Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama: Whiner in Chief.

Recently Barack Obama shocked the commentariat when he went off script and whined "they talk about me like a dog". Barack Obama was elected with an affection unseen in a generation of Presidential elections. His inauguration, amidst a crippling recession, was historic. Millions watched his rise from obscurity, millions voted for him, the press drooled over him on inauguration day America felt its original sin, slavery, was cleansed. Coming for the inauguration Barack Obama came like Caesar. Rally after rally. Speech after speech inundated the airways. He rode into DC like a conquering hero. His political foes, some where veterans across generations, an ex-President were all left far behind in the dust licking their wounds. Republicans were in a state of stupor and were not even thinking about 2012. Obama's re-election looked an absolute certainty, completely inevitable. His electoral victory had redrawn the electoral map said pundits. Even Virginia, that hot bed of segregation politics, voted lustily for him. So did North Carolina. Republicans had nowhere to hide. What a difference two years makes.

Here is Barack Obama whining about how he is caricatured. In a comment that skated close to playing the race card, departing from prepared text, he thundered "they talk about me like a dog" (the comment is at 30th second mark). I came to US just before Bill Clinton got impeached and then I've been through the Bush years. Both Clinton and Bush, especially the latter, were treated no less harshly. Rallies with posters depicting Bush as Hitler are common. How many bumper stickers unkindly denied legitimacy to an elected President by saying "Selected NOT elected"? Bush's inauguration parade was cut short due to pelting of eggs. Bush was constant fodder for late night comedians and habitual haters of America. When I told a colleague that I bought Bush's book "Decision Points" the retort was "is it full of crayon drawings?".

When it comes to the parlous state of the economy Obama would repeat, even in sleep, "we inherited the worst recession since the great depression". At first the American public was kind to him and even indulged his "blame the previous regime" approach. After 2 years being tired and worn out they delivered an electoral "shellacking". When George Bush took office the country was sliding into a recession, the dot com bust, especially thanks to the loose monetary policies and deregulation of the Clinton era. I don't remember him whining in every speech about Clinton. Also what is pointedly different is that Obama was not hit by a surprise recession. The recession was well underway. Obama owes his re-election, in no small measure, to the weekend of September 15th 2008 when Lehman imploded. Bush and his economic team grappled with  an economic crises that had no precedent and practically rescued America from financial armageddon. Bush's conduct during the crises was absolutely non-partisan and above par. He had instructed his economic team to constantly communicate with both campaigns because one of them would inherit it.

Serious non-partisan economists agree that the seeds of the economic crises were sown with deregulations that started in the Clinton era, the refusal of Congress to reform Fannie and Freddie and finally recklessness at Wall Street. But Obama was only too happy to blame Bush. Bush later joked on Larry King "well he got more than a few votes thanks  to me".

In fact the most gut wrenching decisions to deal with the financial crises were all taken during Bush's tenure and HE paid the political price. Rescuing AIG, throwing a lifeline to the decrepit auto companies, moving Fannie and Freddie to conservatorship, designing TARP etc. Each cost Bush very politically, especially amongst conservatives.

9/11, the defining moment of Bush presidency was a complete surprise. Though much is made of the August CIA memo warning of an imminent attack, many in the center agree that any other President would have acted similar to George Bush. The prevailing laws of the country, the recession etc all played a role. Bush had no precedent to follow. He had to wrestle with the country's vaunted character that prized individual liberty with the demands of modern day terrorism. Compared to that, however flawed, today Homeland Security is a much better organization. After the election Bush had instructed his team to help Obama's transition team come up to speed on national security details and opened all access. Bush did not want Obama to come in blind like Bush came in after Clinton. Yet Obama would keep whining on that too.

Put in perspective Bush was delivered a surprise double whammy of recession and a terrorist attack. Barack Obama applied for a job knowing fully well what entails winning. At one point during the campaign (as per Bob Woodward) he said "I used to be afraid that I might lose this thing, now I am afraid I might win it". Look at corporate parallels. Whether its Vikram Pandit trying to turn around Citi or John Thain who averted a crisis by selling Merrill neither can go to their board of directors or stockholders, for 2 years and say "I inherited it".

A few days back James Carville, the raging Cajun who never minced words, gave a colorful advice on how Hillary can help Barack Obama find strength " "

By the way it used to be a trope that people hated America because of Bush. Tariq Ali, a supposed muslim scholar, was refused visa during the Bush years. Now that we have this miracle healer in White House Tariq Ali was given visa. How does Tariq repay Obama? By publishing a book that has a photo of Obama that depicts his face as a mask for Bush, the subtitle says "surrender at home, wars abroad". The blurb on the back flap rips into Obama as nothing but a purveyor of fatuous platitudes. Like I say we could have a poodle in the White House and there are millions who would hate it for being the POTUS.

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