How to Write A Piece On How to Save the President

A mostly political weblog.
Feb. 8 2010 2:10 PM

How to Write A Piece On How to Save the President

GM workers assembling battery packs for the new "green" Chevy Volt will not be members of the UAW or any other union , according to  TTAC . ... This is in Michigan, not Mexico. . ... Does the czar know? ...  1:31 A.M.

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 "[M]any of the nation's top news anchors and editors are sending emails back and forth (I have been sent three such emails in confidence) on what a spot-on piece Luce wrought ..."

Luce's piece seems incompletely convincing to me, as it follows a template familiar to connoisseurs of Save-the-President analyses from earlier administrations (e.g., Carter, Clinton). The rules are:

1) Blame the campaigners. The problem is the President relies for close advise on his closest advisers-- those who saw him through the campaign. For Carter it was the boys from Georgia--e.g. Hamilton Jordan. For Obama it's the Chicago interlopers: Axelrod, Gibbs, Jarrett, plus Rahm Emanuel. If only the circle were broadened! This reflexive Washington kvetch allows DC experts to think that the decisions would be better if only experts like them were consulted. Time to bring in a "Team B" consisting of [insert list of your friends here]. As if Chuck Hagel is going to save Obama.

2) Blame campaigning: "The Obama White House is geared for campaigning rather than governing," says Luce. This implies that the serious business of policy and governance is qualitatively different--and superior to--the grimy business of getting elected. ("To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics. That still isn't happening," says one of Obama's "close allies.") All the more reason for getting those campaign hacks out of there! And very flattering for DC policy types who would in theory take their places.

3) Blame process: If only the process were changed--the circle of advisers broadened, the "stream" of advice augmented, with cabinet officers and State department officials consulted--better results would pop out (no matter what the elected official in question actually believes in). This avoids messy arguments about substance and offers the prized Neutral Story Line --an MSM-safe narrative that seems to explain everything without taking ideological sides.

4) Never Blame the President. Goes without saying. What good would that do? ....

And of course,

5) Call David Gergen. ("[T]he lightbulb must want to change," he says of Obama.)

It can't be that the President made a mistake of substance precisely when he reached outside his inner circle to  policy types , buying his OMB chief Peter Orszag's circle-squaring argument the health care reform was deficit reduction. As Ryan Lizza noted at the time , Obama was "in effect betting his Presidency on Orszag’s thesis." It was a bad bet** and he seems to be losing it.

It can't be that this was a mistake Obama would have made if Kathleen Sebelius and Ken Salazar had been consulted--a mistake he would have made if Jim Fallows and Fareed Zakaria were installed in the West Wing, supervising a "stream of advice"designed by Peter Drucker and Norman Ornstein, with Emanuel and Axelrod exiled to 40 cars back in the motorcade. It can't be that Obama would have made this mistake because it's what he really thinks , which is why he kept on talking about it even as his health plan sank lower and lower in the polls.  (Some good campaign-oriented advisers might actually have helped at that point--they would have noticed that the President's vaunted salesmanship wasn't working. But probably not even that would have helped, since the problem was something they couldn't change: Obama.)

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**--Luce's piece is eye-opening in its description of what was sacrificed in the push for health care reform:

Insiders attribute Mr Obama’s waning enthusiasm for the Arab-Israeli peace initiative to a desire to avoid antagonising sceptical lawmakers whose support was needed on healthcare. The steam went out of his Arab-Israeli push in mid-summer, just when the healthcare bill was running into serious difficulties.

So Orszag's thesis didn't just sink health care. It also destroyed hopes for peace in the Middle East. ... Only half joking.

Update: At least according to  The Hill , Obama believed the Orszagist alchemy wouldn't just reduce the deficit in the long-term, but also revive the economy in the shorter term:

One senior Democratic senator said Emanuel was initially reluctant to push healthcare reform so early in Obama’s first term, counseling instead for the president to focus on jobs and the economy

But the president decided healthcare had to pass when he had a strong political mandate and the party controlled large majorities in both chambers.

Obama was convinced overhauling the nation’s healthcare system would boost the struggling economy by curbing costs and reducing the long-term federal deficit, say Democratic sources. 
 

12:47 P.M.

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