Saturday, January 23, 2010

On Leadership

This duck is getting lamer by the hour. The House is balking on healthcare, in response to the Tuesday Night Mass-acre. Dems in the Senate are yelling, “Bring me the head of Ben Bernanke” – and if they’re going after even him, the best of our financial brain trust, it tells you that Geithnerdaemmerung (duly acknowledged, Professor Pun) and Summers’s End can’t be far behind.

So the Administration’s two signature initiatives – healthcare reform and financial recovery – are now generally regarded as failures across the political spectrum. Even if Congress manages to semi-rise to the occasion, the moment has passed for the party's and nation's leader to get political credit for it. Overall, “Change you can believe in” has devolved into “Better than nothing.” And that’s among his supporters.

And the White House's political response is... to bring back David Plouffe?!

Why did this collapse occur? The standard trope in the Pumasphere is that it’s about ideology: He wasn’t Left enough or principled enough. As BTD always reminds them, “pols are pols… and they do what they do.”

In many respects, I share that view – and I greatly admire BTD. But I don’t think it’s a sufficient explanation of the current devolution of the Administration to say that Barack Obama is, after all, just a pol… or even to say that he’s a Republican in Dem’s clothing. Because the collapse of his Administration isn’t only about motives or ideology. It’s also about the skills of leadership.

FDR was a pol. Lyndon Johnson was a pol. Jimmy Carter was a pol. Bill Clinton was a pol. All of them were left of center. But their impacts varied greatly. Of course, much of that had to do with the moment in history each inherited – the pond inside of which each was fated to swim. But it also had to do, in part at least, with their individual capacity to lead – to understand present societal and economic realities, to project trajectories into the future, and to turn that understanding into actual outcomes through political action. Their ability to form coalitions, to frame debate, to set agendas (rather than play inside somebody else’s), to make decisions. Their degree of clarity about who they themselves are.

On that front – the capacity to lead – Barack Obama doesn’t get a B+, or a C+. If we’re being generous, he’d get a D+. He just isn’t right for the job. And that is, imo – yes, along with the other factors of policy squishiness and faux purity (or, if you prefer, the delusions of his Kool-Aid drinking followers) – the reason for his political collapse, his loss of the capacity to govern.

As we sit here today, does Barack Obama have any base left? Is there any chunk of the population, even of the Village, that would rally to his defense in the event of a challenger for the nomination? BTD thinks so. I'm not convinced. And so it is seeming to me more and more possible that Hillary Clinton will become President in 2012... that the next election will be a do-over.

Obviously, she wouldn’t do anything to break away from the Administration before the mid-terms. But assuming that this implosion of Obama’s political power continues, that his descent into Jimmy Carterdom isn’t reversed in some as-of-now inconceivable way, the Democratic Party will be presiding over a dyspeptic stasis come early 2011, even if they hold onto majorities in both houses. They’ll be looking around for some way to save their individual and collective asses in the next Presidential cycle, looking for someone, anyone, to fill the empty space currently occupied by our Vacuum-in-Chief. And who else is out there who could challenge Hillary for that job – assuming she wants it?

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