Obama: Disloyal, Ruthless, Cold
Wednesday’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.