Gov­ern­ing Chicago-style, never mind the de­tails

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

We pun­dits like to an­a­lyze our pres­i­dents and so, as Barack Obama deals with dif­fi­cult prob­lems rang­ing from health care leg­is­la­tion to up­heaval in Iran, let me of­fer my Three Rules of Obama.

First, Mr. Obama likes to ex­e­cute long-range strate­gies but suf­fers from cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance when new facts ren­der them in­ap­pro­pri­ate. His 2008 cam­paign was a largely flaw­less ex­e­cu­tion of a smart strat­egy, but he was flum­moxed mo­men­tar­ily when the Rus­sians in­vaded Ge­or­gia and when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his run­ning mate. On do­mes­tic pol­icy, he has been ex­e­cut­ing his long-range strat­egy of vastly ex­pand­ing gov­ern­ment, but may be en­coun­ter­ing prob­lems as vot­ers show un­ease at huge in­creases in spending.

His long-range strat­egy of pro­pi­ti­at­ing Amer­ica’s en­e­mies has been un­der­cut by North Korea’s mis­sile launches and demon­stra­tions in Iran against the mul­lah regime’s ap­par­ent elec­tion fraud. His as­sump­tion that friendly words could melt the hearts of Kim Jong Il and Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad have been re­futed by events. He lim­its him­self to ex­press­ing “deep con­cern” about the elec­tion in the al­most surely vain hope of per­suad­ing the mul­lahs to aban­don their drive for nu­clear weapons, while he misses his chance to en­cour­age the one re­sult — regime change — that could pro­tect us and our al­lies from Ira­nian at­tack.

Sec­ond, he does not seem to care much about the de­tails of pol­icy. He sub­con­tracted the stim­u­lus pack­age to con­gres­sional ap­pro­pri­a­tors, the ca­pand-trade leg­is­la­tion to Reps. Henry Wax­man and Ed­ward Markey, and his health care pro­gram to Sen. Max Bau­cus. The re­sult is in­co­her­ent pub­lic pol­icy: in­de­fen­si­ble pork bar­rel projects, a car­bon emis­sions bill that doesn’t limit car­bon emis­sions from po­lit­i­cally con­nected in­dus­tries and a health care pro­gram priced by the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice at a fis­cally un­fea­si­ble $1,600,000,000,000.

He quickly an­nounced the clos­ing of the prison at Guan­tanamo Bay and now finds his ad­min­is­tra­tion beg­ging the likes of Palau and Ber­muda to take a few de­tainees off its hands. His ac­cep­tance of Ara­bist in­sis­tence that all prob­lems in the Mid­dle East can be solved by get­ting an Is­raeli-Pales­tinian set­tle­ment has put us in the ab­surd po­si­tion of pres­sur­ing Is­rael not to ex­pand set­tle­ments by a sin­gle square me­ter but pledg­ing not to “med­dle” in Iran.

Third, he does busi­ness Chicago-style. His first po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion was to be mayor of Chicago, the boss of all he sur­veyed; he has had to set­tle for the broader but less com­plete hege­mony of the pres­i­dency.

From Chicago, he brings the as­sump­tion that there will al­ways be a boun­teous pri­vate sec­tor that can be plun­dered end­lessly on be­half of po­lit­i­cal fa­vorites. Hence the gov­ern­ment takeover of Gen­eral Motors and Chrysler to bail out the United Auto Work­ers, the pro­posal for chan­nel­ing money from the pri­vate non­prof­its to the gov­ern­ment by lim­it­ing the char­i­ta­ble de­duc­tion for high earn­ers and the plan for ex­pand­ing gov­ern­ment (and pub­lic em­ployee union rolls) by in­sti­tut­ing uni­ver­sal pre-kinder­garten.

Chicago-style, he has kept the Repub­li­cans out of se­ri­ous pol­icy ne­go­ti­a­tions but has al­lowed left­wing Democrats to veto a mea­sure up­hold­ing his own de­ci­sion not to release in­ter­ro­ga­tion pho­tos. While promis­ing a pol­i­tics of mu­tual re­spect, he pep­pers both his speeches and im­promptu re­sponses with jabs at his prede- ces­sor. Bask­ing in the adu­la­tion of nearly the en­tire press corps, he whines about his cov­er­age on Fox News. Those who stand in the way, like the Chrysler se­cured cred­i­tors, are told that their rep­u­ta­tions will be de­stroyed. Those who ex­pose wrong­do­ing by po­lit­i­cal al­lies, like the Amer­iCorps in­spec­tor gen­eral, are fired.

Mr. Obama en­tered the pres­i­dency with what seemed like supreme self-con­fi­dence. He had, af­ter all, ad­vanced from the Illi­nois state Se­nate to the pres­i­dency of the United States in just four years — a steeper and more rapid as­cent than any pres­i­dent since Woodrow Wil­son. The suc­cess of his long-range cam­paign strat­egy seems to have made him con­fi­dent that his long-range pol- icy strate­gies would work, as well. But trans­fer­ring large seg­ments of the Amer­i­can econ­omy from the pri­vate to the pub­lic sec­tor has proved to be tougher than winning Demo­cratic pri­maries and cau­cuses. And Ah­madine­jad and Kim Jong Il have proved to be harder to charm than Amer­i­can main­stream me­dia.

It’s gen­er­ally good for Amer­i­can pres­i­dents to have long-term strate­gies. But in set­ting pub­lic pol­icy, it’s im­por­tant to get the de­tails right. And in guid­ing the na­tion in a danger­ous world, it’s vi­tal to ad­just to face hard re­al­i­ties and ad­just to un­ex­pected events.

Michael Barone is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.