The Presidential Self-Assessment

By Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa, (On Twitter) @c_tamirisa

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POTUS (President of the United States) seems to be pleased with his performance. After all, as Truman said, the person at the desk where the buck stops cannot help but write in his own annual performance review, until where it really stops, at the polling booths, write it in, in or out.

If his poll ratings were to be the Gini index, there is substantial equality in how the country sees him, in stark contrast to how he sees himself. America is more equal in seeing that the country is headed in the wrong direction, being asked by their president to wait until it turns in the right direction. When that time comes he will be out of office, whether he is reelected or not, as if his presidency is a symbolic tribute to MLK Jr., President Obama appears to have put substantial faith in the technocracy with which he has surrounded himself. He is a man who is a firm believer in education being the great equalizer, citing the first (black) family in the White House as an example.

There is a palpable undercurrent in his politics that seems to also believe that politics does not take the educated seriously enough to do the right thing. So, the most gifted (but only better-grounded) president since Bill Clinton (and perhaps a leader since MLK Jr., for the African-Americans) appears to have decided to set aside politics to let the educated run the country. The result is wait-and-see politics.

He had the right instincts in his campaign. Those instincts shaped his principles which he is so eloquent at articulating. In fact, it is the articulation of principle that won him the presidency and subsequently the Nobel. Yet, his first year in office has demonstrated the stark inability to validate the ability of his policies to implement his principles whether those are being made in the Congress or in the West Wing. His faith in the principle has made him put his political capital behind those to whom he has largely delegated the work of policymaking. The dissipation of that political capital is being reflected in his poll numbers.

He was correct in wanting to walk and chew gum at the same time when he decided to tackle health care, energy and financial regulation in parallel. However, the urgency only went into health care. Energy, the truly more exigent problem got sidelined in the name of a near-pre-fabricated policy known as cap-and-trade. Financial regulatory reform is waiting for the economy to recover, when reform is necessary for a robust recovery. In the meantime, all the jobless and insurance-less are getting a de facto expanded welfare state with borrowed money.

Presidency is a chess game. The lieutenants defend the king, until the king is forced to defend himself. Presidents move last and always not necessarily for their side, because if the game is to be won, some sacrifices may be necessary. This president though is out front and center defending his pawns and when the king falls the game will be lost, before barely any moves are made. Barack Obama must learn to become a Janus-faced president for a Janus-faced moment in the country’s history. He must turn left and right at the same time.

A public option is necessary in health care, not by saving LBJ but by superseding him to achieve efficiency in the welfare state. Turning right, he must fix the private market so that the market for health care indeed works like a healthy market, determining the desired price at the equilibrium of demand and supply. That would then be Obama-care, not LBJ care on steroids, Texas-style, a large and unwieldy government behemoth.

Senators Barbara Boxer and John Kerry are executing the foregone conclusion of cap-and-trade for the Democrats on energy as if the United States, at nearly 3% inflation and 10% unemployment can afford to raise prices some more to catch up with the European stagnation by 2010, even as the Europeans are waiting on the sidelines for that to happen to declare victory because they have already implemented it. Just as with health care in Massachusetts, the northeastern states have also implemented cap-and-trade to make the states the test beds of experimentation before the policies acquire a national texture. The result for the White House could be as bad as health care.

On financial regulation, the choice the Democrats in the Congress and the administration have made seems to be to leave the Fed alone with all of its regulatory trappings and create new government agencies in addition to alphabet soup that already exists to bring into their fold the shadow markets and consumer protection: a brewing political compromise as bad as the health care compromise.

All in all, working in parallel on momentous matters, the Democrats are tripping over themselves to accomplish their ideological objectives. The issue is not that the Washington this president has found himself in is more partisan than ever before (in fact, it is more transparent than before) but that the president is playing partisan-in-chief, wielding the weapon of the overwhelming Democrat majority in his honeymoon year to set the course irrevocably for the country in the direction he wants it to go over the next decade and beyond: the United States will be another European Union in its governance by 2050, undoing Ronald Reagan completely. This is what liberal education does to Americans. The educated put aside politics, gleefully unaware that the education itself is political. To prevent it, it takes extraordinary politics from the minority Republicans or the rise of another Ronald Reagan in about a decade.

He is delivering for his party, no matter what happens to his presidency in 4 years or 8 years. This is the overarching “sacrifice” he is making on the chess board. He has made himself the pawn to save the king that is the liberal state since FDR. However, “Is he delivering for his country?” is the matter at hand. For this, I suppose, we will all have to wait and see.


About Chandrashekar (Chandra) Tamirisa
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