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Five signs of a flailing Presidency

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PostSubject: Five signs of a flailing Presidency   Sun Mar 22, 2009 11:01 pm

Five Signs of a Flailing Presidency
The White House tries its hand at damage control.
by Fred Barnes
03/30/2009, Volume 014, Issue 27



You don't have to be an old Washington hand to spot the telltale signs
of a presidency and an administration in serious trouble. There's
nothing new about these clues. The inability to get their stories
straight--that's a hardy perennial of high-level officials caught in
the vise of political embarrassment. A president who skips town to
avoid the White House press corps and speak directly to the American
people--we've sure seen that before. So in a sense the AIG mess has
touched off nothing more than business as usual.

What goes on in Washington usually comes across as background noise to
the public, but not this time. Bonuses for AIG executives are like the
infamous Bridge to Nowhere--an issue that's broken through outside
Washington. And we know it's become a major political problem for the
president because he and his administration act as if it has. Here are
five signs of this:

1. His allies are moving to protect the president. In a political
emergency, this is the highest obligation of everyone in the
administration. The president must be distanced as far as possible from
decisions that led to the problem, even if he is made to look
out-of-touch or actually incompetent.

In the AIG case, Obama is like a cuckolded spouse, portrayed by
administration officials as the last person to learn about the bonuses,
though he signed the economic stimulus legislation with a provision
assuring they'd be paid. A front-page account in the Washington Post
played along, absolving the entire administration of blame. Attributed
to "government and company officials," the story said Federal Reserve
officials were at fault, having failed to alert anyone in the
administration, much less Obama, in a timely fashion.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said he didn't tell the White House
until March 12, two days after he learned of bonuses totaling $165
million and the day before the checks went out. What could Obama do? He
was "stunned," the president told Jay Leno last week. Obama said he
takes full responsibility for the mess. Then he went on to blame others.

2. The president gets out of town. In the final stages of the Watergate
scandal in 1974, President Nixon flew to Cairo, where he was greeted by
one million Egyptians along the route of his motorcade. This prompted a
question: Can a million Egyptians be wrong? The answer turned out to be
yes. Nixon resigned a few weeks later.

Okay, the AIG flap isn't Watergate. But last week was a good time for
Obama to skip town, mingle with worshipful fans, and dodge the
(suddenly) unfriendly Washington media mob. The idea is to get through
to the American people directly, without the press filtering his every
word. So in California, he spoke to a town hall meeting, the preferred
venue of presidents under political stress. He was interviewed by a
sympathizer on talk radio, then by Jay Leno, who invariably makes his
guests look good, then went to a research center for electric cars. He
put off a White House press conference until the following week, when
the AIG frenzy may have eased.

3. Top spokesmen dismiss the crisis as a distraction. Anything the
president doesn't want to deal with or discuss, like AIG bonuses, is
automatically a distraction from the important business the American
people have elected him to focus on. And Rahm Emanuel, the White House
chief of staff, said AIG wasn't just a minor distraction. As furious as
Obama was over the bonuses, Emanuel said last week, the president's
"main priority is getting the financial system stabilized, and he
believes this is a big distraction."

Though David Axelrod, Obama's White House political adviser, didn't use
the word "distraction," the Washington Post reported that he was making
the same point. "People are not sitting around their kitchen tables
thinking about AIG," he said. "They are thinking about their own jobs."
And that's what Obama is thinking about.

4. Administration figures can't keep their stories straight. It's easy
to keep your story straight when you're telling the truth. It gets
harder when you're not. Geithner initially said he learned of the AIG
bonuses on March 10. He tried to give himself wiggle room by saying
this was when he was informed about the size and scope of the bonuses.
This isn't true. It turns out he was questioned on March 3 by
Democratic congressman Joe Crowley of New York in very specific terms
about the bonuses. Crowley noted that AIG was "slated to pay an
additional $162 million in bonuses to 393 participants in the coming
weeks." Geithner responded to Crowley that he "very much share[s] your
concern" about the bonuses. But don't try to square Geithner's two
statements. That would be a distraction.

Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Banking
Committee, tied himself in knots denying his role in crafting the
provision in the stimulus that kept the bonuses alive. One day he
indicated he'd had nothing to do with inserting that provision in the
bill. He wasn't even on the Senate-House conference committee that put
it in. The next day, he told a different story. Yes, he'd asked
senators to include the provision, but he did so only because Treasury
officials urged him to. No wonder Dodd is in reelection trouble.

5. The president indulges in hyperbole. Presidents sometimes lose their
rhetorical grip during a political controversy. Obama has. He went into
high gear defending Geithner. With the exception of Alexander Hamilton,
no Treasury secretary has "had to deal with the multiplicity of issues
that Secretary Geithner has," he said. "He is making all the right
moves in terms of playing a bad hand." Not only that, Obama likened the
financial firms Geithner is dealing with to terrorists. "They've got a
bomb strapped to them and they've got their hand on the trigger."

One more thing. If Obama is showing the effects of a political crisis,
how can he josh about basketball and bowling and other light subjects
with Jay Leno? When in trouble, play to your strengths, such as being a
likeable, regular guy. It worked with Leno. "Mr. President," he said,
"I must say this has been one of the best nights of my life."

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
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PostSubject: Re: Five signs of a flailing Presidency   Mon Mar 23, 2009 1:24 am

hhhhhmmmmm makes you think what the future will bring.
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