I have been arguing for some time that Barack Obama made a crucial tactical error in bailing out the big banks early in his presidency. His actions have left him vulnerable to populist resentment. In my view, this weakens his credibility and ability to push through other pieces of his legislative agenda and will harm Democrats in the 2010 elections.
Slipping poll numbers
Indeed, Obama has slipped somewhat in opinion polls. Now, some will tell you that it is because Obama is running a socialist left-wing big government agenda in a center-right country. And as a result, he is losing independent voters. But, is that really true?
While conservatives are opposed to the Democrats’ health care initiatives as an expansion of the state, progressives are identifiably more opposed to a greater number of Obama legislative issues (willingness to abandon the public option, escalation of war in Afghanistan, and continuation of rendition to name a few).
Bailouts poisoned the well
I would argue that it is the apparent ineffectiveness and unfairness of Obama’s policy initiatives on banks and the economy which has angered middle class Americans – conservatives and liberals alike. The economy is still in the tank despite incipient signs of a technical recovery. And Americans understand that banks and bank staff are making lots of money while thousands lose job and home.
Why then would you trust government? More likely, you would see government as the problem? Most people are not ideological and have no opinion about the role of government except when things are not going well. In my view, this is a major reason why so many are sceptical about changing healthcare. Barry Ritholtz gave voice to this sentiment in a post earlier today.
A problem of substance and style
However, I want to take this one step further because the problem is as much style as substance. Today, we are to hear Obama’s much-anticipated speech on healthcare reform. Some feel this is a make-or-break speech for the President. I look forward to hearing his ideas. But, I don’t expect to hear anything new and I suspect many others feel the same way. Has Obama’s charm worn off? In some ways, yes.
I have tried to put my finger on it in previous posts, and I think Barry did a fine job in describing the connection between the disgust over bailouts and Obama’s difficulty with healthcare. But, there was something missing for me until I saw Yves Smith’s last post on debtor’s revolt. The woman in the video calling for a debtor’s strike made a passing reference to the bailouts which made clear to me her anger that a bank could charge her 30% interest when that same bank wouldn’t exist except through taxpayer largesse.
And that’s when it hit me: it’s the Obama as Bush Three meme. Look at these two videos below. I have some words afterwards.
George W. Bush video
Barack Obama video
As I see it, the man in video number one shows extreme callousness when switching abruptly from a serious discourse about war to a game of golf, generally considered the sport of the wealthy. If one wants a defining moment for the failure of George W. Bush’s presidency, there it is.
Fast forward to August 2009 and we see an eerily similar circumstance. The economy is still in tatters and Americans are at verbal war over health care. Yet, the President of the United States is off playing golf. Why anyone in the White House thinks this is a good idea is beyond me. It certainly appears to be more of the same – and that is in striking contrast to the pre-inauguration image Obama enjoyed.
I was struck by the fact that Obama was golfing during his vacation two weeks ago as his legislative agenda was falling apart. So this is the image that I will have in my head as I listen to the President tell us why his legislative agenda is the right one for America.