Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Obama's Mission: Tension Manager

By Charles Rousseaux

Pressure is part of the always-melting pot of politics, and there are a number of tensions that the President needs to address tonight.

One is between the optimism of President Obama’s election and the frustration that has followed. I worked against his election, and yet Obama’s swearing-in still seemed to confirm America’s status as an exceptional place of relentless possibility. But that optimism has given way to an uncharacteristic strain of American pessimism from seemingly intractable unemployment, ineffective reforms and a rising tsunami of debt. 

Suspect the President will try to resolve that tension between aspiration and frustration through more Kennedy- or Reagan-style rhetoric – “an American renewal” or “a reformed system and a kindled faith in our future” – as well as a salute to the heroes of Ft. Hood and perhaps Haiti.

But, to this space cadet, he’s off to an absolutely un-Kennedy start by attempting to kill America’s renewed Moon program (though don’t expect to hear about that tonight). And whatever his rhetoric, it will be met with the reality of ugly approval numbers and a recalcitrant Congress.

That’s another tension tonight: The rhetoric vs. the reality. Obama seems to be leaning toward ‘I-feel-your-pain’ style smaller economic proposals, which also stand a slightly greater chance of legislative success. Yet he also seems determined to keep pressing for deeply unpopular policies such as health care reform.

Best prediction is that he’ll still try to have it both ways. He’ll also probably make a gesture of bipartisanship by saluting newly-elected Senator Scott Brown. But, unless he produces workable (bipartisan and passable) policies that actually work, he’s likely to meet new and even harder realities: A further alienated base, a still-stagnant economy, and an additionally weakened Presidency.

There are other tensions that could be named, such as between hot populism and no-drama, between debt increases and spending freezes, and between President and Prime Minister.

But no matter what Obama says this evening, the most important tension will remain unseen. That’s the tension between what Obama says tonight . . . and what he actually does tomorrow.

Charles Rousseaux served as a speechwriter at the Republican National Committee during the 2008 campaign and for a variety of principals in the George H.W. Bush administration.

No comments: