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October 14, 2010

Obama's Aides: Whining, Self-Pity, and a Dawning Realization That Maybe They Were Overconfident

Well, that's sort of it, isn't it? Obama treated these problems in an unserious manner, because his ego was so large he imagined he could fix everything without doing much work.

Thus, the stimulus was subcontracted to the blithering idiot Nancy Pelosi. Hey, Obama was going to lower the sea levels on day one of his presidency. A little recession was just a hiccup to him, right?

The aides continue whining that they misjudged the politics. That's all they see this as. When all you have is a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.

But Reagan didn't become Reagan because of politics. He became Reagan because of tangible success. Not clever arguments or rhetoric; his policies worked, and not just on paper, but in people's actual lives.

They still don't seem to get this. This isn't about politics (or, if it is, it's about politics in a very secondary way). It's about results.

Last month, I made my way through the West Wing talking not only with Obama but also with nearly two dozen of his advisers — some of whom spoke with permission, others without — hoping to understand how the situation looks to them. The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra: Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history. He prevented another Great Depression while putting in place the foundation for a more stable future. But it required him to do unpopular things that would inevitably cost him.

“He got here, and the expectations for what he could accomplish were very high and probably unrealistic,” Pete Rouse told me. Indeed, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, the masterminds of the 2008 presidential campaign, said they cautioned Obama after his victory to brace himself for a precipitous drop in his popularity given the severity of his challenges. “I told him at some point that at the end of ’10, his approval rating could be low- to mid-30s,” Plouffe told me.
...

But it is possible to win the inside game and lose the outside game. In their darkest moments, White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed, no matter how many bills he signs. Everything seems to conspire against the idea: an implacable opposition with little if any real interest in collaboration, a news media saturated with triviality and conflict, a culture that demands solutions yesterday, a societal cynicism that holds leadership in low regard. Some White House aides who were ready to carve a new spot on Mount Rushmore for their boss two years ago privately concede now that he cannot be another Abraham Lincoln after all. In this environment, they have increasingly concluded, it may be that every modern president is going to be, at best, average.

“We’re all a lot more cynical now,” one aide told me. The easy answer is to blame the Republicans, and White House aides do that with exuberance. But they are also looking at their own misjudgments, the hubris that led them to think they really could defy the laws of politics. “It’s not that we believed our own press or press releases, but there was definitely a sense at the beginning that we could really change Washington,” another White House official told me. “ ‘Arrogance’ isn’t the right word, but we were overconfident.”

That is a damning statement. Because, yes, it's true: Obama inherited a tough situation economically.

He did not appreciate it as a tough situation, though. He misjudged the seriousness of it. He thought he could play partisan games and just let the situation right itself, and then take credit.

A real president, one who was a bit more humble about his pure awesomeness, would not have made this error.


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posted by Ace at 11:45 AM

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