From the Magic Negro to a One-Term President? Obama's 10 Mistakes
The criticism Obama faces is unforgiving. But he made some serious mistakes too.
Let’s just start off by saying expectations for the President were too high to begin with. The problems facing this country were much worse than any of us realized. Some of the criticism -- being thrown his way by all sides -- has been unfair. Yet, there have been some serious missteps that have helped propel the narrative that even though this President is obviously brilliant in many ways, he’s not that skilled politically, that his leadership has been at times misguided or lacking and that some of his policy proposals have drastically underestimated American individualism.
Here's a list of 10 big mistakes President Obama made during the first two years of his first (and only?) term:
1.) Underestimating the jobs crisis
It was Dec, 2009 that Obama announced the big “jobs bill,” that’s nearly a year after he was in office. It should have been priority No.1 -- as he must have known how a deep recession worsened by a financial collapse, credit crunch and global recession -- would ultimately affect jobs. There is nothing more important to people than their ability to work, support their families, pay their bills and even their mortgage -- regardless if they are upside down in that mortgage. But the jobs bill took a back seat to home loan remodification plan -- which was ultimately not successful -- health care reform, a surge in Afghanistan, the beer summit and a failed plea to host the 2012 Olympics. Then when he did so, he seemingly failed to understand that private industry is largely responsible for creating jobs in this country and that above and beyond the recession, outsourcing is primarily to blame for jobs hemorrhage.
"The danger here is an incoherent presidency," said David Morey, vice chairman of the Core Strategy Group, who provided communications advice to Obama's 2008 campaign. "Simpler is better, and rising above these issues and leading by controlling the dialogue is what the presidency is all about. So I think that's the job they have to do more effectively.”
This is definitely the prevailing wisdom and I agree. Obama has won very few messaging wars since the first few months of his presidency. It’s difficult to win in this climate where the most popular news outlet is Fox News -- whose current mission/business model is to destroy his presidency and prop up Republicans. But Morey brings up a good point. Obama has a problem delivering a simple message. He has a tendency to give nuanced statements that can, and frequently are, picked apart. He has also made some bad decisions, not responding to death panels in a timely manner, likely assuming American people are smart enough to figure it out, then taking the Fox News bait, when he probably should have let it go. Hindsight, I know, is 20-20. But here’s a little advice: Keep it simple.
3.) Skip Gates
President Obama is friends with Skip Gates.
Gates, of course, was arrested early on in Obama’s first year inside of his own house by the Cambridge Police Department. Personally, I think it was a little suspect that a man should be arrested in his own home. But Obama came out quickly and stated that police acted stupidly, then he confessed to not having all the facts. This entire little scuffle was entirely beneath his office. It gave the far right an opportunity to paint him as some anti-police radical who was simply looking out for his friends. And honestly, he had more important things to do. Gates is a grown man -- a rich and extremely powerful grown man I might add -- he can take care of himself. And the beer summit afterwards was just silly. And Rule No.1 of the Presidency: Never tell America you don’t have all the facts -- especially while you are in the middle of a press conference casting blame.
4.) Health care reformHealth care reform -- despite the fact that it does contain some nice things -- was a complete disaster. It was badly sold. It was unnecessarily complicated. It included some -- perhaps necessary -- but seemingly ominous back-door d eals with big pharmaceutical companies as well as individual legislators. But most importantly, it didn’t focus on reducing cost. This country has health insurance for the most severely marginalized, it’s called Medicare and most folks living below the poverty level are eligible for it. The stranglehold the health insurance has over this country most immediately affects the working poor and middle class, and by extension businesses who provide health insurance to their employees.
Health care insurance has gone up 60 percent in less than 10 years. Premiums soar while the services they provide are drastically reduced. Employers are increasingly abdicating all responsibility of providing health care insurance largely due to cost. So at the end of the day, if you can’t win the single-payer debate, if you can’t pass universal health care, the negotiation point should be to focus on drastically reducing cost. If the administration would have focused on that, it would have been largely more palatable, and it would not have been able to be spun into being yet another entitlement program.
5.) Alienating the base
You can blame former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, you could even point to some ill-advised words of frustration from the usually affable Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. But Obama, through neglect, alienated and created enemies out of a likely small but very loud element of his base -- yes, the professional left. The problem with that is they actually do influence the opinions of many people. He should have reined in his staff earlier. He should have outreached to these folks sooner. It was a huge tactical mistake, and he’s still paying for it.
6.) Getting enamored by his own mystique
This may be a bit subjective.
But I think this was a serious problem for Obama -- especially among his many melanin-deficient voters -- he kind of allowed his own hype to personify him. In a way, he fell into that black athlete trap. Everybody loves you one day, then the next day you’re Kobe Bryant and giving tearful interviews on ESPN trying to convince folks you can be humble.
It’s a very delicate balance for us black folks to be confident without coming off as being “cocky,” “full of ourselves,” or God forbid “uppity.” And somewhere along the line, a significant percentage of white folks in America have likely said all of the above about Obama. I don’t really know what he can do to solve this problem. After all, they are already waiting in the wings to call him weak as well. All I can say is my heart goes out to you brother!
7.) Not speaking to the people
President Obama is a great speaker. But he doesn’t do it nearly enough, not in settings or formats where it actually appears as if he is speaking to us. Sometimes, it seems as if he is lecturing us, or preaching to us, but he has a problem connecting with ordinary folks and speaking about policy issues in a manner that most folks can hear and digest.
8.) Failure to close Guantanamo
You do what you say. It’s pretty simple. You don’t let a few bumps in the road force you to detour or backtrack.
Even Obama laments his inability to fulfill this campaign pledge:
“I wanted to close it sooner,” Obama said. “We missed that deadline.”
The president, taking reporters questions in the White House East Room, said his inability to close the facility is “not for lack of trying.”
“It's because the politics of it are difficult,” Obama said.
The president said al Qaeda operatives still use the facility as a recruiting tool and “as a justification for attacks against the United States.”
“There's no reason for us to give them that kind of talking point when, in fact, we can use the various mechanisms of our justice system to prosecute these folks and to make sure that they never attack us again,” Obama said.
Obama has confessed the obstacles to closing Obama are entirely political. An honest answer. But in saying that, he invites the criticism that his inaction, his inability to do politically difficult things simply makes him another politician and not the advocate of change he campaigned as.
9.) Lack of leadership on DADT
Leadership requires many traits, including the courage to take a position that is morally correct, even if it isn't politically expedient. Leaders defend their beliefs. Leaders don't pretend to lack authority when they know they are the decision-maker -- wrote Howard Steven Friedman.
And it really does capture Obama’s issue with many of his Democratic constituencies in regards to DADT, closing Guantanamo Bay, fighting for the public option, capitulating to Republicans, etc.
In the game of baseball, the sluggers -- with the help of steroids of course -- are fairly new phenom. It use to be in most sports that folks would say it doesn’t always matter that you win or lose but how you play the game. And in this case, your supporters wouldn’t necessary mind if at the end of the day you lose the debate on any of the above as long as you went down swinging. At the end of the day, no one should ever doubt where a true leader stands on an issue.
10.) Demanding a more civil tone -- on all sides of the aisles
This is a difficult one to write because the guy has been demonized, vilified and mocked from Day One by the conservative media, talk radio and self-appointed tea party leaders. He’s been disrespected by legislators and at least one Supreme Court Judge. They have not played fairly. But the truth is President George W. Bush was also crucified by the left -- not nearly to the same extent. But the real difference is Bush really didn’t seem to give a crap. Obama is a little thin skinned. I am too. But I am not the most powerful person in the world. And to be honest, he and the Democrats have more to lose when the rhetoric turns ugly. Conservatives vote when they are pissed. Democrats sulk and fight with each other. In fact, the nasty political tone, according to a Center for Political Participation poll actually kept many Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents at home in the mid-terms.
- 63 percent of those polled during the final four days leading up to midterm elections said politics has become less cvil since Obama took office.
- 46 percent of registered voters said in the November poll this year's election was the "most negative they had ever seen."
- Another 26 percent said it was "more negative than in the past."
- Only 4 percent said it was more positive.
- 30 percent of registered voters polled said the the tone of the midterm elections made them less interested in becoming engaged.
Here’s the rub -- Independents and Democrats were way less likely to become engaged due to tone while a majority of Republicans were motivated to participate due to the negative tone.