On the west coast, Los Angeles Times columnist Marshall Ganz had some familiar advice for the president in a well-written “you need to be more inspirational” piece that sounded very sophisticated because of all the big words.
Obama and his team made three crucial choices that undermined the president’s transformational mission. First, he abandoned the bully pulpit of moral argument and public education. Next, he chose to lead with a politics of compromise rather than advocacy. And finally, he chose to demobilize the movement that elected him president. By shifting focus from a public ready to drive change — as in “yes we can” — he shifted the focus to himself and attempted to negotiate change from the inside, as in “yes I can.”
In his transactional leadership mode, the president chose compromise rather than advocacy. Instead of speaking on behalf of a deeply distressed public, articulating clear positions to lead opinion and inspire public support, Obama seemed to think that by acting as a mediator, he could translate Washington dysfunction into legislative accomplishment. Confusing bipartisanship in the electorate with bipartisanship in Congress, he lost the former by his feckless pursuit of the latter, empowering the very people most committed to bringing down his presidency.
Ganz’s paper offered a fine editorial offering a deep understanding, and an articulate explanation, of the connection between the economy and the voter frustrations it has spurred.
The change in mood is not only understandable but predictable: No nation where millions want work but can’t find it will be a settled one. Unemployment today stands at 9.6%, with many additional workers in jobs that underemploy them; one result is that President Obama’s approval rating has plummeted from 80% shortly after his inauguration to 44% today (though it is still healthy compared with the 21% of Americans who approve of Congress’ work).
The anxieties spurred by the recession have given way to a broader unease, an inchoate sense that government is too big, too intrusive, too demanding. Federal deficits, enlarged first by the long and ill-advised war in Iraq and then by the efforts to stimulate the economy, symbolize to many a government detached from the consequences of its policies. The federal deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was $1.3 trillion. Voters are angry and are sending a sharp rebuke to Democratic incumbents and to the Obama administration, one that may not be cause for them to panic but that they would be foolish to ignore.
Great. But just one piece of advice for the west coast Times: give readers more of that and a whole lot less of this.