Permanent campaign not working for Obama

Tony Harnden:

Perhaps we should not be surprised that the land of the permanent campaign has produced a president like Barack Obama. During his White House bid, Mr Obama's staff argued that his masterful oversight of the machinery that ultimately got him elected was his highest achievement.

In many respects this was true, though Mr Obama was more chairman than CEO. Even Republican political operatives acknowledge that the Obama '08 campaign was a thing of beauty.

Essentially, however, Mr Obama won because of his persona – post-racial, healing, cool, articulate and inspirational. In a sense, therefore, his greatest achievement in life is being Barack Obama. Or the campaign version, at least.

Therein lies the problem. While campaigning could centre around soaring rhetoric, governing is altogether messier. It involves tough, unpopular choices and cutting deals with opponents. It requires doing things rather than talking about them, let alone just being.

Mr Obama is showing little appetite for this. Instead of being the commander-in-chief, he is the campaigner-in-chief.

After a disastrous summer that saw his approval rating drop more than any other president at the same stage since Harry Truman in 1953, Mr Obama has temporarily abandoned the campaign-style events promoting his stalled health-care reform initiative.

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And as he always does, Mr Obama blamed every economic woe on the Bush years, conveniently forgetting that Republicans are no longer in office and it's been his mess for nine months now.

Campaigning and raising cash is what Mr Obama does best. Next week's fundraising events in Florida and Virginia will bring to 24 the number of such functions he had headlined since entering office in January. During his first year in office, Mr Bush attended just six fundraisers.

Just as instructive is Mr Obama's war on the cable channel Fox News.

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Rather than ignoring or even repudiating Fox commentators, the White House has instead sought to marginalise Fox News in its entirety....

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All this says much about Mr Obama's priorities at a time when he is sitting on an urgent request for 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, seemingly unsure about whether the counter-insurgency strategy he announced in March is the right one.

Late-night comics, although unabashedly liberal and at a loss last year as to how to poke fun at the rather humourless Mr Obama, are having a field day portraying him as a do-nothing prevaricator obsessed with his own image.

"President Obama agreed to commit an additional 40,000 troops to help fight Fox News," quipped NBC's Jay Leno. "Senior White House adviser David Axelrod told reporters that Fox News is just pushing a point of view. Well, yes, but at least they've got a point of view." Mr Obama was elected on a promise of being post-partisan to Washington and transforming the country. Thus far, he has won the support of only a single Republican for his health-care plan and has shown himself to be as aggressive a Democratic partisan in office as anyone in the fabled Clinton war room.

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Actually Clinton did have a few bipartisan accomplishments including agreeing to GOP balanced budgets. We now have the spectacle of a guy who says he is willing to talk to Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez but want talk with Fox News? He seems to have his priorities out of whack.

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