Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"The Four Horsepersons of the Obama White House"

Image credit: FT.com

There's a fascinating article at Financial Times (FT.com) by Edward Luce about why the Obama administration is failing (you may have to sign in to see the aritcle--ft.com. "America: A fearsome foursome"). Then there's another article at The Washington Note by Steve Clemons about the FT article: "Core Chicago Team Sinking Obama Presidency." Both articles are worth a full read.

According to Luce's article, dozens of close Obama allies and friends in Washington were willing to speak for the article, but only off the record, evidently fearing retribution from Obama's "fearsome foursome." What they're saying is that Obama gets his advice from this tight circle of four--Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, and Communications Chief Robert Gibbs. Obama rarely so much as holds a meeting without one of them present.

The effect this is having is multiple. For one thing, using such a core (corpse--haha) management approach keeps Obama in perpetual campaign mode. As Luce points out, successful presidents eventually separate political advice from policy advice; in the Obama administration, this isn't happening.

The other effect such absolute reliance on this tight team is having is to push Obama's cabinet out of the picture. Luce paints an unhappy picture of disgruntled cabinet principals who are treated like minions. Rahm Emanuel is the guy who now famously described one Democratic group as "f***ing retards" after one suggested they mobilize resources on healthcare reform. Another offical says they are treated like children: "Our advice is never sought. We are only told: 'This is the message, please get it out.'"

"I am not sure the president realises how much he is humiliating some of the big figures he spent so much trouble recruiting into his cabinet," says the head of a presidential advisory board who visits the Oval Office frequently. "If you want people to trust you, you must first place trust in them." Clearly the Executive-in-Chief understands little about the basics of leadership, a fact which should surprise no one, since Obama's resume previous to becoming POTUS is largely devoid of executive experience. There has never been another president in modern times more inexperienced than Obama, which makes him more dependent on his advisors than someone with experience. Therefore it's Catch-22 for ObamaTeam: because he doesn't have experience, he needs the best advisors he can get; yet because he doesn't have experience, he relies on the wrong advice.

Clemens, an Obama supporter ("I hope he succeeds") says that Luce's article needs to be taken seriously, because the Obama administration is failing, and people need to consider why. Writes Clemens: "If current trends continue, this once mesmorizing Camelot-ish operation will be seen in the history books as the presidential administration that--to distort and inversely paraphrase Churchill--never have so many talented people managed to achieve so little with so much."

Update. From a commenter at The Washington Note: "So many smart people are trying to 'get through' to Obama, yet he continues to disappoint. What's the deal with HIM?"

Wow, these people really don't get it--but then, I wouldn't expect that Washington insiders would see the world any other way. HE'S THE SMARTEST GUY EVER! WE'RE THE SMARTEST PEOPLE EVER! WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? Duh. Try getting out of your little Washington bubble on occasion. It's like they're in the Land of Oz.

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