Monday, September 16, 2013

No Lesson Learned

“The mistake of my first term…was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right.  And that is important.  But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”
That was newly re-elected President Barak Obama responding to a question put to him by CBS NEWS’ Charlie Rose on July 12, 2012.  Rose had asked the president to name the biggest mistake he made during his first term.
Let’s fast forward to September 15, 2013. 
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have just reached an agreement on the elimination of Syria’s stock pile of chemical weapons.  ABC NEWS’ George Stephanopoulos has asked the president for his reaction to the agreement given his seemingly muddled attempt to win support for a punitive military strike against the Syrian regime.
“I’m less concerned about style points.” the president said.  I’m much more concerned with getting the policy right.”
It would appear from the president’s own statements that he has failed to learn from his previous mistakes.
The presidents’ policy on Syria has lacked clarity from the very beginning.  He tried to clean it up by giving an impassioned speech to the nation laying out his case for military action.  Then he closed by calling for patience and a diplomatic solution.  As a result his soaring oratory failed to move the needle.
The same thing is happening with the president’s signature legislative achievement…The affordable Health Care Act. 
The support of the American people for the president’s health care plan is eroding daily.  53% of the people now think that Obamacare is a bad idea. 
(Interestingly when these same people were asked if they understood what was in the law, 70% said “No”.  How do you oppose a bill when you don’t know what’s in it?  That’s another story.) 
The president got the health care policy right.  The goal for Obamacare is to provide affordable coverage for everyone while reducing health care cost.  That IS good policy.  But the president has failed “to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose” when it comes to America’s health care.
We see the same phenomenon with the replacement for retiring Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke.
The president’s choice to replace Bernanke is former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.  Instead of doing dirty work to fight for Summers’ approval, the Obama administration floated a trial balloon by leaking the president’s selection to the press.  Senate Democrats shot it down.  They blame Summers’ de-regulation policies as Treasury secretary for paving the way for the casino atmosphere that permeated the banking industry and nearly wrecked the economy.  Instead of fighting for their candidate the Obama administration backed off with barely a whimper.  Having received zero support from the White House, Summers withdrew his name for consideration.
Was Larry Summers the right man for the job?  Is The Affordable Care Act good policy that will make health care available to all American’s while lowering our health care cost?  Was the right policy in Syria a punitive military strike or the removal and elimination of all the regime’s chemical weapon stockpiles?
There is an old saying in campaign politics…when you are on the stump repeating your policy agenda over and over and over again…when those traveling with you have heard the speech so many time that the mere thought of listening to it again puts them to sleep…only then has your begun to resonate with your audience.
This president has never learned that lesson.  He still operates under the false belief that the only thing that matters is getting the policy right. He still believes that the announcement is the end game when in fact it only the beginning.  He has shunned the back room arm twisting and deal making that lies at the very core of his chosen profession.  And he finds himself in a weakened position because of it.
The president said that his one big mistake in his first term “was thinking that the job was just about getting the policy right.”
Unfortunately for the country and the world, the president

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