The Obama Watch

Obama Prepares to Squander Another Year

Watching his administration commit political suicide is not as much fun as it should be.

By 1.26.10

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Watching the Obama administration commit political suicide is not as much fun as it should be. Self-important blowhards ought to be brought down a notch or two on principle alone. And a week ago, pickup-driving Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown did that to the most self-important of them all, our President.

That was satisfying. But in the week since, it has been painful to watch the Obama administration try to spin its way out of the hole in which it has, to its great surprise, found itself. It is becoming more apparent with every passing month that the President (his mouthpieces speak his words, not theirs) really does believe that he has a magically persuasive tongue. It's as if he thinks of himself as a Dungeons and Dragons character with plus-25 persuasion powers.

And so we saw last week a string of administration and Democratic Party officials, including the president himself, going to the press to say that the message from Massachusetts was that the American people need more messaging.

As Obama put it in his ABC News interview:

"If there's one thing that I regret this year, is that we were so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises that were in front of us, that I think we lost some of that sense of speaking directly to the American people about what their core values are and why we have to make sure those institutions are matching up with those values. And that I do think is a mistake of mine. I think the assumption was, if I just focus on policy, if I just focus on the, you know this provision, or that law, or are we making a good, rational decision here, that people will get it. And I think that, you know, what they've ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there's these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions."

The president who spoke almost non-stop to the American people for an entire year -- more than 400 speeches and other direct communications -- says the people don't "get it," meaning understand the good he's trying to do them, because he hasn't communicated to them enough.

And so adviser David Axelrod went on the same network on Sunday and delivered the same spin Obama delivered a few days before (and for the months before that). The American people demand the health care reform that is in their legislation, but the problem is that the people just haven't been told how good the legislation is. The evil insurance companies have lied to them so much that the administration simply hasn't had the ability to counter the misinformation.

No one who has been paying attention to the health care debate for the past year can possibly believe this. It simply isn't credible. And that is belied by Axelrod's claim later in the interview that Congress simply has to pass the bill for the good it contains to become known:

"And let me tell you, as a political matter, the foolish thing to do would be for anybody else who supported this to walk away from it, because what's happened is, this thing's been defined by insurance company -- insurance industry propaganda, the propaganda of the opponents, and an admittedly messy process leading up to it.

"But the underlying elements of it are popular and important. And people will never know what's in that bill until we pass it, the president signs it, and they have a whole range of new protections they never had before."

Mull that for a moment. Axelrod actually claimed that the most powerful man on earth is completely powerless in the face of "insurance industry propaganda" -- so powerless that the only possible way the American people can ever understand how beneficial to them his health care reform bill will be is for members of Congress to simply take the president's word that it will do what the president claims it will and pass it.

If that is not an admission of defeat in the war of words over this health care bill, then nothing is.

Which brings us back to the point at the beginning of this column. It's not fun watching the administration stubbornly refuse to acknowledge reality because the stakes of this mistake are so high. One year into Obama's presidency, and he is still selling the health care bill with exactly the same spin he used when he began selling it.

On Sunday, Axelrod invited Scott Brown to join the administration in working to achieve the administration's priorities on health care. If that sounds familiar, it's exactly the same invitation Obama extended to Republicans early last year -- join us in passing our agenda. It was, and remains, an invitation to a beheading.

And so we have lost a year of work on the economy, on terrorism, on entitlement reform and on two wars to the president's hubris, and we are about to lose another. Scott Brown's win was highly enjoyable to behold. But that brief pleasure is outweighed by the frustration of seeing this president continue to gaze lovingly in the mirror while the nation claws its way toward a recovery and prays the national security apparatus doesn't let another bomber through.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.