Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Yellow Couch Sitters: Obama 2.0, The Reboot

Yellow Couch Sitters Series

Yellow Sofa Sitters is an ongoing series chronicling the ongoing battle within the White House. One that has gone largely unreported by the mainstream press. Chained to a toxic president, the establishment Democrats are desperately trying to separate Obama from his coterie of tone deaf, leftist advisers. This is in response to disastrous mid-terms defeats and, more importantly, at the urging of large campaign contributors.

Other Posts in this series include:

Obama Power: The Yellow Couch Sitters, Part I The Establishment Fights Back

In this latest installment, JohnQuincy reviews how gross executive ineptitude on the part of the Obama Administration had led to the disastrous 2010 Mid-Term Democrat defeats and efforts to turn around the situation through a high level staff shake up.

Unhappy Family

To paraphrase Tolstoy: Happy office are all alike but every unhappy office is unhappy its own way. By the of end of 2010/beginning of 2011, the highest office in the land, the Office of the Presidency of the United States of America was the unhappiest of them all. This unhappiness stemmed from a variety of reasons that JohnQuincy will delve into below. Most of all it stemmed from the utter lack of any relevant executive experience by the highest office holder in the land, President Barak Obama. By the 2010 midterms elections, this inexperience had caused the Democrats to take as the President said a "shellacking" at the polls.

Most people are aware that Obama is short of experience but not of his sheer lack of even the most rudimentary management skills. If they did, there is no way that a sane populace would have elected him. This is not a matter of a little weakness here and there nor is it a matter of over delegating responsibilities. We are talking about utter absence of leadership aptitude nor any desire to acquire these skills. This is something even his staunchest allies freely admit. Here are a few quotes from friendly sources:

I give good speeches but can't do my day job...

Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind

In fact, I have no management skills...

Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President by Ron Suskind

Actually, I have never had a real job but I cover for it with my Narcissistic Personality Disorder....

Reboot Obama 2.0

Pete Rouse (Purple Circle)
With major donors and the Democrat Party establishment in revolt after the mid-terms,
the administration had to act. Peter Rouse, a Senior Advisor to the President, is credited as the person who forced the administration to start dealing with many of the personal flaws of Obama that had led to such a spectacular electoral defeat. Beyond lack of management aptitude, the shortcoming were lumped into three main areas:


While many there has been some comment on how the lack of effort Obama puts into the relationship building needed to gain genuine consensus, few people understand that Obama how limited Obama is socially.

One of the main reasons for this is Obama's extreme introversion, which stems from his traumatic childhood:

This introversion carried over from childhood into adulthood:

It is so bad that he cannot even socialize at a level one would expect out of a low level manager let alone the President of the United States:
Mr. Obama, in general, does not go out of his way to play the glad-handing, ego-stroking presidential role. While he does sometimes offer a ride on Air Force One to a senator or member of Congress, more often than not, he keeps Congress and official Washington at arm’s length, spending his down time with a small — and shrinking — inner circle of aides and old friends

NYT 12/28/2011 - Bipartisan Agreement: Obama Isn’t Schmoozing

Surprisingly, his network seems to actually be shrinking the longer that he is in office:

Obama's executive style relies heavily on a cordon of advisors who were with him at earlier points in his career. In nearly every instance, as senior advisors have resigned, Obama has filled the vacancies with trusted confidants who are closer to him than the people they replaced.
LA Times 12/24/2010 - Obama's insular White House worries his allies

The Uncritical Mind

Not only does Obama lack the social temperment to be president, he also lacks the necessary critical abilities most notably in the area of strategic thinking. While most people can get by on a limited tactical level, an executive needs to reside at a strategic level.

Here is a brief primer on the difference between the two:

Essentially, strategy is the thinking aspect of planning a change, organizing something, or planning a war. Strategy lays out the goals that need to be accomplished and the ideas for achieving those goals. Strategy can be complex multi-layered plans for accomplishing objectives and may give consideration to tactics.

Tactics are the meat and bread of the strategy. They are the “doing” aspect that follows the planning. Tactics refer specifically to action. In the strategy phase of a plan, the thinkers decide how to achieve their goals. In other words they think about how people will act, i.e., tactics. They decide on what tactics will be employed to fulfill the strategy.
-Source WiseGeek: What is the Difference between a Strategy and a Tactic?


While many sources delve into this subject, perhaps the best summary of this inability to think at a strategic level comes from the synopsis from this book:

When Barack Obama became president, many Americans embraced him as a transformational leader who would fundamentally change the politics and policy of the country. Yet, two years into his administration, the public resisted his calls for support and Congress was deadlocked over many of his major policy proposals. How could this capable new president have difficulty attaining his goals? Did he lack tactical skills?

In Overreach, respected presidential scholar George Edwards argues that the problem was strategic, not tactical. He finds that in President Obama's first two years in office, Obama governed on the premise that he could create opportunities for change by persuading the public and some congressional Republicans to support his major initiatives. As a result, he proposed a large, expensive, and polarizing agenda in the middle of a severe economic crisis. The president's proposals alienated many Americans and led to a severe electoral defeat for the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, undermining his ability to govern in the remainder of his term.

Edwards shows that the president's frustrations were predictable and the inevitable result of misunderstanding the nature of presidential power. The author demonstrates that the essence of successful presidential leadership is recognizing and exploiting existing opportunities, not in creating them through persuasion. When Obama succeeded in passing important policies, it was by mobilizing Democrats who were already predisposed to back him. Thus, to avoid overreaching, presidents should be alert to the limitations of their power to persuade and rigorously assess the possibilities for obtaining public and congressional support in their environments.

Narcissus Basking in the Adulation

pics on Sodahead

Even though he is not my cup of tea, a majority of the American voters, at least at one point were inspired enough by Obama's oratory to elect him to the highest executive office in the land. Like many narcissistic personalities, it is his biggest gift and also his biggest weakness.

While Obama lacks most traits normally associated with a leader, he was good at reading speeches off a teleprompter and loved basking in the adulation of friendly audiences. The plan was to remove him from the actual work of the office, which he was unsuited  to doing, and back in front of front of the adoring crowds:

Unfortunately, for Obama and his team this great Narcissistic strength is also one of their biggest liabilities and is often the source of their downfall.

Here is an excellent overview on this subject:

Harvard Business Review - Narcissistic Leaders

Like most narcissists, Obama believes that words can substitute for deeds...

Already an introvert, the adulation from friendly audiences only serves to further isolate him...

In short, the more successful a narcissist becomes the greater their weaknesses will manifest themselves....

Pushing Limits of Persuasion

Like his criticism of Obama's leadership abilities, renowned presidential historian, George C. Edwards III, has produced a penetrating study on limits of the strategy of relying on Obama's oratorical powers of persuasion:

The Strategic President:Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership by George C. Edwards III

How do presidents lead? If presidential power is the power to persuade, why is there a lack of evidence of presidential persuasion? George Edwards, one of the leading scholars of the American presidency, skillfully uses this contradiction as a springboard to examine--and ultimately challenge--the dominant paradigm of presidential leadership. The Strategic President contends that presidents cannot create opportunities for change by persuading others to support their policies. Instead, successful presidents facilitate change by recognizing opportunities and fashioning strategies and tactics to exploit them.

Edwards considers three extraordinary presidents--Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan--and shows that despite their considerable rhetorical skills, the public was unresponsive to their appeals for support. To achieve change, these leaders capitalized on existing public opinion. Edwards then explores the prospects for other presidents to do the same to advance their policies. Turning to Congress, he focuses first on the productive legislative periods of FDR, Lyndon Johnson, and Reagan, and finds that these presidents recognized especially favorable conditions for passing their agendas and effectively exploited these circumstances while they lasted. Edwards looks at presidents governing in less auspicious circumstances, and reveals that whatever successes these presidents enjoyed also resulted from the interplay of conditions and the presidents' skills at understanding and exploiting them.

Taking the Fall

Old Guard Replaced

By 2010, the Administration knew things that Obama's presidency had left the rails and things needed to change. To put it bluntly, the mid-term elections were a disaster for the Democrats, one that they laid blame firmly on the Obama administration. In response, several of his key staff were replaced by early 2011.

Below are the main staff member who were replaced:

Rahm Emanuel - Chief of Staff (Circled in Green)
David Axelrod - Senior Advisor to the President (Circled in Red)
Robert Gibbs - Press Secretary (Circled in Orange)

Rahm Emanuel - Study of Frenetic Implosion

Technically, Rahm Emanuel left to run for Mayor of Chicago. It was fortuitous that the Richard Daley's retirement left the office open because Rahm was on the outs in Washington. To put it frankly, his frenetic management style was a disaster especially when coupled with Obama total lack of leadership:

Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House by Richard Wolffe

David Axelrod - The Incoherent Messenger

David Axelrod was out too. His sin was getting dragged into Rahm's messes instead of crafting a coherent message that put the President in a positive light.

Here is how David himself puts it:

Chicago Tribune Jan 2011: Exit interview: David Axelrod confident in role as Obama's confidant

 Robert Gibbs - Big Britches

With top level aides leaving, Robert Gibbs, the President's Press Secretary wanted to step into a bigger role and had to be put down.  The consensus was that he was not up to the job and that the last thing Obama needed was another close insider in a high level position whose acerbic personality grated on people:

Why Obama Chose Bill Daley by Karl Rove

The New Guard

Here are there replacements along with Jacob Lew, who would in turn eventually replace William Daley:

William Daley - Chief of Staff (Circled in Green)
David Plouffe - Senior Advisor (Circled in Red)
Jacob Lew - The man who will replace William Daly as Chief of Staff. OMB Director (Circled in Blue)
Jay Carney - Press Secretary

Saving A Man Out of His Depth

If a picture paints a thousand words, what does this one say of Obama? In almost non-posed high level meeting shots, he clearly looks uncomfortable. Contrast Obama, slumping into his chair, worried brow with the concerns expressed by the body language of his high level advisers. While he clearly look out of his depth, they are almost shoving their fists in their mouths because he is blowing it and they can hardly stifle it.

William Daley - The Adult in the Room

Bill Daley was brought in to straighten out the mess that Rahm Emmanuel left behind. Not only was he supposed to add level of professionalism to the administration but it was also hoped that he could fulfill Obama promises of working in a bi-partisan manner.

Daley Finds Candor Doen't Play Well in Washinton, Gannet, by Jonathan Alter on 1/13/2012

Politico - Daley Unplugged by Roger Simon on 10/28/2011

David Plouffe - Political Craftsman
With the selection of David Plouffe (pronounced pluff) to replace David Axelrod as Senior Advisor for messaging, the Obama Administration has entered into full campaign mode. From here on out, every action taken by Obama will be vetted by Plouffe in terms of how it will help the long term strategy of getting Obama reelected.

The Week: David Plouffe: Obama's election guru on 09/02/2011

NYT Topics - David Plouffe

Jay Carney - Toning Down the Message

Further blurring the line between the media and the Obama administration is Obama's choice for Press Secretary, Jay Carney. When he was appointed to be Press Secretary, Jay Carney was was Washington Bureau Chief for Time Magazine and was a regular contributor to ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos.


Romanticpoet's Weblog: Political “Tools” and the Obama Re-Election Campaign 2012

Just Piper - Now We Will See The Real Obama & it WILL Get Ugly

Why Obama Chose Bill Daley by Karl Rove in the WSJ

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