September 26, 2011

Obama the incompetent and Democrats the incompetent

That's takeaway No. 1 I get from Ron Suskind's new book, per an AP review piece. That's an overall takeaway

Takeaway No. 2? Related to that: Obama doesn't have executive management skills, and he couldn't, or wouldn't, find someone to do that for him, even in the face of insubordination.
The book states Geithner and the Treasury Department ignored a March 2009 order to consider dissolving banking giant Citigroup while continuing stress tests on banks.

The Citbank incident (where Tim Geithner basically ignored Obama, see below), and others like it, reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president's authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers," Suskind writes.
I thought Rahm Emanuel was supposed to do that for him, the management, the head knocking and more. But, I guess not! He wasn't even the initial choice:
The book says one of Obama's top advisers, former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, was not the president's first choice for the position. According to Suskind, Emanuel's name was not even on the initial short list, which included White House aide Pete Rouse.
 So, did Rahmbo have some digital pictures (updated from "negatives") of Obama, or what?

And, per a review on Amazon:
As the nation’s crises deepened, Obama’s deputies often ignored the president’s decisions—“to protect him from himself”—while they fought to seize control of a rudderless White House. Bitter disputes—between men and women, policy and politics—ruled the day. The result was an administration that found itself overtaken by events as, year to year, Obama struggled to grow into the world’s toughest job and, in desperation, take control of his own administration.
 Back to the AP story, for more on the incompetence:
Suskind states that Obama accepts the blame for mismanagement in his administration while noting that restructuring the financial system was complicated and could have resulted in deeper financial harm. One of the major complaints about Obama's administration is that it was too easy on major financial institutions, including Citi. The president had wanted Treasury officials to focus on a proposal to dissolve the bank, but no plan was ever created, the book states.
And Rahm, or a better chief of staff, couldn't knock heads on the financial side while also doing other things? The fact is that the administration is still too easy on major financial institutions, and Geithner et al continue to be insubordinate. If nothing else, Obama's whiney fake mea culpa makes him look worse yet.

UPDATE 2: Salon's Jacob Weisberg argues that the "misquote" complaints by Larry Summers and others probably should be taken seriously, and Suskind himself should not be. I'll admit that Suskind's idea narrative appeals to me; maybe that's why I haven't been more critically thinking about it. That said, having read also Brad DeLong's take on the book at Huff Post (sorry, no link) where he says Orzag was the biggest person to lead Obama astray, I think he and Weisberg are both, in different ways, "covering" for Summers and Geitner. Weisberg blames Orzag for Suskind getting it wrong; DeLong blames Orzag for Obama getting it wrong.

The deal? Orzag is the biggest financier not in the government. So, he's the person who's going to get kicked. DeLong is definitely a semi-insider; not sure about Weisberg, but, for argument's sake I'll say the same. DeLong laughingly claimed Geithner can't be a Wall Street tool because he never worked on the Street. Brad ignores the Vernon Jordan parade of Obama before Wall Streeters way back in 2003, or else he's that clueless.

UPDATE: The NYT story on the book offers much more fodder, including women insiders complaining about gender inequality at the White House (largely caused by Larry Summers), Summers claiming that Suskind misquoted him and more:
“The administration’s domestic policy was fast becoming a debate society run by Larry Summers,” Ms. Suskind writes. “Obama would sit on high, trying to judge if there was any shared ground between the competing debate teams that might coalesce into a policy.” Mr. Suskind asks whether this was “a model for sound decision making, a crutch to delay, or avoid, the decisions only a president can make, or a recipe for producing half-measures — a pinch of this matched with a scoop of that — masquerading as solutions.”
The NYT wonders how this squares with Obama's decisiveness in ordering the operation to kill bin Laden? Simple. Obama had committed to being "tough on terror" back in the 2008 presidential debates. Besides that, every president think he is an expert on foreign policy, as well as reveling in the degree of independence and freedom of action it offers.

That said, the NYT notes that Suskind wonders why Obama turned away from more liberal economic advisers such as Joe Stiglitz. Well, I guess even Suskind didn't do all of his homework, mainly on Democratic National Procurer Vernon Jordan parading Obama before Wall Streeters in 2003.

Update No. 2: Joan Walsh has a long take on this book, and a generally good one, despite being a mild Obamiac herself.

Just this one takeway, which says a lot about Dear Leader:
Suskind frequently stops mid-narrative to grapple with the central question of his book: Was the problem mainly with Obama's staff, which can be corrected by a staff shakeup, and with the president's early inexperienced leadership, which can be ameliorated by experience? Or is there something missing in Obama himself, in his vision and values, that led to the lack of bold action to solve the nation's biggest problems?
However, Walsh is too willing to see Obama's current faux populism as the real deal.

More below the fold, as I reflect on a man whose competence level, along with "eloquence" and other things, only got to be touted because of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" of comparison to George W. Bush.

Takeaway No. 3? Geithner the insubordinate. Even if Dear Leader himself is in thrall to Wall Street, it's not to the degree his Treasury Secretary was or is. See above. Follow the AP link and read about Larry Summer

Takeaway No. 4? Preznit Kumbaya is alive and well, and always was, not just with the GOP but within his own party. Read about Larry Summers stabbing him in the back, and yet, Obama doesn't get it. Kumbaya, inside the DC Village, gets you kicked in the nuts.

Takeaway No. 5? Even if (and though, because it's pretty true) he and Hillary Clinton are two peas in a neolib pod as far as political stances, Dems clearly made the wrong choice.

Takeaway No. 6? Even I didn't fully see through Obama back in 2007. I saw through the PR. I saw through to the neolib core. And, I knew that Emil Jones had thrown plenty of legislative bones his way in the Illinois Senate.

I still didn't realize the degree of incompetence that was being hidden by all this.

That's even as his alleged eloquence tries to hide that. From the AP:
Obama is quoted as saying he was elected in part because "he had connected our current predicaments with the broader arc of American history," but that such a "narrative thread" had been lost. Obama observes that he and fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter "all have sort of the disease of being policy wonks."
Clinton, though, was a better politician, too, and had honed his chops.

Takeaway No. 7? Let's be honest. Takeaway 1 fuels a lot of conservative white Republican stereotypes about blacks.

Takeaway No. 8? "Branding" works.

Takeaway No. 9? Democratic insiders ultimately have nobody to blame but themselves for not looking this gift horse more closely in the mouth.

Live by the "branding," die by the "branding," you know?

Obama benefited from the "soft bigotry of low expectations" being compared with W. Add that with his "branding" and latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, Meyer-lemons-for-lemonade-squeezing white liberal guilt or whatever, and he got elected, and got a "fan base."

So, overall take? DeLong is half-right on faulting Suskind for not asking why Obama kicked the likes of Stiglitz to the curb. That said, we actually know that, and insider DeLong is either clueless or posturing. His critique and Weisberg's should be taken with a major grain of salt. Walsh, for all her other problems, gets the core issue that Suskind wrestles with exactly right.

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