Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Obama Begins Winning Over Bushies

Peter Wehner, who departed the White House a year ago following a lengthy stint as Bush's key strategic policy adviser, delivers a healthy dose of praise on Obama's appointments. Given that Wehner was a big Iraq War supporter, that he's very pleased with Obama's keeping Robert Gates at Defense isn't a surprise.

But Wehner goes beyond that in his Commentary Contentions blog:
Friends of mine who are lifelong Republicans voted for Obama because they were impressed with the quality of his mind, his manner and approach, and the discipline of his campaign. They believed that if he were elected President, he would act in a prudent, responsible, non-radical way. But they readily admitted they weren’t sure what we would get; Obama, more than any other presidential candidate in recent memory, was an unknown quantity and something of a mystery in terms of how he would govern. I found myself going back and forth on Obama, sometimes in the course of a single day.

It’s far too early to make any kind of firm judgment on President-elect Obama; he has not even taken the oath of office. People who are viewed as strong picks at the outset of an administration can, in retrospect, look bad. Managing a team is harder than selecting one. And the acid test for Obama, as for all public officials, will be the policies he pursues and the actions he takes while in office. For example, my suspicion is that Obama will, in the areas of the courts, culture of life, and health care, take actions that conservatives will view as quite problematic. And I would prefer a stimulus package which reduces tax rates on individuals and businesses, which is the best way to increase productivity and wealth.

But for now, those who did not vote for Mr. Obama have reasons to be somewhat hopeful about the direction in which he appears to be heading. His actions to date are not those of an ideologue. If this trajectory continues - and it cannot be said often enough that we are only at the dawn of the Obama era - America’s new President may pleasantly surprise conservatives and agitate the Left. He just might turn out to be more like John Kennedy than George McGovern. It remains an open question; but right now, that possibility is reason enough to be grateful.

As one of those "Obamacons," I would go further. A colleague shared his irritation with Obama's "Office of the President-Elect" sign in front of the podium whenever he gives his press conferences. My colleague thought it looked tacky and presumptuous.

I had a different thought: Somewhere, Ronald Reagan's image guru Michael Deaver is smiling. Deaver and Reagan were the masters of using image to project confidence and authority. As much as the "adult" nature of Obama's appointments are reassuring , his presentation and daily press conferences to update the public on the shape of his administration are even more so.

Yes, they are "photo-ops," but they are EXACTLY what's needed during a period where every day brings awful news -- job losses, bailouts, more billion-dollar outlays. Without any formal ability to execute policy (and watching as Henry Paulson guarantees ANOTHER $800 billion to...something...), the most important thing Obama can do in this crisis is to suggest to the public that he has a more-than-capable team that knows what it has to do. This is a psychological lift that both the markets and the general public needs. The only thing that can give this holiday season even a modicum of success -- with consumers holding back on spending -- is belief that new guy on the horizon has the tools to turn this situation around.

Ironically, this extraordinary situation will prove the adage, "no good deed goes unpunished." Obama will have almost no "honeymoon" when he takes office. He is essentially doing now the ceremonial "getting to know the new guy" stuff that traditionally happens in the firs three weeks or month of an administratioin. He is not "Acting President." But circumstances force him to "act" as president.

He's doing an exceptional job so far -- but that just means when he is actually sworn in on January 20th, it will seem like he's been president for so long, the public will start getting restless pretty quick on how long it's taking for things to turn around.

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