Articles

Obama's No Good, Very Bad Week

August 10, 2011

Following the passage of the unpopular debt-ceiling bill and a barrage of awful economic numbers, the Standard & Poor's downgrade of America's credit rating capped the worst week of Barack Obama's presidency.

Every president faces bad news. Not every one becomes smaller and weaker as he does. Character makes itself known in moments of hardship.

Americans respect presidents who are strong leaders, decisive and credible. In recent months, Mr. Obama hasn't shown strength.

Some of this comes from his compulsive need to blame others. For example, in response to the unprecedented downgrading, his administration lashed out at Standard & Poor's and the tea party movement. Implying—as he did in remarks to veterans at the Washington Navy Yard last week—that the economy's poor performance was related to the Arab Spring and the Japanese tsunami made him look foolish.

Then there was the president's Monday speech that, rather than calming fears, stirred them up. The stock market declined as he spoke.

What might he have done instead? First, he should have spoken over the weekend, so his words could sink in before markets opened. But after deciding to remain silent until Monday, he should have waited until U.S. markets closed. And instead of another robotic teleprompter speech, he might have brought in the press at the end of a lengthy meeting with business leaders for informal comments.

There, surrounded by Warren Buffett and other business allies, Mr. Obama could have signaled, without having to say so explicitly, that he had learned from his policies' shortcomings. After HillaryCare failed and the GOP took control of the House in November 1994, President Bill Clinton made clear he was pivoting to the center: no abject apology, but it worked.

Mr. Obama could have acknowledged the urgent need for more fiscal discipline and outlined how to get to the $4 trillion in deficit reduction required to put the debt on a downward path. And he could have brought up reforming entitlements, whose skyrocketing costs are increasingly the source of America's fiscal problems.

He might have started with proposals many Democrats as well as Republicans support. These include raising the age at which people are eligible for Medicare, modestly increasing deductibles and co-pays for wealthier seniors, and changing how benefit increases are calculated for inflation. Indeed, these were all proposals the Obama administration favored at one time or another.

Rather than holding out for a "grand bargain" on entitlements, Mr. Obama could have proposed passing reforms one or two at a time, building confidence inside Congress for even more difficult actions. As his own outgoing Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee said Sunday, "Can't we wait on the things that we're going to yell at each other about and start on the things that we agree on?"

The president could have pledged to reform the tax code to produce more robust growth that will create jobs and raise more revenue without hiking rates. Everyone knows Mr. Obama wants higher tax rates. Everyone knows the Republican House won't pass them. So why not focus on what is possible?

Off-camera, Mr. Obama could have taken two other important steps. First, stop teeing off on congressional Republicans whose help he needs to accomplish anything this year. And second, attend far fewer fundraisers until Congress goes out in December. He must rescue his presidency by spending more time on his job, not his politics. These steps, however, are probably beyond the president. This West Wing is almost completely focused on the president's re-election, not on policy.

Because they cannot defend his record, Team Obama will attempt to "kill" their political opponents, as one Democratic strategist told Politico.com this week. These are difficult days for our president. Buffeted by events, he looks weak, dazed and over his head. And in 15 months, unless he finds some way to turn things around, he will be voted out of office.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, August 10, 2011.

Related Article

098c6b8dea719a1e88fc7129146adb5d
January 18, 2018 |
Article
In a Wall Street Journal interview last week, President Trump said if he were to “terminate” the North American Free Trade Agreement, it “would be frankly a positive for our country.” ...
F9a7d41d2a83d7d4b789adfd11f0e9bc
January 11, 2018 |
Article
Long before the presidential election, the populist candidate’s mental state was under attack. The New York Times ran a series over several days suggesting he was unfit for office. ...
7d32cd4afe265ae7d7cf7f666b4a00f0
January 04, 2018 |
Article
Batting .633 in baseball is terrific, but merely adequate in the forecasting game. On Jan. 4 of last year, I made 30 predictions for 2017. Nineteen were correct. A gimme: President Trump tweeted often (more than 2,300 times).  ...
Db0fe3fee0fc466635a832743dc13e33
December 28, 2017 |
Article
As the year’s remaining days dwindle away, let us remember some who left this life in 2017. Michael Novak was a kind, brilliant Catholic philosopher whose majestic 1982 book, “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” made a powerful case that free men and...
Button karlsbooks
Button readinglist
Button nextapperance