Sunday, March 09, 2008

No Sizzle, No Steak

Apparently, the media is starting to wake up to the fact that Obama is nothing more than a pretty face.
Outside Washington, Mr. Obama was a multimedia sensation — people offered free tickets to his book readings for $125 on eBay and contributed thousands of dollars each to his political action committee to watch him on stage questioning policy experts.

But inside the Senate, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, was 99th in seniority and in the minority party his first two years. In committee hearings, he had to wait his turn until every other senator had asked questions. He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments. And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve.

Determined to be viewed as substantive, Mr. Obama kept his head down, declining Sunday talk show invitations for his first year, and consulted Senate elders for advice. He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it.

And while he rightly takes credit for steering through an ethics overhaul that reformers called a “gold standard,” like most freshmen he did not play a significant role in passing much other legislation and disappointed some Democrats for not becoming a more prominent voice in other important debates.
(emphasis added)

It seems that this man of principle, this man dedicated to changing politics as usual in DC, is as committed to the status quo as any man (or woman) who runs on poll-driven platforms: "Gee, that rhetoric tests nicely, but we'll get killed in the sticks if we actually vote that way!"

Too, in that passage are a few other hints regarding Obama's, um, mettle.

Let's take a closer look at them: "He once telephoned reporters himself to draw attention to his amendments."

Now, fair enough. He's was the 99th Senator out of 100 at that point. Press releases might not cut it. I wonder if the 98th Senator called reporters? Or the 90th?

Or is Obama's ego so overinflated that he felt he needed that kind of media spotlight? It seems it must have killed him to be "declining Sunday talk show invitations".

I can't imagine what Michelle must have thought, those first two years. I would imagine they've had it so easy up to this point, everyone pretty much getting out of their way, laying rose petals at their feet. I mean, come on, does anyone seriously believe that the best the Illinois GOP, the party of Abraham Lincoln, could run for Senate against Obama was Alan Keyes? Someone sat on their hands. (and yes, I'm well aware of the crumbled candidacies that preceded Keyes')

More important to me, however, is this: "And some senior colleagues were cool to the newcomer, whom they considered naïve."

This raises a substantive issue, the same substantive issue that a Bloomberg or other independent run would raise.

That is, how would Obama govern?

He hasn't been in the national political arena long enough to forge the connections and network that assists a President in getting his job done, getting his legislative agenda passed. Ask Minnesota about Jessie Ventura for an example. Or look to history.

A quick review of Presidents over the past 30 years points out some bad trends against an Obama presidency. Jimmy Carter was a governor until he stole the nomination away from Ted Kennedy. His first term was beset by woes about legislation and how to fix the crises that hit the nation. He didn't include the Congress in his policies until well into his term, and by then, it was likely too late. He had pissed them off early on by slamming some Democratic bills as pork.

Trying to change politics as usual. It wasn't until 1979, the energy crisis and his Cabinet shake up that Congress came back around to his side. That was more than two years wandering the wilderness and all but guaranteed a Reagan presidency.

Bill Clinton had early legislative successes, primarily because he spent four years building a coalition of support from within, the Democratic Leadship Council, his so-called "Third Way" which included many people in congress and national politics who were respected and listened to for it.

Of course, like Carter, Clinton's hubris about a mandate eventually got in his way, as well, on healthcare. Here, Hillary steps to centerstage. While the final plan was not badly flawed-- indeed, much of it is in her widely regarded and praised healthcare plan in her campaign-- getting to that final plan was, well, like the proverbial watching them make sausage: you didn't want to know how it was being done.

That was pretty much the end of Clinton's Congressional honeymoon, since the following year, Newt Gingrich took over Congress.

In fact, much of Clinton's last six years in office was spent trying to staunch the blood of the zealous and overexuberant legislation of the Republican Congress.

So much for "governing from the right".

The only two state-level Presidents who hit the ground running with Congress were Ronald Reagan and George W Bush. We can see that Bush's connections to his fathers White House helped fill his Rolodex, while Reagan's long-standing in the Republican party-- he ran against the incumbent President, Gerald Ford, in 1976-- gave him an in with the party faithful and insiders long before he won the nomination.

Barack Obama, sadly, has not even the level of exposure that Jimmy Carter has, which is why superdelegates haven't precisely been flocking to his side, despite the media perceptions of Clintonian evil versus Obaman sainthood. While neither of those perceptions is precisely accurate, the media flouting of them should have created a stampede of SDs.

After all, "old" Washington governs by polls, don't you know?

To others, though, the mismatch between Mr. Obama’s outside profile and his inside accomplishments wore thin. While some senators spent hours in closed-door meetings over immigration reform in early 2007, he dropped in only occasionally, prompting complaints that he was something of a dilettante.

He joined a bipartisan group, which included Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and Mr. Kennedy, that agreed to stick to a final compromise bill even though it was sure to face challenges from interest groups on both sides. Yet when the measure reached the floor, Mr. Obama distanced himself from the compromise, advocating changes sought by labor groups. The bill collapsed.

To some in the bipartisan coalition, Mr. Obama’s move showed an unwillingness to take a tough stand.