A President's Luck

Last week was, I thought, President Obama’s best week. The proverbial split-screen of television news had him traveling the Midwest, visiting factories, sleeves rolled up, talking up the beginnings of the economic recovery that is restoring consumer confidence and hopefully, soon, will bring down the unemployment rate. Back in Washington, his political opponents were cast in the role of defenders of the very same people who brought on the economic collapse, and while the GOP leaders said they favored reform, just not this reform, that mantra had become a little too familiar to be believed. When executives from Goldman-Sachs appeared before a Senate panel, looking precisely as guilty and lawyered-up as the tobacco executives did a couple of decades ago, the opposition collapsed and a bipartisan bill appears in the offing.

Then came the oil catastrophe off the coast of Louisiana to remind the President, and the rest of us, of the limits of his powers. Here was a problem that did not need a President or a politician but an engineer. Here was a problem that was immediate, with short term economic as well as long-term environmental consequences, and the normal tools of presidential authority do not serve. As King Canute learned, political authority does not extend to the waves. Yes, there will be plenty of analysis about what went wrong and how to fix it, but the bottom line for Obama is that this mess threatens the most important premise of his political platform, re-establishing the idea that the government can accomplish good things for the American people.


If the oil mess was not humbling enough, along comes Mr. Faisal Shahzad, the evidently and thankfully incompetent bombmaker. He was arrested on board a plane headed out of the country, the result of fine detective work in a very short amount of time, but the President was lucky too that the plane had not taken off. Shahzad paid for his ticket with cash at the last minute, which required the airline to send an alert to U.S. officials. Shahzad had been placed on the government’s "no fly" list more than six hours earlier. Yet, he was allowed to board and the plane was getting ready to depart when officials ordered it back and arrested him. How can someone on a "no fly" list, especially someone just put on that list, with all the attendant publicity of the failed Times Square bombing, be allowed to board? Where was the glitch? Someone needs to be fired. If that plane had taken off and Shahzad was today appearing on web videos from Pakistan, Obama’s poll numbers would be tanking. And properly so.

If the oil catastrophe in the Gulf shows the need for more government oversight of safety measures at drilling sites, the near-catastrophe at JFK Airport shows the need to take a long look at the Department of Homeland Security and its procedures. Billions of dollars have been thrown at the agency since 2001, which sometimes produces innovative results and sometimes produces a lack of accountability.

For the President, there is a need to communicate with the American people about the nature of these different problems. His sometimes hyper-enthusiastic fans need to be reminded that there are problems he cannot fix, objectives that no amount of government oversight can achieve, questions for which the government cannot or should not offer an answer. And, he needs to remind his equally hyper-enthusiastic opponents, that there are roles and tasks only the government can perform, some problems that can be solved, some challenges that must be faced whether we expect to succeed or not. They do not really teach Civics in high school anymore, so the President must do so. Otherwise, his presidency could rise and fall with the tides in the Gulf or the preparedness and competence of an airport security official.


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Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 8 months ago
I'm not sure that it is luck that accompanies Obama - I sincerely doubt whether he puts much thought into planning and strategizing his moves based on how they "look" to a media audience.  Rather, I think that he is guided by an inner integrity that flows, and because it is right, things fall into place.
I was impressed with the news in this morning's paper that Obama had disclosed the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, rather than keeping it all a big secret like previous administrations (and thus girding on the insane "race).  It was the right thing to do, and good things will come as a result of this honesty.
James Lindsay
8 years 8 months ago
You have created a paper tiger and it does not hold up too well. No one rationally expects the President to single-handedly fix an oil spill or even prevent it from hitting the coast. He is also not accountable for the performance of every law enforcement official. What we do expect Presidents to do, however, is to martial available resources in response to crises - which he apparently did in both cases - and then let people do their jobs. We also expect them to change future policies if those policies may prove dangerous, even if he must reverse himself. This is happening in off-shore drilling - as it would have to be since most Democratic activists are chanting "Spill, Baby, Spill" whenever the news comes on these days. As to our most recent terrorist, who would be dangerous if he had read even one Robert Ludlum novel, the presidential action is to review not the performance of Homeland Security staff, but whether the airline which almost took the terrorist to safety should be allowed to land in the United States.
8 years 8 months ago
There is a curious thing about this opinion piece.  Only a tiny rebuke of  the Republicans and yet even that is a distortion.  Because they oppose Democrat power grabs, they become the party of ''No'' rather than the protector of rights.  Republicans want financial reform, just not the kind of reform the Democrats wanted.  I do not know where the ''too big to fail'' concept is today or the elimination of derivative trading by the banks proposed by Senator Lincoln which would essentially put them out of business or the sweetheart deal for Senator Dodd's wife for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange but the Republicans were opposing potential government control of financial institutions through government largess and hyper regulation and preventing naive populous sounding moves from becoming law.
Hidden in Democrat proposals were potential threats of government intervention for any reason they might devise.  This then becomes tantamount to government control or acquiescence by the financial institutions to government wishes.  Such dependence leads to results much worse than their failure.  Goldman Sachs and the Democrat Party have been in bed with each other for years.  Remember the names of Rubin, Corzine and Paulson, all CEO's of Goldman Sachs and Democrats and GS was Obama's second largest contributor in 2008.  The charade in congress last week was nothing more than demagoguery to sway a gullible public that the Democrats want to tame Wall Street when in fact the Democrats are the party of Wall Street.
Wall Street has not been the engine of American business for years.  We associate the stock market with Wall Street but the real money on Wall Street, what has fueled the massive salaries in recent years, is not American business but bonds, mainly mortgage and government bonds.  These bonds have little to do with creating new jobs but have become political footballs for politicians and Wall Street is only too eager to cooperative.  And guess who is most interested in the spread of mortgage money and state and municipal projects.  Hello anyone.  Wall Street made over 300 billion dollars since 2000 just underwriting mortgage bonds and they are making tens of billions each year since the crash just on the carry trade(borrow from the Fed at 1/4 percent and then buy treasury bonds at 3%.)  No wonder Wall Street loves the Democrat Party and supports them so nicely. They were given hundreds of billions in profits in 2009 and they continue into 2010.  ''Money for Nothing and the Chicks are Free.''
But in reality the Democrats come cheap because while the big investment banks make billions they just contribute a few million here and there to the politicians as a small cost of doing business.  Not even pennies on the dollar but a tenth of a penny for each dollar of profit.  Wonderful people Mr. Winters is in bed with.  Oh, the Republicans are not blameless because most politician can be bought in all this but they tend to be the party of freedom for enterprise and while freedom can have its problems it is much less of a problem than so called ''smart people'' trying to socially or legislatively mandating a solution.
8 years 8 months ago
''I think that he is guided by an inner integrity that flows, and because it is right, things fall into place.''
Obama was a typical Chicago politician and honesty and integrity are not their long suits.  He was tied closely to Tony Rezko and Allison Davis, both slum lords, who built broken down housing for the poor in Obama's district.  I would ask Obama supporters  during the 2008 presidential campaign to name one positive thing he ever did and no one could name one.  I could name several negative things he did but they didn't care.
8 years 8 months ago
If one wants to keep abreast of the recent attempted bomber, the website The Long War Journal is a good place to go.
Shahzad is the son of a well connected officer in the Pakistan military and has trained in al Qaeda or Taliban training camps in North Waziristan where bin Laden is supposed to be in hiding and is the center of Al Qaeda operations now.
8 years 8 months ago
A site to keep abreast on what is happening with the oil spill is 
8 years 8 months ago
So let me see if I get this argument.  Last week as a GOOD WEEK for the President, in fact the "best week" of his presidency because:
1. He is explaining AGAIN how the economic recovery is just NOW beginning, some 2+ years after we were all told that passing a huge "stimulus" package would save us all, meanwhile unemployment still hovers about 9.5%;
2. A catastrophic oil blowout in the Gulf threatens the livelihoods of literally hundreds of thousands of blue collar workers in the oil & gas industry, seafood and tourism industries, and most importantly setting back a hard-fought political consensus that the solution to our energy needs is ALL forms of energy, rather than the tired game of pitting one form of energy against another; and
3. A near catastrophic act of terrorism which was foiled by incompetency and the suspect was apprehended at least in part with the aid of policies and procedures Pres. Bush implemented (interesting that Bush gets no credit from the Democrats on this issue, only blame for the economic woes).
4. Lest I forget, the White House Press corps are near revolt over Obama's press management, with senior White House correspondents saying that this is the worst press office they have ever seen and are offended at how the Obama administration treats them (but which didn't keep Obama from attending the outlandishly gaudy Correspondents' Dinner- but don't worry, he stands up for the little guy)!
So all this adds up to Pres. Obama's "best week"?  This post shows such a base political cynicism.  And the idea of Pres. Obama the "teacher-in-chief" or "professor-in-chief" would be absolute political suicide.  The New York Times ran a wonderful analysis of the amount of WORDS Obama spent on health care, and he got it by about 7 votes or less.  Yes, his answer is to get out the teleprompters and spill more words!!!
8 years 8 months ago
I meant to add to the end of my post that the basic liberal stance that all America needs is to be "enlightened" and "educated" is so patently ridiculous, and reveals the basic arrogance of liberalism, the one factor that drove me out of the Democratic Party.
William Kurtz
8 years 8 months ago
A correction for JR Cosgrove: Hank Paulson is a Republican.
8 years 8 months ago
Hank Paulsen is a Republican.  Thank you for the correction.  In a past Wikipedia article he was listed as a Democrat but that was a mistake as I just read about how there was a controversy over this at Wikipedia.  He is a Republican and contributed consistently to Republican candidates over the years.


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