Fineman: Chicago Style Isn’t Working
In addition to contending Obama gives too many speeches with too little substance, her goes further:
There is only so much political mileage that can still be had by his reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush. […] Members of Obama’s own party know who Obama is not; they still sometimes wonder who he really is. In Washington, the appearance of uncertainty is taken as weakness—especially on Capitol Hill, where a president is only as revered as he is feared. Being the cool, convivial late-night-guest in chief won’t cut it with Congress, an institution impervious to charm (especially the charm of a president with wavering poll numbers). Members of both parties are taking Obama’s measure with their defiant and sometimes hostile response to his desires on health care. Never much of a legislator (and not long a -senator), Obama underestimated the complexity of enacting a major “reform” bill. Letting Congress try to write it on its own was an awful idea. As a balkanized land of microfiefdoms, each loyal to its own lobbyists and consultants, Congress is incapable of being led by its “leadership.” It’s not like Chicago, where you call a guy who calls a guy who calls Daley, who makes the call. The president himself must make his wishes clear—along with the consequences for those who fail to grant them.
It’s not entirely clear what “consequences” the president can mete out to members of his own party in an independent branch of government who fail to do as he wishes. Aside from petty exclusion from the reindeer games that surround the Head of State trappings of the White House — signings, dinners, awards ceremonies, and the like — he needs them more than they need him.
The reason Obama needs to more clearly articulate what he wants isn’t to scare the Congress but rather to inspire the people. By “going over Congress’ heads,” presidents can leverage their popularity to put pressure on the legislature.
But the truth may well be that, as personally popular as Obama remains, people aren’t necessarily enamored with the specific policies he wants and can’t be talked into changing their minds. If that’s the case, then going on TV more won’t help. But it’s not clear what else would.