At The New York Times, Frank Bruni writes:
Ebola is his presidency in a petri dish. It’s an example already of his tendency to talk too loosely at the outset of things, so that his words come back to haunt him. There was the doctor you could keep under his health plan until, well, you couldn’t. There was the red line for Syria that he didn’t have to draw and later erased.
With Ebola, he said almost two weeks ago that “we’re doing everything that we can” with an “all-hands-on-deck approach.” But on Wednesday and Thursday he announced that there were additional hands to be put on deck and that we could and would do more. The shift fit his pattern: not getting worked up in the early stages, rallying in the later ones.
It’s more understandable in this case than in others, because when it comes to statements about public health, the line between adequately expressed concern and a license for hysteria is thin and not easily determined. Still, he has to make Americans feel that he understands their alarm, no matter how irrational he deems it, and that they’re being leveled with, not talked down to, not handled. And he has a ways to go.
I’ve know Ron Klain for years, respecting him as a smart operative who understands the nexus of politics and policy. His selection yesterday by President Barack Obama as the “Ebola czar” is a bad choice that will not stop the Democrats’ political problems on this issue.
It is what it appears: A political decision forced on the president by political posturing and careless talk about a crisis. It appears that Klain doesn’t even report directly to the president, but to National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Obama’s homeland security adviser, Lisa Monaco.
On February 7, 2008, Senator Barack Obama said in a speech at Tulane University: ”If catastrophe comes, the American people must be able to call on a competent government. When I am President, the days of dysfunction and cronyism in Washington will be over.”
David Francis writes at Foreign Policy: ”In an effort to placate Congress and reassure the American public that the Ebola virus would not spread across the country, President Barack Obama appointed Ron Klain, a political operative with no apparent public-health experience, to oversee the government’s response.”
In 2006, Senator Barack Obama said that real reform “means ending the practice of appointing your political buddies to positions they are wholly unqualified for. It means no more Brownies.”
In After Hope and Change, we explain that President Obama was the first president to win reelection while losing vote share from the previous race. His standing with the electorate continues to sink. Susan Page reports at USA Today:
Just two years ago, President Obama was re-elected, the first Democrat since FDR to twice win a majority of the electorate.
That was then.
Now USA TODAY/Suffolk University polls in a half-dozen states with key Senate races underscore just how much times and political fortunes have changed for the president. In five of the six states, the percentage of likely voters who say they voted for Obama in 2012 has dipped from the actual results.
Of those who say they did vote for him, as many as one in seven say they regret it.
"He started out as such a dynamic powerhouse; I mean, it seemed to be he could do anything," says Mike White, 64, of Cary, N.C., one of those disappointed past supporters. "Now I think he’s just looking forward to the end of his presidency."
“It is safe to say that Obama has been a huge disappointment. I really don’t think there’s any comparison between him and Bill Clinton. I don’t think we’re even talking about the same universe.” — Kirsten Powers, Democratic political commentator, October 2, 2014.
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“This administration has been disconnected from the government it’s supposed to be running. They seem to view the federal workforce as hostile territory. They don’t engage with it…. They don’t have a strong system of getting info from the agencies to the president. They keep getting surprised by stuff. And the surprise is almost worse than anything else. It conveys the sense that the White House doesn’t know what its own government is doing.” – Elaine Kamarck, senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore, October 5, 2014.
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“Even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities…. ‘I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,’ Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. ‘I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.’” – “The Competitor in Chief”, New York Times, September 2, 2012.
A few years ago, however, Panetta had a different perspective on loyalty.
On May 28, 2008, David Jackson and Richard Wolf wrote in USA Today that Panetta criticized former White House press secretary Scott McClellan for writing a negative memoir about President George W. Bush.
Leon Panetta, a White House chief of staff to Clinton, joined Bush aides in wondering why McClellan had not expressed his views earlier.
Panetta said the time to air differences is when “policy is being implemented.” He said books such as McClellan’s threaten to undermine future presidencies because officials will worry about whether their colleagues “are going to write their own books about who was trying to go after who, and who screwed up.”
"It just creates an atmosphere that I think undermines the work that staff to the president have to do," Panetta said.
At The Atlantic, David Rohde and Warren Strobel write:
The bombing campaign, which could last for years, is a major course correction for a president with a famously cautious foreign policy. Obama’s handling of Syria—the early about-face, the repetitive debates, the turnabout in September—is emblematic, say current and former top U.S. officials, of his highly centralized, deliberative, and often reactive foreign policy.
These officials say Obama and his inner circle made three fundamental mistakes. The withdrawal of all American troops from neighboring Iraq and the lack of a major effort to arm Syria’s moderate rebels, they say, gave Islamic State leeway to spread. Internal debates focused on the costs of U.S. intervention in Syria, while downplaying the risks of not intervening. And the White House underestimated the damage to U.S. credibility caused by Obama making public threats to Assad and then failing to enforce them.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Jimmy Carter is unhappy with the incumbent:
Carter said it was hard to figure out exactly what President Obama’s policy is in the Middle East.
“It changes from time to time,” Carter said. “I noticed that two of his secretaries of defense, after they got out of office, were very critical of the lack of positive action on the part of the president.”
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the most recent to criticize Obama, in remarks he made toUSA Today while promoting his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace.
Carter acknowledged that the ISIS situation is complicated and he thinks the U.S. waited too long to respond.
“First of all, we waited too long. We let the Islamic state build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria,” he said. “Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn’t object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned.”