Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Polls, Policies and Predictions

Are you wondering why President Obama and the Democratic Party continue to slide in the polls? For the Liberal elites it’s the most frustrating question, for in their perspective he’s the most successful first term President in decades and the first term is only half over.

They have an impressive laundry list of accomplishments they love to trot out including, saving the financial system, saving the North American auto industry, closing down the US detention center in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, banning torture except when authorized by the US President, authorizing a military surge in Afghanistan, passing the largest stimulus package in US history, passing education reforms, passing the largest health care bill in US history, passing financial law reforms touted by the Democratic majority in Congress as the most important reforms since those in-acted after the great depression and ending combat operations in Iraq on schedule.

Wow in only 18 months they have done amazing things, but let’s break each accomplishment down and it might explain the current polling numbers affecting both the President and the Democratic members of Congress running for re-election this November.

1. Saving the financial system: While I know the President is fond of saying his administration kept the financial system from falling off a cliff, it’s a tough stretch for me, since TARP was passed by the Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush not President Obama, with the financial system saved before President Obama was sworn in.

2. Saving the North American auto industry: President Obama can truly take credit for this one, he took a huge gamble coupled with the Canadian government and plunked down a hockey sock full of money when the vast majority of “experts” said the cause was hopeless and in doing so saved 10’s of thousands of high paying union jobs both directly with GM and Chrysler and in the larger context of the auto industry. It was brave, it was done quickly and it has paid off in both jobs saved and a solid return on investment. So why has it failed to result in a political gain for the President, well he already had the vast majority of voters from the unions and those who believe the government should run large businesses (known as socialists) and those who oppose him and the concept of governments running (even temporarily) publically traded large corporations haven’t changed their minds simply claiming he got lucky.

3. Closing the US Detention Center in Guantanamo Bay Cuba: This was in fact a huge moment, the first executive order issued by President Obama and much like the now maligned PR stunt during which President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier flying a banner reading Mission Accomplished and declared offensive operations in Iraq were over, President Obama made a huge deal of this new directive and the signing was covered by all of the Cable News Network’s live and was the lead story on every major networks’ evening news report. As I write this some 18 months later the detention center is no closer to closing, the President doesn’t mention it and the Democratic leadership of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have forgotten that they also championed this as loudly as the President.

4. Banning Torture: The Obama administration made another big deal out of the suggestion of change without actually changing anything. After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush authorized 3 levels of interrogations to occur. The first level was based on the US army’s field manual and included techniques such as stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, and disorientation. The second level included those techniques outlined above plus, threats of physical torture, threats of putting venomous snakes or spiders into a cell if a detainee was known to have a fear of snakes or spiders as well as displaying items such as hammers, drills etc without ever using them. The third level of interrogation included those techniques in levels one and two as well as water boarding. The military never carried out the second or thirds levels of interrogation and the President was the only one allowed to authorize level three interrogations (which he did twice). By the summer of 2005 only level one and two interrogations were in use and by 2007 only level one was being used and studies were underway to rewrite the US Army field manual and ensure that it was the manual that would be used by all US agencies unless other techniques were authorized by the US President. The report was completed in late 2008 and the decision was made by President Bush to leave it to President Obama who then pronounced the new and more compassionate policy which in fact had been the Bush policy for almost two years and still retained the ability of the President to ignore his own directives if he deemed it necessary to prevent an imminent attack.

5. Authorizing a surge in Afghanistan: President Obama almost immediately ordered a small increase in the number of US troop in Afghanistan and appointed a new General to win the war. I’m sure he thought he’d ticked another campaign promise box by better resourcing the good war and putting one of the hero’s of the Iraq surge in charge. I guess the young and very inexperienced President was unprepared for the outcome that includes putting a modern and fresh minded General in charge of a war that hasn’t been in winning mode but treading water mode for several years. It wasn’t long before the White House was hearing that the General was going to ask for 60-80,000 additional troops and more equipment to support them and quickly and very quietly said no. Who leaked the request that outlined the requirement of a minimum of 40,000 extra troops with 60,000 being the optimum number we’ll never know but that leak was one of the first great challenges for the White House and they responded with delay and what they described as thoughtful study which allowed their detractors for weeks on end to remind the American public of the inexperience of the President which was artfully articulated by now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the primaries when she aired the brilliant who’s going to answer the phone when it rings in middle of the night ad and that he opposed the successful surge in Iraq and was now hesitating to give the Generals who made the Iraq surge work what they needed. By the time the President announced his new strategy and the comprise level of 30,000 troops it was too late and as I write this those troops have not yet been fully deployed while missing most of this year’s so called fighting season. The President also put a caveat on the surge which was that by July 2011 the US would begin a drawdown of its forces. This decision meant to appease his base simply ensured that those who argue that the President is making wartime decisions effecting people’s lives based on a political requirement that much easier. President Obama missed the window to show success this year by delaying his decision until late spring and by ensuring that insufficient forces were in place during June, July, August and September to conduct the offensives planned which would then allow the hold and development components of the overall strategy to take place throughout the late fall and winter, so when spring arrived the Taliban would have lost their support and the Afghan government would have gained the traction needed to ensure they wouldn’t lose the ground gained during the 2011 fighting season.

6. Passing the largest stimulus bill in US history: After the G-20 meetings in late 2008 and early 2009 that outlined the program for saving the world’s financial markets and got all participating governments to agree to stimulus programs the US passed a massive bill of almost 800 billion dollars. It was unprecedented and when fiscal Democrats and Republicans balked at the sheer size of it, the President’s economic team went to work letting the citizens know what would happen without it. Massive job losses that would make the current levels seem mild, a much longer recession and as much gloom and doom as they could predict to ensure the fiscal hawks were whittled away sufficiently to get it done. While almost all members of the G-20 have seen good results from their stimulus packages the US has seen the unemployment rate continue to rise almost 2% higher than it was predicted to climb without the stimulus while the economy has struggled to gain traction as the administration bounces from one side of the road to the other trying to juggle the political requirements of the base and the realities of a left leaning President guiding a center right country. His continued determination to raise taxes on the wealthy (ignoring the number of small businesses that make up this category), and the ongoing uncertainty of the costs of health care, coupled with a deficit that makes President Bush look like a fiscal hawk have ensured that the public remains overwhelmingly convinced that the stimulus plan while well intentioned has not produced the promised results. President Obama forgot the golden rule, under promise and over deliver.

7. Passing Education reforms: Really he did? He gets no credit for passing education reforms because nobody has heard about it, which really points to one of the greatest failings of the Obama administrations first two years and that’s the ability to pace yourself and communicate with the American people in ways that remind them that you’re making progress towards making their lives better. While education reforms may be a requirement to ensure a long term economic future in the 21st century it certainly isn’t sexy and isn’t going to win you any votes unless your communications team makes it sexy.

8. Passing the Health Care Bill: The President and the Democratic leadership need to be given an amazing amount of credit for getting this bill passed. The public was overwhelmingly against the various versions for many different reasons, some hated it because it didn’t include a public option, some because it changed the existing system, some because it would cost a ton of money, some because it meant taking funds from other programs while some just felt it was wrongheaded to attempt this during economic peril but the 3 amigos (Obama, Reid and Pelosi) persevered and ultimately prevailed which is exactly why the President is getting nothing but grief for his efforts. While the cost begins immediately, the public sees no real change in health care until after the next Presidential election, oh and did I mention that nobody seems to really know what the bill contains while few members of congress could go on television and explain it beyond using talking points which allowed those against the bill to simply make up their own arguments against the bill which couldn’t be countered effectively with facts. The Democrats in Congress suffered greatly by going into town hall meeting completely unprepared with facts and dismissed the Tea Party movement as crazies instead of recognizing that they were the vocal majority and the vocal majority sets the tone of the debate which for the Democrats meant spending a lot of time on defense. Now they are running hard in the other direction hoping to avoid another summer of videos showing their constituents yelling at them and in many cases them yelling back. At the end of the day the majority of Americans remain against the health care plan as passed.

9. Passing Financial Reforms: Please re-read point 7. While it’s good to bash Wall Street these days and to remind the unemployed that fat-cat bankers are the reason, once again Congressmen and women couldn’t explain to us in a coherent manner how this bill would in fact ensure that financial institutions and huge insurance companies won’t become so big that they can’t fail and must be bailed out again.

10. Ending Combat Operations in Iraq: While President Obama is quick to remind us that he inherited two wars, he’s even quicker to remind us that he’s ended one of them as he promised to do. He even used only his second Oval Office address to underline the seriousness of the issue yet he conveniently ignores (like the ban on torture) that in fact what he’s done is follow the status of forces agreement (SOFA) signed by President Bush in December 2008 that was negotiated with the Iraqi government during the summer of 2008. Does anybody remember the reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush? Of course you do, especially if you hate President Bush as most of President Obama’s supporters do, however that’s when the final details of the agreement were announced including the drawing down of US forces throughout 2009-2010 including the move of all US forces out of major cities in the summer of 2009 and after the Iraqi elections (assuming they went off without a hitch) the end of combat operations by Sep 2010. The agreement concluded that unless the Iraqi government asked for an amendment, extension or enters into a new SOFA agreement with the US, all troops less those required to protect DoS personnel must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. I wonder why President Obama failed to mention that during his address this past week?

President Obama and the Democrats are low in the polls for many reasons but most of all, they have focused on an agenda that isn’t in sync with the majority of Americans, they have not taken care of the number one issue facing them, the health of the economy and most importantly they have over promised and under delivered all the while attempting to continue to blame President Bush for all the ills of the world even when following several policies he put into place.

If the President doesn’t learn to respect the American people and stop attempting to please everybody he’ll quickly be at a point of no return and that point will be the fall of 2011.

If he’s responds to losing the Congress as President Clinton did with the move to the center he and the economy will recover in time for a second term. If he follows President Carter’s path, even an economic recovery won’t save him.

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