The first 30 days of President Barack Obama

The veteran American political journalist Elizabeth Drew has contributed a fine essay to The New York Review if Books summing up the successes and failures, as she sees them, of the Barack Obama administration’s first thirty days in office.

As carefully as Barack Obama prepared for it, the presidency has held some surprises for him—some foreseeable, some not, and some of his own making. Seeking to avoid the mistakes of the early Clinton era, Obama concluded that, unlike Clinton, he didn’t want to hold the numerous meetings that can chew up so much of the president’s time. Instead, according to his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, Obama’s style is to drop by an aide’s office—a restless man, he roams the White House corridors—or stop an aide in a hallway and ask, “How are you coming on that thing we were talking about?” Gibbs says, “The worst thing is not have an answer.” Asked what happens then, Gibbs replied, “He gets that disappointed parent look, and then you better go find an answer.”………….

She is especially good on how and why the Republicans have attempted to thwart the administration’s every move.

The most important problem that Obama and his aides weren’t prepared for was the degree to which the Republicans would oppose him. In part, this was circumstantial: the first major bill to test the President’s stated desire for bipartisanship was on the subject that arouses the most partisanship: taxing and spending. The Democrats were bent on using the opportunity of the stimulus bill to expand or create as many domestic programs as they could. Against the evidence of the past eight years, the Republicans remained wedded to tax cuts as the way to stimulate the economy. To some extent, Obama set himself up by calling for bipartisanship—especially on this subject. He was acting on his campaign pledge to “change the ways of Washington,” or “end the partisan wrangling,” which didn’t necessarily mean winning bipartisan support for every bill.

The House Republicans, greatly reduced by the 2006 and 2008 elections, were now as a whole more conservative than they’ve been in a generation—moderate Republicans having been reduced to a mere dozen or so. There were signs from the outset that the Republicans had no intention of cooperating with Obama. Lacking the leverage to affect policy, or the votes sufficient to defeat Obama’s stimulus plan, they could do what they wanted, however short-sighted, without being saddled with responsibility for killing it. Moreover, they concluded from their losses in 2008 that they hadn’t been conservative enough ; they had come under a great deal of criticism for having presided over too much spending. The House has been particularly polarized for decades: when each party gains the majority, it takes revenge for having been, as they see it, mistreated by the other. Since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was rushing the bill through the House, it was easy for Republican leaders to get their followers worked up against it. Emotion —over issues, over procedure—plays a larger part in parliamentary politics than people may realize.

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