A year from now voters and the media will take stock of President Obama's mid-term performance. When they do four things will leap out as major Obama administration mistakes, and they're all linked.
Forgetting the economy. During the campaign Obama took to heart the political truism, "It's the economy stupid." Millions blamed Bush and the GOP for the skyrocket in home foreclosures, Wall Street profiteering, a suspect financial meltdown, and worst of all, rising joblessness.
They did not expect Obama to perform a miracle turnaround. But they did expect that he'd make job creation, saving homes, and getting businesses up and going his number one priority, if not the only priority of his administration. Months later, with double digit unemployment, a roaring voter outcry for jobs, a resurgent GOP breathing hotly down his neck, and looming 2010 mid term house and senate losses for the Democrats, he's belatedly remembered the truism that it's the economy stupid. His answer is to call for a showpiece White House jobs summit next month. But summits don't create jobs. Banks and financial institutions that lend to industries and businesses to expand and create jobs, consumers with cash to spend, and stable, tax solvent local and state governments that provide job stimulating public services, create them. This has happed in large part because of mistake number two; that's Obama's appointment of three Wall Street stalwart's Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner and Robert Rubin as his economic gurus. He's followed to the letter their prescription for jump starting the economy. That is to shell out taxpayer billions to the major banks and Wall Street financial houses then pray that they'd do the right thing and jumpstart the economy. They haven't and it was pathetic to hear Geithner recently weakly plead to the banks and financial houses to take a chance on the US economy and start lending. He pleaded with them only after maverick capitalist Warren Buffet tried to shame the banks to open up their tax payer stuffed coffers and lend more to aid recovery. The jobs crisis is the horrid consequence of economic Team Obama's no strings attached hand out of taxpayer dollars to Wall Street with no firm mandate that that they do that.
This ties into Obama's third mistake. That's the premature and divisive fight over health care reform. One of the great mysteries is why with the economy on the rocks, and jobs being the impassioned issue it always is, why he chose to squander his political capital, good will, and popularity on a fight that he knew would be long, contentious, embittered, and ultimately shamelessly compromised; a fight that let a GOP, flat on its back, off the canvas?
Why he picked this fight now when Americans demand a revived economy and jobs? Why he didn't hammer out a solid, comprehensive health care reform plan with a fully functioning public option, firm cost containment measures, and tough monitoring provisions. Then quietly and patiently sell congressional leaders and the public on it? This would take time. It could not be done against the backdrop of a job crisis and waffling Democrats. The mistake is not his battle for health care reform, but a battle for it at the wrong time and on the wrong terms.
This ties into the fourth mistake. Afghanistan. Obama appears to be doing a gentle nudge back against the generals by saying no to the Pentagon's demand for more troops for the war. But between pulsating pressure from the Pentagon to sharply escalate the war, the GOP hawks who savage him for "dithering" on escalation, and his own oft stated hard line pledge to fight it out in Afghanistan no matter the cost, he's trapped himself in a tight box that he'll find hard to ease out of. He may say no to the generals today, but his no is hardly a yes to winding down the war.
While the loose talk that Afghanistan looms as Obama's Vietnam is a badly over blown, horribly inaccurate fact and circumstance comparison, it is a big, divisive, and potentially politically damaging war. It's a war that the public doesn't want. It does nothing to address the thing that Americans say matters more than anything else, and that's jobs.
Obama is fortunate. His four major mistakes haven't stopped the widespread cheering for him--yet. Politics, however, being politics when presidents make too many mistakes the cheers today will turn to jeers tomorrow. Obama won't be the first president to hear both.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.