Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Does Obama Look Weak?

Gideon Rachman frets that Obama may be looking like a pushover.

The notion that Mr Obama is a weak leader is now spreading in ways that are dangerous to his presidency. The fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday will not change this impression. Peace is all very well. But Mr Obama now needs to pick a fight in public – and win it with a clean knock-out.

In truth, the Norwegians did the US president no favours by giving him the peace prize after less than a year in office. The award will only embellish a portrait of the president that has been painted in ever more vivid colours by his political enemies. The right argues that Mr Obama is a man who has been wildly applauded and promoted for not doing terribly much. Now the Nobel committee seems to be making their point for them.

The rightwing assault on the president is based around a number of slogans that are hammered home with damaging frequency: Obama the false Messiah; Obama, the president who apologises for America; Obama, the man who is more loved abroad than at home; Obama, the man who never gets anything done; Obama the hesitant; Obama the weak.

Of course, this is the kind of stuff that was always going to be hurled at a liberal, Democratic president by the Republicans. The danger for Mr Obama is that you are beginning to hear echoes of these charges from people who should be the president’s natural supporters.

One leading European politician warns that Mr Obama is looking weak on the Middle East: “If he says to the Israelis ‘no more settlements’, there have got to be no more settlements.” And yet it is the White House, not the Israeli government, that has backed down.

Even before the Nobel announcement, liberal American columnists were sounding increasingly sceptical about the man they once supported with such enthusiasm. Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post that the president “inspires a lot of affection but not a lot of awe. It is the latter, though, that matters most in international affairs where the greatest and most gut-wrenching tests await Obama”. Now Saturday Night Live – the slayer of Sarah Palin – has turned its fire on President Obama, portraying him a do-nothing president.

How has this impression built up? The promise of bold changes of policy on the Middle East and Iran – without much to show for it – has not helped. The public agonising over policy towards Afghanistan has been damaging. The slow pace of progress on healthcare has hurt...

I don't buy it. The President has lots of big wins, and picking public fights (the Bush strategy) was what got us into this mess. Some clean knockouts would be nice, but but if Obama wins on health care there will be lots of room for new initiatives. I can't imagine paying any attention to Richard Cohen - a guy who has been wrong so many times he can't spell right.

But a clean victory or two would be nice.