Analysis by Jay B Gaskill

Yesterday, the “failed president-vs.-imperfect challenger” problem was addressed in column by Debra Saunders, the moderate-conservative columnist. Ms. Saunders’ commentaries run in the liberal San Francisco Chronicle, but are frequently picked up by more conservative media.  Like David Brooks, her tone is as reasonable and non-ideological as possible for any center-right thinker who hopes to reach a liberal audience.

I enjoy reading both columnists, but… The common thread among this subset of the commentariate is a lingering sense of centrist regret over how our “promising” president lost his way.  Truth be told – and it should be told – as he entered the White House, young Obama was no more “centrist” than some of his flaming post-Marxist-Marxist Lite inner circle.

Has he changed?  Does it matter? Robust policy disagreements within the Democratic Party about Mr. Obama’s presidency have been suppressed, and the larger policy discourse has been inhibited. This is an especially tragic lapse, given the stakes for the country, since clarity about who this president really is and what his continued presidency portends of America demand much more clarity and candor.

It is as if this president has been surrounded by a protective force field. This protective envelope was the product of his somewhat exaggerated claim to be America’s first “black” (or “post-racial”, take your pick) president.

Social conservatives constitute the working majority of all African Americans in the USA. In spite of some deep misgivings about this black president among their group, one senses their enduring pride in his primary accomplishment (having become POTUS).  Yet these feeling are now tempered by a nagging sense of embarrassment about the prospect of his pending failure. These good people will probably not turn out in droves to support Obama’s reelection, but they will not vote against him. If Mr. Obama loses the 2012 election, many of them will be secretly relieved to the extent that things were not allowed to get worse under his leadership.  But they will never reward Mr. Obama’s successor with anything short of enduring suspicion.

Enter the imperfect, sometimes overcautious GOP field of candidates.

As Ms. Saunders put it yesterday, “…John McCain would have been a better president than Obama. …But I never thought McCain was the change America had been waiting for. Nor do I believe that if voters simply oust Obama, everything will change for the better.

As a Republican, I am panicking. The best GOP candidates stayed out of the race. Now we’re stuck with a flock of salesmen who keep assuring voters that their platforms will be easy-peasy.

…Obama is no better. He could have chosen to push for tax reform – lower rates, no loopholes – to attract bipartisan support and kick-start the economy. Instead, he apparently decided [that] finger-pointing won the White House in 2008, so he’s sticking with the formula. I’d like to see a GOP nominee who can do better. I would like a Republican who also can govern.


Do remember that last line.

The myth of the day is that Barak Obama is a brilliant politician.  But “Rumors of Barack Obama’s political skill have been greatly exaggerated”, as a long, thoughtful piece in The Weekly Standard by Noemie Emery has clearly demonstrated.

See the WS October 10, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 04, still posted at http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/overrated_594676.html.

This article and its implications need to be studied by everyone who cares about the future of the country.

Here are some pull quotes to give you the flavor-

“Good politicians create coalitions and then tend them carefully, draw people in from the opposite party, and make their own party (like Reagan and Roosevelt) both bigger and different than it was before. Obama inherited a coalition by chance and dismantled it during his first years in office, having never understood what it was made of, how it developed, how fragile it was, and what it would take to maintain. This coalition had formed by itself shortly after the Lehman Brothers collapse tipped the financial world into chaos in September 2008, and the election, without his having even to wiggle his fingers, fell into his open and welcoming lap.

“If Obama had been a good politician, he would have realized that he had been elected not by a broad and deep swath of newly minted liberal voters, but by a temporary alliance of faithful progressives (numerous, but not enough to win elections) and centrist swing voters scared out of their wits by the crash. … Many people who voted for Obama were not in fact liberal, but centrist or center-right voters unnerved by the crash and the chaos in the Republican party, and drawn to Obama’s misleading aura of calm. This meant there was also a split in Obama’s electorate: The progressives liked his liberal ideas, the centrists his so-called “conservative” temperament; the progressives wanted transformation, the centrists stability; the progressives wanted the government grown, the centrists wanted the economy stabilized; the centrists were prepared for the small shift to the left that comes with the usual change from a center-right to a left-center government, the progressives were bent on sweeping and radical change.

“An adept politician would have looked at the polls and realized he had a frail coalition that had to be nudged along carefully, knowing schism would destroy his majority. Obama’s mistake was to assume that the shock of the crash had turned the center hard left and to govern accordingly. “The coalition that carried Obama to victory is every bit as sturdy as America’s last two dominant political coalitions: the ones that elected Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan,” wrote Peter Beinart, reflecting the view of the press and the president. As it happened, “the coalition that carried Obama to victory” would shatter in less than nine months.

… His governing theory was that he would make speeches and win people over; then Nancy Pelosi would twist arms, or break them. That worked for a while, until Pelosi lost power, and so did his speeches. As a result he now seems to have run out of options, and strategies. There was, it appears, no plan B.”

Having squandered his opportunity to govern by breaching that essential trust on which governance critically depends, Mr. Obama needs a time machine. Regrettably those gadgets are made of unobtanium.

Now let’s go back to Ms. Saunders’ last line: a Republican who also can govern. I believe that the fiscal and international problems facing this nation are so dire and are of such immense scale that whoever assumes office in January 2013 will be forced to address them head on without further delay.  That effort will require a governing coalition wider and deeper than the true believers of either party could ever muster.  The hubris of the left that sank Obama’s credibility cannot be succeeded by a similar hubris of the right without a similar failure.

The brute facts of the situation do require a set of remedial measures that are far closer to the recommendations of Republican congressional policy leader Paul Ryan than the current administration’s economic team could ever support.  What the brute facts? you ask?

Get out your calculator.  Compare Greece (with a pretend bailout pending) with Italy (no bailout possible without bringing down the European economy).  Now compare these two with the USA’s unchecked trajectory.  Subtract the fairy dust and the delusional thinking.  The irresistible force meets the immovable object during the next term of POTUS.

Few of the necessary measures can actually be enacted or implemented without a much wider buy-in from the center and even center-left than a “I won, you lost” candidate with a fleeting majority in both chambers could muster.  No, the next POTUS needs to expand the winning coalition, make it more durable and bring the country along in the bargain.  Mr. Obama has irredeemably lost the trust of the voters who will be needed to join the new coalition.  Earning and maintaining that trust will be the next president’s overriding job.

So the question for the GOP is not “Who is the best conservative of the bunch?” -since any of its POTUS candidates will confront the same grim reality and address the same hard solutions.  The question of the hour is this:  Which of these aspiring leaders can build the new coalition?

Congressman Paul Ryan is needed just where he is, at epicenter of the congressional budget process.  The remaining plausible candidates who have taken themselves off the list have very good reasons: They are not prepared for the job ahead or lack the stomach for national leadership in a time of crisis or both. Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan and FDR are dead.  Hillary has waited too long and apparently lacks the will and resources to take on a sitting president in her own party.

At this point, GOP voters might want to consult my thought piece about the minimum real qualifications for POTUS (see http://www.jaygaskill.com/MQ.htm ). By this ideologically neutral measure, the GOP field has just three realistic contenders.  In alphabetical order they are Gingrich, Perry and Romney.  The remaining questions for the GOP delegates are just two: electability and coalition-building ability.

On August 27, 2012, the GOP holds its POTUS nominating convention in Tampa, Florida.  Chances are high that no single candidate will receive a first ballot nomination.  That in turn may produce an open convention.

As a Blue Dog democrat, I’ll be rooting for the country.

The author is the California attorney who served as the Seventh Public Defender for Alameda County (in Oakland) until he left his “life of crime” for other pursuits.  This article (except for the quoted material) is Copyright © 2011 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law.

Forwards and links are welcome. For other permissions, contact the author via e-mail – law@jaygaskill.com .

Visit The Policy Think Site and the linked Blogs at www.jaygaskill.com .

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