Yeah, it’s shooting fish in a barrel, but I can’t help it: Mark Halperin’s “Obama=W.” piece is about as bad as it gets, and what’s the point of blogging if you can’t have a little fun on a Monday morning. Ready? I’ll go through Halperin’s four points, and then make general comments. The bottom line, however, is that Halperin is far more focused on the ephemeral portions of the presidency, the battle over each news cycle, than he is on things that are far more important to the success or failure of a president.
1. “No chief economic spokesman”
Halperin seems to believe that George W. Bush’s economic policies were unpopular, and Bill Clinton’s were popular, because Robert Rubin was good on TV and John Snow wasn’t. This is, as anyone could figure out with a moment’s thought, nonsense. Bush’s economic policies were unpopular because there were two recessions, one of them the deepest since the great depression, during Bush’s eight years. Clinton’s policies were not very popular*, Rubin’s telegenic charm notwithstanding, until unemployment started falling to unusually low levels. Anyone who considers the public relations side of economic policy even marginally important, let alone a key error shared by Bush and Obama, is making a serious mistake.
2. “Failure to integrate policy, politics, and communication”
I’m afraid I have no idea what Halperin is saying here. He says that Bush put politics above policy…okay, perhaps. And then Obama, per Halperin, “has failed to put in place the necessary procedures and personnel to move strong, serious ideas along the conveyor belt from the minds of wonky experts cloistered in the Old Executive Office Building chambers to the President’s lips as he introduces new initiatives at dramatic public events.” Really, I don’t know what that means. It’s certainly not the same thing as the accusation that Bush put politics above policy…I think he’s accusing Obama of lousy spin control, in which case see point #1.
3. “Tying the Adminstration’s fate too closely to his own party’s congressional leadership”
Here, Halperin makes the astonishing claim that everything unpopular or unsuccessful in the Bush years was Tom DeLay’s fault (Medicare expansion was a Congressional idea? Really?). But for either Bush or Obama, there’s simply no way that a president can avoid working with his party’s leadership in Congress, especially when that party holds the majority. Halperin faults Obama for “allowing the agenda and vision of Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid, and a covey of mostly liberal committee chairs to define the public image of the Democratic Party and determine what his administration can accomplish.” On the substantive side, Obama has little choice here — of course Congress (helps) determine what the administration can accomplish. The administration wants to pass bills, and it can’t exactly do that without getting the cooperation of Congress. Meanwhile, Halperin implies that Congress has pushed Obama to the left, but that’s surely not true. On virtually every issue — stimulus, health care, climate/energy, education — Obama’s agenda has been delayed or halted not by a liberal House or liberal Senate leaders, but by the fact that the Senate is operationally only as liberal as the 60th Senator. I can’t think of a single issue in which Congress pushed a liberal priority in which Obama had no interest, and Halperin doesn’t suggest one. But I suspect Halperin isn’t interested in the substance; he’s talking again of public image, in which case see item #1. Again.
4. “Failing to empower Cabinet members on domestic policy”