Obama: Disloyal, Ruthless, Cold

Barack Obama Cold, RuthlessWednesday’s column by Maureen Dowd, eviscerating President Obama for his shabby treatment of former White House Counsel Greg Craig and supporter Caroline Kennedy, is getting favorable responses from his supporters in the blogosphere.

Only a year after he had helped Barack Obama get elected by eviscerating his close friend, Clinton White House colleague and Yale Law School classmate, Hillary Clinton, Craig was himself eviscerated by the Obama inner circle.

[…]

I often wondered if Craig and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the other former Clinton official who helped undermine Hillary’s foreign policy record, would have done so if they had known that after turning on Hillary they would once more end up working beside her; if they had known that Obama can often be more interested in wooing opponents than tending to those who put themselves on the line for him.

There were complaints that Craig was out of the loop, but couldn’t Obama have walked the single West Wing staircase up to his counsel’s office and looped him in?

Craig was, after all, simply defending positions that Obama himself took during the campaign, from closing Gitmo to greater transparency.

The way the Craig matter was handled sent a chill through some Obama supporters, reminding them of the icy manner in which the Clintons cut loose Kimba Wood and Lani Guinier. But then, Obama is surrounded by many old Clinton hands (and a Clinton).

[…]

Although a handful of donors were invited to the premiere state dinner Tuesday night — as well as erstwhile allies Craig and Hillary — many donors and passionate supporters are let down by Obama’s detachment, puzzled at his failure to make them feel invested when he’s certain to come back to tap their well soon enough.

It is especially puzzling given that Obama faces tough midterms and a less-than-certain re-election — and given that we all now know someone on the unemployment line. (A new poll shows Obama and Sarah Palin neck and neck among independents, but then it is a Fox survey.)

Bill Clinton may not have cared any more about contributors than Obama does, but he was such a talented politician that he made them feel as though they were in “a warm bath,” as one put it.

Obama is more like a cold shower.

Steve Clemons, himself treated to Obama’s dismissiveness after serving as an advisor during the campaign, says the piece “shows why she is such a key part of high quality political journalism” by “pushing the Obama administration in the way stand up journalists should” even if it means being cut out of the loop.

M.J. Rosenberg remains “Obama supporter who has no regrets whatsoever about supporting him in the primaries and the general last year.”  But he’s nonetheless “disappointed in the people advising him and think a staff shakeup is overdo, starting with the Cabinet and working right down to the White House staff.”  Why, “If I wanted Team Clinton back, I’d have supported Hillary. Instead (as Hillary predicted) we have the same operator/operatives that Bill hired and Hillary would have hired had she been elected.”

The most interesting response is from Andrew Sullivan, both a fierce Obama supporter and yet one who both disagrees with him on several key issues and approaches politics with much more passion.

Dowd’s instincts about human character are foolish to bet against. She has essentially read every recent president correctly from the get-go as types. And she has always seen Obama as a bit of a cold fish, aloof, too unwilling to punch back, too arrogant to explain himself too much.

[…]

You see this in the almost clinical way Obama has assessed the politics of taking on the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies. The way in which both Greg Craig and Phil Carter have been dispatched for insisting that Obama live up to his campaign promises (no, I don’t believe the personal reasons line) is chilling in its raw political calculation. Ditto Obama’s disciplined refusal to fulfill his campaign pledges on civil rights any time soon. And his rhetorical restraint during the Green Revolution. The determination to figure out the very best and most detailed way forward in Afghanistan, even during a war in which allies are waiting and enemies are watching, and to take his time … well this is also a sign that we are dealing with one very, very cool character here.

Since I’ve always had a soft spot for cold fish in realpolitik – which high Tory (pun fully intended) doesn’t get a frisson from Bismarck or Kissinger? – this impresses me. Since I’m also a red-blooded Irishman, eager for a fight and a little romantic about my ideals, this also angers me at times.

[…]

In all this, Obama reminds me of George H W Bush in government, and of Ronald Reagan in campaigning. It’s a dream combo in many ways. In theory. It’s the practice thing that we’re beginning to test. My sense remains the same as in the campaign. He’s got this.

Interestingly, while I’m the reverse of Sullivan at the outset — I strongly opposed Obama’s election, can’t imagine voting for his re-election, and tend to be more detached in my political analysis — I think he’s on the right track here.

Some months back, I had and interesting conversation with Dave Schuler about this very thing on our OTB Radio podcast.   We both agreed that Obama showed an amazingly quick trigger in dumping allies who were politically inconvenient.  From Jeremiah Wright or Samantha Power or Bill Richardson or Tom Daschle, he didn’t hesitate to cut the cord rather than have them drag him down.   While I found this quality distasteful, Dave found it a necessary quality of effective leadership.

We were both right.

As much as I admired Obama’s predecessor for his loyalty to his people — indeed, he valued loyalty above almost all else in choosing them — it no doubt was a major factor in sinking his presidency.  He’d have undoubtedly been more successful had he more quickly dispatched Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Brown, and others.  Had he sacrificing them, he would have distanced himself from unpopular policies and been able to move on.

Sully’s right that there’s a danger that Obama’s aloofness will result in his base being less energized than it was in 2008.  But, frankly, unless he’s running against Sarah Palin, that’s going to be the case, anyway.  He’s not running against the backdrop of an incredibly unpopular incumbent nor is he vying to make history.  And he’ll have four years of decisions weighing him down, so there won’t be as much Hope or Change in the air.    But I agree with Andrew that Obama has to be considered the odds-on favorite unless we still have double digit unemployment in 2012.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. sam says:

    We both agreed that Obama showed an amazingly quick trigger in dumping allies who were politically inconvenient.

    That reminded me of something I read about Lincoln: He would break a promise in a heartbeat if he felt the promise was an impediment. Leadership at the presidential level ain’t beanbag, huh?

  2. James Joyner says:

    That reminded me of something I read about Lincoln: He would break a promise in a heartbeat if he felt the promise was an impediment. Leadership at the presidential level ain’t beanbag, huh?

    No, it ain’t. A certain ruthlessness is a requirement of leadership, I think. But a reputation for lack of loyalty to your subordinates will bite you in the ass, too. I’m not sure where the line is, although I don’t think Obama’s crossed it.

  3. Mr. Prosser says:

    I read the Dowd piece and thought “Godfather.” It’s too simplistic but “Keep your friends close and your enemies (Clinton) closer.” can sum him to an extent. The president knows he is at war (literally and figuratively) and like Sun Tzu advises, he conducts a war as a man crosses a frozen river; cautiously, deliberately, coldly.

  4. odograph says:

    “He’d have undoubtedly been more successful had he more quickly dispatched [Dick Cheney,] Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Michael Brown, and others.”

    To be honest, the whole thing comes across as too inside-baseball (inside the beltway) for me.

  5. I started writing back before the election that Obama’s key attribute was ruthlessness. He sees the bright clear line between point A and point B. Most people don’t, even people who think they’re tough-minded.

    I like cold and ruthless — in the proper sense of the words, in the intellectual sense. I don’t trust people who shove extraneous considerations into the equation before they first find the solution. Morality and emotion come after you’ve found the solution, not before. They modify.

    Since I can claim to be right on this — and had it right when Republicans were still yammering about Obama being weak or naive — I’ll tell you something else: he doesn’t give a damn about 2012. That’s not his goal. He’s going to pursue his agenda and set 2012 aside on the theory that a well-executed first term will take care of a second term.

    This guy is smart, cool, and ruthless.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    James, I do not know how you evaluate events. Seems you must have been missing during the Bush administration. From day one, Bush was blasted by the media. Any mistakes were magnified, things which were not mistakes were reported to be so. Bush was called a chimp, pictured as a chimp. In spite of his education he was portrayed as stupid. He has far, far more executive experience than the currant occupier of the office. Facts are facts, Bush was not responsible, in any way, for what happened in New Orleans during Katrina, but if you read the media, you would think Bush caused the hurricane and trapped the citizens of that city so they could not leave, using all of those unused buses.
    Had the media performed the service it was designed to do, Obama would, in all likelyhood, not be where he is today. What is really amazing is none of the media and few bloggers hammered home the point Bush won in 2000. He won in Florida by any count. Yet he was seen as illegitimate. The press never let us forget that. It was always the bottom line. Bush lied? No he did not. Read the words and check the facts. Obama, however has lied his ass off. From his days with the Communist Frank M. Davis, to the hate instilled in him by his mother who was named Stanley which was the source of her hate. to his association with Bill Ayers to his attendance at the church Jeremiah Wright spewed hate at. This is a man who lied his way into the presidency and he was abedded by the media.

    I attended my first poli sci course in 1965. The instructor’s name was Kirkland. He had actual political experience. We had another Prof. named Barth. He had attended San Diego State which he stated had the best poli sci dept. in the country. One of these men was full of himself and shit. Guess which one? Kirkland said it is ok to judge a person by the company they keep. The Bush’s came here on the Mayflower. Obama? He has yet to prove a lot of things about his past. This is the first President in our history who can be shown to actively hate the nation he leads. I am 63 years old. I have been to war. I have seen a lot, but never anything like the people running this country today. I know why the 2nd Amendment was written into the bill of rights. It ain’t about hunting.

  7. sam says:

    The Bush’s came here on the Mayflower.

    So effing what, dumbass. And if this

    I have seen a lot, but never anything like the people running this country today. I know why the 2nd Amendment was written into the bill of rights. It ain’t about hunting.

    implies what I think it implies, I’d look for the FBI to come knocking. Dumbass.

  8. Herb says:

    Zelsdorf is really on a roll these days. He hits all the familiar chords and I can’t even tell if he’s serious.

    “more executive experience” “you would think Bush caused the hurricane” “the media” “Bush lied? No he did not.” “Communist” “Bill Ayers” “Jeremiah Wright spewed hate” “Obama? He has yet to prove a lot of things about his past.” “the 2nd Amendment”

    What, Z, no talk about him being a Muslim?

    As Bill Engvall might say, “Here’s your sign…”

    (Best use for your sign: Take it to the next Tea Party Protest.)

    As for the topic of this post, I think it’s more likely that Obama, rather than being cold and disloyal, is more loyal to principles than people. For a guy running a country with 300 million very different people, such as Zelsdorf and myself, I consider that to be a virtue.

    Sometimes loyalty to one person does the other 299,999,999 a disservice.

  9. the Q says:

    Zelsdorf’s insanity:

    “What is really amazing is none of the media and few bloggers hammered home the point Bush won in 2000. He won in Florida by any count. Yet he was seen as illegitimate. The press never let us forget that.”

    Um, as I remember it Gore – 50,999,897 Votes

    Bush – 50,456,002 Votes

    And yet you question why Bush was seen as illegitimate, when thats all the Republicans accused Clinton of when he failed to get more than 50% of the vote in either of his two Presidential elections. (Remember them calling him the plurality president?)

    Also, when it looked early in 2000 that Bush could very well win the popular vote, but loose the electoral vote (they probably thought Gore would win his home state) scenarios were raised in the WSJ and Washington Times that should this happen, perhaps for the good of the country, Gore should think about resigning, since any President who wins on a “technicality” – read not winning the popular vote, would not have the legitimacy to competently govern.

    Its too exhausting to rebut the rest of the dreck which is just hackneyed talking points of the wacky right. Lies piled on lies….and as far as the Bushes coming over on the Mayflower, Zags, enslaved africans were here before they were.

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    enslaved africans were here before they were.

    What are you trying to say, Obama was brought over here on a slave ship from Kenya?

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    Sometimes loyalty to one person does the other 299,999,999 a disservice.

    That is a very interesting statement in this day and time:)