Stumbling out the gate: Barack Obama flubs his first big test
by Michael Goodwin

The first days of President Barack Obama have not been easy ones.

It's not easy to waste a mandate and a honeymoon at the same time, but President Obama seems determined to try. You know he's off to a lousy start when his most favorable reviews came after he said, "I screwed up."

Did he ever, and not just once. If he keeps going this way, America will be saying, "We screwed up."

He's our President, it's a horribly dangerous time at home and abroad and we desperately need him to succeed. But he can't be successful unless he builds a broad swath of public trust in his leadership. So far, he's going backward.

It's very early, but it's worrisome that Obama has stumbled almost since he took the oath. His inauguration speech was uninspired and next to nothing has gone right for him. Already he looks like he needs a vacation.

The historic young President with the political wind at his back has quickly turned testy toward those who disagree with him. Despite promises to the contrary, he's been so rigid that the defeated Republicans are relevant again.

Obama's fumbled rollout is surprising, given a smooth and skillful transition. He appointed key players early, talked repeatedly of being ready "to hit the ground running" and was eager to get off to a fast start.

Maybe too fast. His vetting of top aides was shockingly sloppy, and he has been concerned primarily with the speed of the stimulus bill, not its contents. The failed vetting produced a string of embarrassments over tax dodgers and influence peddlers, and his embrace of the flawed stimulus has put him on the wrong side of the American public, with only about 1 in 3 voters with him.

Even more surprising, his famously cool temperament is AWOL. He has been visibly frustrated at what he calls needless delay, despite a rapid timetable given the whopping price tag of the stimulus legislation and the uncertainty of its impact.

He should genuinely welcome those who want to make the bill better. After all, there's never been much doubt he would get a huge package passed, so he doesn't need to make enemies over it. The only real question is whether it will succeed.

But unable to get his way quickly, he pulled rank with a snippy, "I won." When the Senate insisted on debate, he turned to harsh attacks and campaign-style rhetoric. Some insiders already are grumbling about disarray and arrogance.

So much for a change in Washington.

What happened to the gracious uniter, the man who held a dinner to honor opponent John McCain and embraced the concept of a team of rivals? That seems like ancient history as he and McCain now are sniping at each other.

It's also disappointing that, instead of appealing to our hopes, Obama has resorted to fear-mongering, a tactic he often accused former President George Bush of using. Our new President sounds like the old one, warning that failing to do what he wants would be a "catastrophe," a word he used twice in one day.

The real catastrophe would be to borrow a trillion dollars for no lasting result except the liberal pet projects that have turned the bill into a porkfest.

A friend, in a clever reference to JFK's first big mistake, calls it Bambi's Bay of Pork. Obama's touting the bill marks him as careless with taxpayer dollars, and it's a reputation he will not find easy to shake, especially if the legislation fails to boost the economy and add jobs.

Nor will it be easy to persuade anyone he is nonideological after his turn to hard partisanship on just his 16th day in office. In a political hot-house atmosphere, he called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "our rock" and "an extraordinary leader," oblivious to her 18% approval rating. He claimed the stimulus she produced reflected "discipline," meaning he's either cynical or didn't bother to read the turkey before embracing it.

He accused critics of pushing "tired arguments and worn ideas," but there is nothing more tired than Washington's wasteful spending. He wants to "name and shame" corporate fat cats who abuse taxpayer bailouts, but cheers his Dem mates for an outrageous tab that knows no precedent in our nation's history.

Who is this guy? Where is the Barack Obama who charmed the country and challenged it to greatness?

That's the guy we elected. That's the President we need.
Posted by: Steve White 2009-02-09