Friday, March 27, 2009

Potpourri of politics

The political sphere is spinning at rapid pace.  First, AIG bonuses mean Geithner should step down, and soon after he's seen as gaining his footing and finding his voice as the architect of the financial crisis recovery.   But architecting a recovery is different than the transformational change that many are looking for after witnessing the kind of crisis the existing financial system got us into. 

And then there's President Obama.  I can't even keep track of what Obama is doing these days.  One day, he's making history and offending handicapped people on Jay Leno, and on another day he's maniacally laughing on 60 Minutes, and then he's doing virtual town hall meetings where he's trying to avoid being the President who legalized marijuana.  Then he about faced and announced a new AfPak strategy just in case y'all forgot we're losing a war out there, and Bin Laden is still alive and kickin'.  I'm sure I've skipped a bunch of things Obama did, said, and changed since last week.  Say what you will; this is a mighty energetic President.  

And all of that doesn't even touch on the hubbub Obama created by his prime-time news conference.  In a recent editorial in WaPo, Michael Gerson defends Obama's dependence on the teleprompter as just another way of being authentic.   I think Gerson protects too much.  Obama' reliance on the teleprompter (or LCD monitor, in the case of the news conference) works against his brand as a genuine leader.   Yes, speeches can be genuine, and just because it's written doesn't mean it's not from the heart.  But, too often, we look to our leaders to master stagecraft and symbols as a substitute for being allowed to be human -- one of us who happens to have a fantastic responsibility.   Why must we pretend, nay, insist that our President be otherworldly in his/her perfection?  In his news conference, Obama clearly indicated that he can speak off the cuff quite effectively.  But if we hadn't seen that side of him, there would have been many who would have implicitly presumed he is an empty suit. 

And no potpourri of politics would be complete without reviewing the row between the recently-awakened deficit hawk Republicans and Obama's deficit spending budget plan.  It's easy to argue that deficit spending is bad, and that more government is the problem, not the solution.   It's harder, however, to argue the point that America should not seriously consider re-investing in itself far beyond business as usual.   This, by definition, requires deficit spending beyond the current deficit.   The point?  Obama is setting the re-investment agenda based on what he ran on, and what he believes is the right thing to do for America.  Republicans are not helping America by playing the "no new taxes; shrink government" card.  This is not engaging in debate, it's a fingers-in-ears-I-can't-hear-you move.  If Republicans want to have influence in the debate, then they should debate on the merits of investment vs. non-investment in strategic economic sectors such as health care, energy and education.    Until they engage in the re-investment debate in a substantive way, they don't really deserve my or your attention.