Huffpost Politics
Sam Stein Headshot

Obama, The Victim Of His Own Success

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With three weeks to go before his inauguration, President-elect Barack Obama has been beset by questions over the Rod Blagojevich scandal as well as criticism over his choice of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation.

The recent spat of bad press has left some political observers wondering whether Obama has been a victim of his own success.

"There are three things going on," Dee Dee Myers, who served as Bill Clinton's White House Press Secretary and transition spokesperson, told the Huffington Post. "[Blagojevich] is an irresistible story, the press feels some need to show they are not totally in the tank, and there is just not enough going on. It is a slow news time and in the Clinton years we realized that slow news days were deadly."

In private, transition officials don't dispute such an assessment. Under normal circumstances, a president could combat such a wave of negative stories by engineering one of his own. For example, he could announce a major legislative initiative or host a fellow political luminary. The president-elect could announce another cabinet member or major appointment. Or he could convene a news conference on a pressing global or domestic matter.

Unfortunately for Obama, those options aren't available -- due to no fault other than his own efficiency and preparation. The president-elect has filled out his cabinet. And all recent press availabilities on the economy or foreign policy have led to questions on Blagojevich and Warren.

"They did a very good job up until last Friday of managing the tempo and the game by scheduling announcements at times and then switching the conversation and leaking out info when they wanted to get the conversation off Blagojevich," Myers said. "Now, however, they are in a holding pattern."

Indeed, in private, some high-ranking Democrats are rolling their eyes at the way Obama has been trapped in by his quick achievements. Having plotted out his presidential transition many months before he was even elected, the president-elect finds himself without a major political card left to play.

It is, in the end, a minor problem. More than 80 percent of the public approves of the job Obama has done with his transition. But it is irritating for transition team members.

And the extent to which the public already views Obama as president -- with George W. Bush largely checked out of office -- makes the press scrutiny doubly hard. Clinging to the notion that there is only one commander in chief at a time, the incoming president has kept largely silent even as the media begs and badgers for more answers on the economy or the conflict raging in the Gaza Strip.

"If Obama were president right now, he would be able to go out and talk about [current crises]," said Myers. "In the end, it is relief to say that Bush is the president. Let him deal with this one. But then, on the other hand, you can't go out there and be presidential and do something, call people, and have the pool take a shot of you in the office on the phone."