in office, it can be extremely difficult to reverse that.

I know I live in a traditionally Republican area, but I've been getting the sense that even some Democrats are disappointed. And the Gallup Poll supports that.

The cumulative effect, of comments that have been made and actions that have been taken, on his public image — and, as a consequence, confidence in him to govern — has not been good. Trying to appease a group of people who cannot be appeased has made Obama look weak. Comparing his bowling skills to Special Olympics has made him appear insensitive. Protocol missteps in his foreign travels has made him appear uninformed.

When faced with a challenge from Republicans to his stimulus package, Obama sought to appease his adversaries. He got just enough GOP support to pass his package, but whether it was his idea or the idea of Democratic lawmakers, Obama's campaign promise to give tax credits to employers who hired Americans was left out. Now, many people who might have gotten jobs with the help of such a tax credit are on the verge of losing their unemployment benefits.

Job creation should have been a priority all along. But despite Obama's campaign trail promises and a lot of lip service from lawmakers, it has not been a priority in the seven months that Obama has been in office.

When Obama and the Congress return to Washington, they will take up the debate on health care. But for millions of unemployed Americans, the greatest threat to their health, both physical and mental, is not being able to pay for housing or nourishing food or adequate clothing.

They're not asking for bailouts. Can they be blamed for wondering about the priorities of a nation that bails out the bankers who played such a prominent role in the economic meltdown (and stands by while those bankers are given multimillion–dollar bonuses) and then takes away the meager source of support for unemployed workers while counseling them to be patient for a year or two?

Maybe Kennedy's death is the reality check Obama needed. He's had his "filibuster–proof" Senate majority for less than two months, but it can be gone in the wink of an eye. While I don't think anyone doubts that Massachusetts will pick a Democrat to take Kennedy's seat, there are other Democrats in the Senate whose party's grip on electoral power in their states is so tenuous that, if any of those senators should die suddenly, it might be a real challenge for the party to keep the seat.

Increasingly, it seems to be obvious that 2010 is apt to be quite a challenge for some Democratic incumbents who are going to be on the ballot. But if anyone would have known about the ever–shifting nature of political power in America, it would have been Ted Kennedy. And he was enough of a student of history to know how voters hold the party in office accountable.

There may be many concepts that voters don't comprehend as fully as they should. Certainly, the health care debate is full of them. That's got to be one of the main reasons why seemingly transparent scare tactics are successful.

But the voters understand when unemployment is high. Next Friday, we'll get the latest unemployment figures. My guess is that those numbers will be something of a letdown for some people who were unduly encouraged by last month's 0.1% drop in the unemployment rate (I wonder how that happens when actual job losses were still in six figures).

Did you watch Kennedy's funeral mass today? Sandwiched in there, between remarks from the priest and the musical interludes, were intercessions from Kennedy's grandchildren, nieces and nephews, some of whom referred to the poor, the unemployed, the vulnerable, the ones who have been forgotten by society. They are the ones who were championed by Kennedy.

To be sure, some spoke of health care reform and Kennedy's belief that it was the issue of his life. But Kennedy was an advocate of workers' rights, and I have a hard time believing that he would passively permit the lifeline of unemployment benefits to be denied suddenly to hundreds of thousands of Americans — something that is due to start happening in a matter of weeks.

Health care reform is important. I don't think anyone would agree with that more than Ted Kennedy.

But, in a nation that is nearing double–digit unemployment, I have to wonder if Obama, sitting on the front row with his wife, his vice president and Jimmy Carter, the man whose presidency was ended in large part because of escalating unemployment, gets it.

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