I don't know the president and so I want to be careful in making character observations. That usually requires reading some one's mind. Instead, I want to analyze his actions which I believe speak for themselves. Right now, health care reform is on life support. If that doesn't pass, it will also spell doom for cap and trade. Without either initiative passing, the president will face mid term elections in which we'll have near double digit unemployment, near two trillion dollars in deficits, and no major legislative accomplishments. That will create a bloodbath for any Democrat running in November of 2010.
It's nothing short of remarkable that only six months ago President Obama had near 80% approval ratings. Now, he is about to be so politically damaged that he may never recover. How did this happen? In my opinion, it's a combination of hubris and naivete. The president exhibited his first fatal sign of hubris in only his second day in office. That's when he signed an executive order to close GITMO a year from that day. It's now clear that he had no plan to close it and the plans he had for it's closure were terribly naive. It's ironic and scary that GITMO hasn't yet affected him politically. That won't happen until early next year. That's when he will either force terrorists on towns and cities that don't want them or he will go back on his publicized promise.
Either way, proclaiming that he would close GITMO in a year with no plan to close it showed not merely arrogance but fatal hubris. It's exactly that sort of a public promise that comes back to haunt presidents. Yet, the president made it confidently in only his second day on the job.
When the stimulus was being debated, President Obama famously, in an exchange with Eric Cantor, proclaimed "I won so I trump you on that". The stimulus passed with only three Republicans voting for it in either chamber. By doing so, he took total ownership of all its effects. Had President Obama tried to incorporate some Republican ideas he would have split the Republicans. He would have gotten about half the Republican chamber to sign on. By doing so, they would have shared in its effects. Now, he owns its effects. As such between the ballooning deficit, the growing unemployment, and the stagnating economy, the President alone is being held responsible. Had he tried to include Republicans their ideas would have been included and they would have shared responsibility for its effects. That he didn't is another sign of both political hubris and naivete.
The president also totally misread the political landscape. The president was elected on a moderated message. His most famous line was "I do what works". He was supposed to be post partisan, post racial, and pragmatic. Yet, he's governed as a liberal if not far left. Did he really think his mandate was to move the country this far left? Did he not understand the theme of his message? The president furiously denied the National Journal's poll that rated him the most liberal Senator in 2007. He fought hard to present an image of moderation. Yet, his entire agenda has been liberal to far left. How did he think this was going to work? That's both full of hubris and naivete.
Then, there's the price tag on all of this. Brit Hume made an excellent point about this. By passing the massive stimulus, he made it harder to pass any other big spending item. He moved forward with a $787 billion stimulus even though he had a trillion dollar health care bill and a three and a half trillion dollar budget he still wanted to pass. Did he really think that he could pass all this spending all at once?
Because the stimulus was so expensive, the president made a promise not to allow health care reform to add to the deficit. As such, in order to sell health care reform he must raise taxes on someone. A marginal tax increase on soda, cigarettes, or beer won't be enough. He'll have to raise some one's margins on their tax rate. That's rarely popular and just as rarely that becomes law. Walter Mondale ran on a platform of raising taxes. He lost 49 of 50 states. Did President Obama really think he'd be different? Such an assertion is both full of hubris and naivete.
Then, he let the Congress write the details of the bill. He merely set out broad parameters. Congressional leaders are entirely made up of far left liberals. So, what kind of a bill did he think would come out? Did he really think the public at large would like a bill framed by the likes of Henry Waxman, Nancy Pelosi, and Ed Markey? Does the president really not realize that despite his election the country is still center right not far left? So, when far left folks are the major players in crafting legislation is he really surprised the country is rejecting the legislation?
Did he really not understand the make up of the legislature? Between the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the liberals, and the Blue Dogs, the Democrats are a very loose combination of parts. Trying to craft legislation that will appease enough of them to get a majority. Yet, despite this fact, the president not only made health care reform, the most complicated piece of legislation in decades, his first major priority, but he had the liberal wing write it. Did he really think that the moderate Blue Dogs would just roll over when presented with a big government takeover of the health care system? The legislative mess we are seeing now is entirely due to the complete lack of planning done in March, April and May. Where were the Blue Dogs in negotiations when this bill was just being crafted? Because they weren't included in that, they public opposed it when it was released. Was the president really surprised by how this played? If he was, it's another sign of both fatal hubris and naivete.
Going forward, the president will either learn his lesson or continue to exhibit both hubris and naivete. It's very simple. His liberal agenda is done, it's over. It has no chance of passing and if it does it will be roundly rejected by the public.
The president has a chance to right the ship. It should be clear to him that his liberal agenda isn't going to work. He can allign himself with the Blue Dogs and the Republicans and pass energy reform, health care reform, and education reform with that alliance. It won't look anything like what he wants currently, but if he's truly for "what works" then he has a path to get things done. If not, he will continue to exhibity fatal hubris and naivete that will ultimately doom his presidency.
Please check out my new books, "Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney's Kafkaesque Divorce and Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and the World's Last Custody Trial"