The Audacity of Hype|
by Ralph Reed
Georgia Online News Service
The young president entered office with expectations so high that the air soon got thin. Brilliant and gifted, he was a natural talent. His smile beamed forth from hundreds of magazine covers while cheerleading journalists compared him (without a hint of irony) to FDR and JFK. He and his attorney wife combined the charisma of a modern power couple with the glamour of Camelot. And after years of enduring the mangled syntax of his predecessor, this guy could talk! The New York Times, lauding his powers of articulation, predicted he could unite the country with "the balm of rhetoric."
Inheriting a weak economy, he vowed to fight for the middle-class. Then, improbably, his first legislative proposal landed with a giant thud, a massive stimulus bill that bogged down on Capitol Hill. To worsen matters, a Cabinet nominee withdrew after tax problems surfaced, lighting up talk radio and providing grist for late-night comics. Republicans rediscovered their spines and principles, and dug in their heels in opposition. Within a few weeks, the president who had possessed the incredible lightness of being grew angry and petulant, while his White House took to resembling Keystone Cops.
I am, of course, referring to William Jefferson Clinton. His 1993 "stimulus" plan, which went down in flames, totaled $35 billion. Once upon a time, that was a lot of money. Today it is a rounding error.
No historical analogy is crisp. The differences between Clinton and Barack Obama are legion. But like Clinton, Obama has misread his mandate and underestimated his opposition. His arrogance (I won, you lost), royalist pretense (don't listen to Limbaugh) and faux bipartisanship (only three Republicans voted for his stimulus bill) are reminiscent of the early Clinton, who viewed power as an entitlement and governance as his personal destiny.
In a striking abdication of leadership, Obama outsourced economic policy to Nancy Pelosi and David Obey. The results were predictable. The House bill is a cornucopia of pent-up spending demands by the special interests. It includes $2 billion for the National Park Service, $750 million for liberal groups like ACORN, $1.2 billion for perennially mismanaged Amtrak, and $50 million for that engine of job creation, the National Endowment of the Arts. Another $87 billion goes to increase the federal share of Medicaid spending. The Milwaukee School System gets $88.6 million for new construction, even though it has 15 empty buildings and shrinking enrollment. Perhaps it's a Field of Dreams strategy: build the schools and they will come. The Senate bill is only nominally better.
Meanwhile, the Georgia General Assembly waits for Obama the way Samuel Becket's characters waited for Godot. They hope the feds refill depleted state coffers, but they will soon find that the bill delivers far less than promised.
How to sell such monumental rubbish to the American people? The answer, it turns out, is to redeploy Obama the pitchman. Obama sauntered into the East Room for his first news conference and sucked all the oxygen out of the room, wowing the press with his preternatural felicity with the English language. Sounding like someone trying too hard in a job interview, his answers were verbose, disjointed, and excruciatingly long. In response to a simple, two-sentence question, Obama chewed up seven minutes and filled three pages of text, his answer tipping the scales at 1,228 words. Yes, this man can talk.
As Shakespeare put it: words, words, words. Obama chalked up his failure to persuade Republicans to support massive spending ("That's the point!" he had shouted to House Democrats) to "bad habits" that were "hard to break." In a bizarre twist on bipartisanship, he blamed "the failed theories of the last eight years" for getting "us into this fix," then baldly asserted: "And that's part of what the election in November was all about." In other words, I won, so get with the program. The vow to win 80 votes in the Senate has been blithely discarded and the Obama the Unifier action hero suit is now in mothballs, replaced by finger-pointing and blame-gaming. (I inherited this deficit, Obama pointedly said, so how dare you criticize me for blowing a hole in it.) Welcome to bipartisanship, Chicago-style.
The markets have rendered their verdict. The Standard and Poor index is down 8 percent this year. When Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced his financial rescue package, the Dow dropped nearly 400 points.
As public support for the stimulus plan plummets (a Gallup poll found only 38 percent support the plan as proposed), the Obama White House has replaced the audacity of hope with the cynicism of hype, mimicking Pepsi (its new logo is a dead ringer for Obama's campaign logo, pitched by hip-hop artist, Will I.Am) and hoping that superior marketing covers a multitude of sins. The Obama public relations fog machine buries the details of the legislation in a blizzard of rebranding-speak. David Axelrod trooped to the Capitol the other day and told Democrats not to refer to the economic slowdown as a "recession" or the spending bill as a "stimulus." Waving the results of polls and focus groups, he urged on them the soaring title, "Recovery and Reinvestment Act."
Welcome to the world of Obama, where one sprinkles some pixie dust and waves a magic wand and billions in special-interest giveaways, bloated bureaucracy and big-ticket boondoggles become "reinvestment." Taxpayers may not like the taste of this rancid stew, but Nancy Pelosi certainly does. Emerging from the meeting with Axelrod, she called his findings "very, very positive." Asked about the stimulus, she brightly added, "People don't know the details, but they like the brand."
Ah, yes, the brand. So that's what they meant by change we can believe in.
Ralph Reed is CEO of Century Strategies, LLC, and a Republican strategist. [full bio]
Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Georgia Online News Service leads off today with a great business story on the innovative steps some condo developers are taking to sell units during the national financial crisis. The article, by business writer Jeanne Bonner, comes in two versions: If you're an Atlanta news organization, the article focuses on metro developers; for those elsewhere in the state, we have a version with the emphasis on other cities.
Bonner, who is prolific today, also has a column on Valentine's Day it's not what you'd call sentimental, however.
Finally, for Soapbox today, Ralph Reed is back with a look at Barack Obama's opening days as president. It all reminds Reed of another president can you guess which one?
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