Stuck In The Middle With You

John Heilemann has a cover story in the current issue of NY Magazine titled Obama Lost, Obama Found in which he details the challenges and opportunities facing the President. I took the time to read it last night, on the eve of the President's trip up to my birthplace and childhood home at West Point.

The President is going to irritate most everyone with his Afghanistan policy. The liberals want us out asap and a big troop increase is going be yet another sign that he's not one of their own. The conservatives will hate his emphasis on an exit strategy. And even if they approve of this decision, they'd never support him on anything and never will. 

Heilemann points out that Obama's approval rating is now sub 50 percent and even more worrisome for him and his team is that his "job disapproval" rating is in the mid 40s, higher than any president at this stage other than Bill Clinton.

His support of Bush's economic policies on the meltdown (ie the splurge) were pro-business and placed him as a friend of the banks and wall street and an enemy of the man on the street. His push to get healthcare reform done early in his presidency has also eroded much of his political capital. And now with his decision to re-invest in the war in Afghanistan, he is facing another political hit.

I've got many liberal friends who are at their wits end with Obama and think he's completely blown it, that he is spending too much time negotiating/pandering to the right with nothing to show for it. And I've got plenty of conservative friends who are saying "I told you so". I can't think of too many friends who are happy with the choices Obama has made.

But I'm having a hard time arguing with any of the decisions he's made to date. He is a pragmatist and anti-partisan who seems to me to be doing a pretty good job of playing a pretty bad hand.

His decision to support and expand the splurge are distasteful on many levels, but we have restored the markets confidence and the financial system is functioning. It could have been so much worse.

His decision to focus on getting a healthcare plan passed that covers almost everyone early in his Presidency is borderline political suicide as Clinton showed. But if not now, when? The US is the wealthiest country in the world and it is just not right that we can't find a way to offer basic healthcare to our citizens.

His decision to support and expand the war in Afghanistan is the hardest of his decisions to date for me to support. The US-installed government in Kabul is corrupt and hated by its own citizens. Propping up a government like that has never worked long term and I can't imagine it will work now. But Afghanistan is a strange place where loyalties shift daily and troops fight for the Taliban one day and the Northern Alliance the next. I want to hear the President out on this one before I come to any conclusions. We'll get that chance tonight.

I believe Obama is suffering from governing from the "far center" and pleasing nobody in the process. My favorite quote in the Heilemann piece is from Alex Castellanos, a republican media consultant:

He’s stuck, and it’s kind of ironic. Obama has
tried so hard not to be George Bush and Bill Clinton, and yet he is
becoming exactly that. The guy who ran against ideological division has
brought it back with such a vengeance that he’s lost the middle, but
not sufficiently to make his base happy. He’s got no friends.