Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Obama's start: na´ve, fumbling, flip-flops


All the hysterical good will and public optimism Barack Obama accumulated on the campaign trail have suffered incomprehensible damage in the first two weeks of his presidency, prompting questions about his promises and ability to deliver "change" and reform.

Several words describe this new White House—chaos, naiveté, fumbling, flip-flops, blunders, poor judgment.

Americans have every reason to wonder: Is this what to expect of the Obama administration for the next three years and 11 months?

Twice on Tuesday, controversy hit again.

Tom Daschle, nominated for Health and Human Services secretary, and Nancy Killefer, picked to oversee government performance, withdrew because of tax issues. Killefer's were minor and probably not disqualifying.

But Daschle was a scandal. He had failed to disclose that he owed more than $120,000 in back taxes for free use of a friend's limo and driver while making millions of dollars as a consultant to the health industry he would police as HHS chief. In Daschle, Obama showed indefensibly poor judgment. Daschle was not exactly the image of reform.

Coming as it did on top of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's $40,000 tax oversight and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's dropout as Commerce secretary because of a home state pay-for-play grand jury investigation, plus waivers allowing former lobbyists to be deputy secretaries of Treasury and Defense, the Daschle controversy reveals a weakness in the Obama team's competence. (Arguably, a McCain-Palin presidency would've been disastrous.)

Consider how Obama also naively believed Republicans could be counted on to join in his reforms, including his newfound friend Sen. John McCain. Instead, they smacked him around by voting against his stimulus bill. Foolish congressional Democrats embarrassed him by loading economic recovery legislation with frivolous, irreconcilable earmarks, such as several hundred million dollars for sexual disease programs, while insipid House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and out-of-touch Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid looked on.

Obama unwisely has put presumed professional skills and political connections of nominees above ethics reforms. No human is indispensable.

President Obama's image of "Mr. Cool" won't go far in Washington's rough and tumble. He needs to be tough and stick with promises, no matter what the cost in friends.

Obama's worst enemy may be his own Pollyanna belief about changing Washington's cynical ways with smooth talk and hope.

Far tougher tests lie ahead with two wars, Iran's nuclear weaponry, resuscitating a critical ill economy and rebuilding U.S. global prestige.

If he's a poor judge of people he picks to carry out his agenda, his White House years will be fraught with failure.

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