Bill Keller, former New York Times executive editor-turned-op-ed-columnist, is concerned that Barack Obama could be a one-term president, but not for the same reasons that most pundits point out.
In his first op-ed in the Times on Sunday, Keller, now officially freed from having to pretend that he was fair and balanced, largely blamed the legacy of President Bush for Obama’s ills but pointed out that Obama has also contributed to his current political woes.
The decline in Obama’s political fortunes, the Great Disappointment, can be attributed to four main factors: the intractable legacy bequeathed by George W. Bush; Republican resistance amounting to sabotage; the unrealistic expectations and inevitable disenchantment of some of the president’s supporters; and, to be sure, the man himself.
Obama inherited a country in such distress that his Inaugural Address alluded to George Washington at Valley Forge, marking “this winter of our hardship.” Unfunded wars, supply-side deficits, twin housing and banking crises enabled by an orgy of regulatory permissiveness — that was the legacy Obama assumed. In our political culture if you inherit a problem and don’t fix it, you own it. So at some point it became the popular wisdom that Iraq and Afghanistan were “Obama’s wars,” and that the recession had become “Obama’s economy.” Given the systemic burden Bush left for his successor, that judgment seems to me to be less about fair play than about short memories. But this is what passes for accountability in our system. And the Republicans have been relentlessly effective at rebranding every failing of the Bush administration as Obama’s fault. The historical truth, therefore, is no longer a viable political shelter for the Obama presidency. At best we can hope it serves as a caution against those who preach a return to the indiscriminate tax cuts and regulatory free-for-all that helped produce our lingering mess in the first place.
No one can argue that Obama didn’t inherit a less than perfect situation when he took office. After all, he won largely on the promise that his presidency would be a change from the Bush years. But for Keller to use this as an excuse for Obama’s failures after more than two years in office is ludicrous. Even Obama has refrained from his ‘blame Bush” mantra that pervaded the early part of his presidency.
Maybe Keller missed this from the President:
Obama: “My administration has a job to do as well and that job is to get this economy back on its feet, that’s my job and it’s a job I gladly accept. I love these folks who helped get us into this mess and suddenly say ‘this is Obama’s economy,’ that’ fine, give it to me, my job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe. So, I welcome the job. I want the responsibility.”
So much for blaming Bush.
Even though Keller admits that Obama is facing some problems with those from his liberal base, he largely pooh-poohs the idea that this will be his downfall should he lose next year.
The disenchantment of the liberals may seem less consequential; it’s not as if they are going to vote for Rick Perry. But Obama needs their energy if he is to keep his office and have any allies left in Congress. What he gets instead is a lot of carping. Obama’s deal to continue the Bush tax cuts, his surrender of a public option on health care, his refusal to call the Republicans’ bluff on the debt ceiling rather than swallow budget cuts — these and other compromises amount, in the eyes of the Democratic left, to crimes of appeasement.
Democrats are a fairly loyal bunch and they will likely still cast their votes for Obama. But what Keller ignores is that they could just as easily stay home and not vote which would be devastating to Obama’s reelection chances as turnout will be a crucial factor in the presidential election.
And what about the independents who also played a large role in electing Obama in 2008? They too are disenchanted and figure to be more of a problem than unhappy Democrats in 2012.
Keller blew his chance to honestly assess the challenges Obama faces in winning reelection by blaming Bush, the Republicans and of course the Tea Party while downplaying the role that Obama has played in turning what at one point seemed a sure thing into what could be another disastrous election for the Democrats.
With this kind of denial maybe Keller should be the White House Pres Secretary.