Saturday, January 23, 2010

Losing the Political Iniative

This post is a riff that expands upon this excellent piece from the Financial Times of London:

White House nightmare persists
By Edward Luce
Published: January 22 2010 19:21 | Last updated: January 22 2010 19:21
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/821dce96-0786-11df-915f-00144feabdc0.html


In politics as in war, it is all about initiative and mass. Losing the initiative and spreading yourself thin is quick way to put oneself into a death spiral from which it is difficult if not possible to recover.

It is interesting to note that initiative is often lost imperceptibly at the margins as this quote from a German officer at Stalingrad in John Keegan's book on the second world war illustrates:

'We have fought for fifteen days for a single house with mortars, grenades, machine-guns and bayonets. Already by the third day fifty-four German corpses are strewn in the cellars, on the landings, and the staircases. The front is a corridor between burnt-out rooms; it is the thin ceiling between two floors.' This was where Hitler's vision of the world finally foundered. After striding like a colossus over a continent, the German army was in the end unable to force its way up a flight of stairs."

While the Financial Times article marks the election of Scott Brown as the major turning point where Obama lost the initiative, it also notes that early last year he decided to focus on health care despite the fact the economy was the primary concern of the electorate with health care being low on their list. It also notes that the White House has done very little to shepherd this through congress.

The way I see it is that Obama was doomed from the start. While he has experience as a community organizer/agitator, he has little experience with politics as opposed to campaigning. Likewise, his main advisers appear to be campaigners not politicians. At every step of the way, he has turned over shaping his agenda to the leaders of the house and senate. The turning point where a mediocre or bad politician transforms into great politician is when they learn the complex skill of shaping the agenda and getting it passed through an often hostile legislature. Reagan learned this lesson during his second turn as California governor and Clinton regained this type of initiative after initially floundering as president.

From Obama's scant resume, he has attained posts of great prestige with very little accomplishment to show for it. He also lacks any discernible business experience which one would think would be indispensable if the electorate's top concern is jobs. Further, when he speaks off the cuff, the oratorical gifts with which he is credited by the media evaporate.

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