Howard Fineman, Wrong On Obama

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[Publisher’s Commentary]

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman has penned a hateful column devoid of logical reasoning about the challenges faced by Barack Obama.

It’s a shallow mean-spirited column that contains several incredible assertions; unless, as it occasional appears in the column, the author does not believe most of the things he writes.

“The Limits of Charisma,” which is the title of the piece,  suggests where the column is heading; instead the essay should have been called “The Limits of Illogic.”

“Mr. President, please stay off TV,” the column opens. “If ubiquity were the measure of a presidency, Barack Obama would already be grinning at us from Mount Rushmore.  But of course it is not. Despite his many words and television appearances, our elegant and eloquent president remains more an emblem of change than an agent of it.”

Of course if the president were to become a scarce commodity, he would be vilified in the same manner in which his predecessor George W. Bush was.

Instead, Fineman claims, “The president's problem isn't that he is too visible; it's the lack of content in what he says when he keeps showing up on the tube.”

This is of course a false and almost moronic assessment. The same president who is blamed for being “too cerebral” and “too professorial” suddenly lacks “content”?  On what basis or evidence does Fineman  come to this conclusion?  Nothing at all except his own subjective judgment.

“Obama can seem a mite too impressed with his own aura, as if his presence on the stage is the Answer,” Fineman claims, unable to resist the desire to get personal. “There is, at times, a self-referential (even self-reverential) tone in his big speeches. “
As opposed to what? A speech lacking in confidence? Fineman blames Obama for using the word “I” at least 11 times when he addressed the United Nations; would he rather have Obama refer to himself in the third person?

There is more than a trace of envy bordering on resentment.

Fineman then preposterously claims that Obama is still trying to blame George W. Bush for the problems faced by his Administration; which is again a false observation.  In fact, the president rarely mentions Bush at all even though Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney is almost in some newspaper column or TV screen every week, still trying to shift the blame of the disastrous Republican Administration on the new Obama Administration.

Yet, Fineman claims: “There is only so much political mileage that can still be had by his reminding the world that he is not George W. Bush. It was the winning theme of the 2008 campaign, but that race ended nearly a year ago. The ex-president is now more ex than ever, yet the current president, who vowed to look forward, is still reaching back to Bush as bogeyman.”

It is very doubtful that even Fineman himself believes these preposterous statements, raising the question as to what his motive or objective really is.

The president would be within his rights to constantly talk about the disastrous Bush-Cheney regime:  the calamitous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the destruction of the U.S. economy with the record deficits, deregulation of industry, banking and Wall Street firms, the shredding of civil rights and the Constitution, and unsustainable tax cuts to the super rich—but the president knows that it would serve no purpose.

Then comes a malicious cheap shot by Fineman: “Members of Obama's own party know who Obama is not; they still sometimes wonder who he really is.  In Washington, the appearance of uncertainty is taken as weakness—especially on Capitol Hill, where a president is only as revered as he is feared.”

Fineman may think these lines sound intelligent because they rhyme.  In fact they sound very ill-informed and even silly.  A U.S. president is “only as revered as he is feared”? What is the meaning of that? Do we live in some sort of tin-pot dictatorship? Does a U.S. President have the power to have political opponents, who are already whipped into frenzy by Right Wing racist Talk radio, “disappear” as a president once could in Chile, and still does in a country like Uganda? Is Fineman insane?

President Obama on the other hand has not yet been accorded the proper credit for preventing U.S. economic collapse. In December and January most pundits and arm chair geniuses  still believed it wasn’t possible to prevent a run on the banks,  which would have caused a domino effect and also eroded confidence, leading to even more calamitous rate of job losses, and pulling down the economy.

Respected economists like Paul Krugman were calling for nationalization of banks;  world class investors like George Soros were calling for allowing major banks to collapse and replacing them with new ones seeded with fresh money from the Federal government.

Where is such talk today?

The Dow was in tail spin dive;  stocks have remarkably rebounded and shares of companies such as Apple now exceed January highs.

Despite major criticism from his own side of the aisle President Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus package whose benefits are beginning to take hold. The rate of job losses have dropped from a high 700,000-plus per month to only 200,000-plus; still high, but clearly indicating that employers believe the worst part of the storm is behind us.

Combine this with the need to deal with unstable Pakistan; erratic North Korea; combustible Iran; volatile Middle East; not to mention Iraq and Iran; and it’s a wonder that one man can wake up every morning and tackle these challenges.

How quickly we forget that the other candidate –the Republican—had once famously asked for the presidential campaign to be “suspended” so that the nation could deal with the looming economic crises.

We have a president who is rising to the occasion, and a writer for a major magazine accuses him of hubris because he dares to have confidence in his abilities? Isn’t that the reason why he ran for the office and was elected in the first place?

Fineman exposes his myopic outlook and unbridled man envy: “Being the cool, convivial late-night-guest in chief won't cut it with Congress, an institution impervious to charm (especially the charm of a president with wavering poll numbers). Members of both parties are taking Obama's measure with their defiant and sometimes hostile response to his desires on health care.”

Was this Fineman’s underhanded way to excuse the outrageous display by Confederate Congressman Joe Wilson while downplaying Jimmy Carter’s serious observations regarding the true reason behind much of the hostility?

Then more cheap shots from Fineman:

“Never much of a legislator (and not long a senator), Obama underestimated the complexity of enacting a major ‘reform’ bill. Letting Congress try to write it on its own was an awful idea. As a balkanized land of micro fiefdoms, each loyal to its own lobbyists and consultants, Congress is incapable of being led by its ‘leadership.’”

Is Fineman suggesting that had Obama sent the House and Senate a proposal that included a public option, the debate would have moved further along by now? Fineman surely can’t believe this nonsense.

In fact, having Congress and the Senate debate for months and failing to produce a Bill before the August recess, ironically, allowed the town hall meetings to occur. Those meetings were invaluable in exposing a part of America –and the Republican party—that many Americans had naively believed was now a distant and past memory.

The United States can only become better –“perfecting the union” to borrow from Obama—by dealing with the latent hatreds which, to borrow Jimmy Carter’s words, “bubbled” to the national surface.

Obviously writers like Fineman would prefer to underplay these realities.

 It’s a credit to President’s Obama’s own political skills, and his masterful downplaying of the R-word that things aren’t worse than they already are. But it’s the role of honest writers –and Fineman is welcome to join this legion— to tackle the issue head-on.

So in Fineman’s universe, what type of politician or president should Obama become?

“The model is a man whose political effectiveness Obama repeatedly says he admires: Ronald Reagan,” Fineman writes, without even acknowledging that the reactionary forces that promoted Reagan are some of the very same forces now poisoning the political atmosphere for Obama.

“There was never doubt about what he wanted. The Gipper made his simple, dramatic tax cuts the centerpiece not only of his campaign but also of the entire first year of his presidency,” Fineman adds, of Reagan.

Pardon me, but the magnitude of the challenges the “Gipper” faced came nowhere close to what President Obama has stared down. How quickly and conveniently we forget.

Nine months into his presidency Fineman has a post-mortem for the president: “Obama seems to think he'll get credit for the breathtaking scope of his ambition. But unless he sees results, it will have the opposite effect—diluting his clout, exhausting his allies, and emboldening his enemies.”

How wrong can Fineman be?

There have already been results with respect to the economy, which will continue to improve; his clout is solid among patriotic Americans, excluding avowed racists who will never and don’t have to accept his legitimacy; his allies presumably all have stomach for political trench warfare, and that’s why they elected him after a record long campaign; and, his “enemies” have Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to embolden them—it’s disingenuous and obnoxious to try to shift blame for some of the hateful display by some of these “enemies” on the president.

President Obama should ignore Fineman and continue to make as many public and television appearances as he can.

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