Thursday, June 17, 2010

Will the BP oil disaster destroy Obama's presidency?

Well, I'm unusually harsh about President Obama in this week's column for Scripps:

President Obama might make a great senator someday.

That's the thought that occurred Tuesday night as Obama vaguely described a "set of principles" that would set America on course toward its energy future -- even as he lamely admitted to being "unsure exactly what that (future) looks like." Senators have the luxury of noodling around with legislation, haggling and negotiating until a bill comes into shape. Presidents, on the other hand, are supposed to offer leadership -- a concrete plan of action.

So far, Obama is failing the test.

Unfortunately, there's nothing new to this. Obama spent the first year of his presidency being overly vague about what he would and wouldn't accept in a health-reform bill. The result? Senators took the lead, spending months in confusing and nearly fruitless negotiations while an antsy public grew increasingly angry.

There's nothing technically wrong with this: Congress is, after all, a co-equal branch of government. But Obama's style of vague direction-setting raises two unsettling possibilities about his presidency. A: He lacks confidence in his agenda, so he won't commit to specifics that can be publicly rejected. B: He doesn't actually have an agenda.

Back in 2008, many liberals backed Obama because they felt Republicans would offer obstinate, conspiracy-mongering obstruction to a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency. Turns out they did that anyway. Clinton, at least, might've pursued her agenda with more tenacity -- and Obama might've made a loyal foot soldier, happily engaged in the Senate's give-and-take. Instead, he's meandering into the future. The oil spill isn't undoing Obama's presidency; he's doing fine at that on his own.

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