Saturday, March 06, 2010

The name of the game is the finger game...

The Times has an A1 story coming out tomorrow about "fingers pointing" at David Axelrod for the President's perceived communications failures. I guess we've turned the page from the clutch of stories blaming Rahm Emanuel for the alleged failure to maintain Camelot, which in its turn succeeded roughly a year's worth of stories blaming Timothy Geithner.

This predictable sequence reminds me of a dimly remembered shock from early childhood. In an afterschool program for (I think, roughly) 5 year olds, our little group generally had one member designated, whether by common consent or the acclamation of a self-appointed opinion leader or two, "the dummy."  I seem to recall accepting it as part of the natural order of things that someone held this honorific, and that it wasn't me. Until the day when a beefy loudmouth announced to a standing circle, "X isn't the dummy any more!" He pointed at me. "He is! In soccer, before you can throw the ball in bounds, he's kicked it out of bounds!"

My memory is that this charge was completely fabricated (or imagined). Whether I vigorously defended myself, stood gaping in stunned silence, or managed something in between I can't recall. I'm pretty sure that the title didn't stick for more than a minute or two. I wish I could say that I'd stood up for a prior or subsequent designated dummy, but I can't recall that either.  All I know is that the story comes to mind whenever the scapegoating finger makes its mindless progress through a series of public figures.

As for the administration's alleged failures of communication, strategy and policy: of course there are many. At the same time, the unemployment rate is 9.7% and the President's approval rating hovers at 50%. Reagan's approval rating at the one year mark was essentially identical -- 49% -- after a year in which unemployment had climbed from 7.5% to 8.5%  By December 1982, unemployment had spiked to 10.8% and Reagan hit his polling nadir, 35%.  Bottom line: the administration's "failures" as assessed by public opinion are almost entirely a function of the economy Obama inherited. That will not be true forever, but it's true now. And luck will play a large part in future fluctuations -- if not, ultimately, in his performance over the long haul, and future generations' perceptions of it.

1 comment:

  1. If Obama can pass health care, guide the economy back with appropriate reforms, fix US infrastructure, improve school performance, get the US prison population down, get the US going w.r.t. green technology, limit carbon emissions in the US in a meaningful way and help to do so in the world, see Iraq through, figure something out in Afghanistan, improve relations with Iran, and solve Israel-Palestine--did I leave anything out?--he'll go down as one of the greatest presidents ever and he knows it and probably secretly relishes it. I agree it will take luck to do all those things and economic luck will be a big part of it.