Things Have Changed, And Not For The Better

Peggy Noonan has a nice — and thought-provoking — piece in today’s on-line Wall Street Journal about Harry Truman after his presidency ended entitled “Politics in the Modest Age.”  I urge you to read it, but the basic thrust is this:  Truman didn’t cash in.

He had been president for almost eight years, had brought World War II to a close, and had presided over the Marshall Plan; he had issued executive orders, launched into the Korean War, and guided the federal government during the first crises of the Cold War.  He was an ordinary man who had been a fine President, and after his term ended he tried to go back to an ordinary life.  He returned to Missouri and lived with his beloved wife, Bess, highly conscious of not being perceived as trading on his office or his service to the nation.

Contrast Truman’s humble approach 60 years ago to the prevailing approach today, where ex-President and ex-Senators and ex-Cabinet members make millions by giving hour-long speeches, serving on boards, and writing biographies that receive huge advances.  The culture of cash goes deep: just yesterday Politico reported that Jay Carney, President Obama’s former press secretary, received a “signing bonus” to join a speakers bureau where he could earn up to $100,000 per speech; he’s entertaining job offers and has hired a Washington, D.C. “super lawyer” to negotiate any deals.  What does it tell you when even the President’s flack can leave office and be showered with money?

We could use more Harry Trumans and less money-grubbers in Washington, D.C.

The Competence Question

Peggy Noonan’s column today argues that the oil spill disaster raises serious questions about the Obama Administration’s assumed competence.  I’m not sure that I agree with the notion that people are concluding that the President and his team are incompetent, but I do think the implicit message of the oil spill and its aftermath undercuts the notion that the federal government can be trusted to handle everything.  Even if you assume that the President and his team were “fully engaged” and “totally focused” on the spill since “day one,” you still have to question the cumbersomeness, delay, and miscommunication that seems to necessarily accompany the involvement of the federal government in this kind of incident.  Why did it take so long to unleash the booms?  Where are the people and materials employed to try to keep oil out of the marshes and wetlands?

A quick tour by the Prez and an examination of a tar ball or two doesn’t address the issue of why the federal response has been so painfully slow.

Fresh Or Feeble?

Peggy Noonan usually offers interesting observations about politics and the national mood.  Her most recent column is about President Obama’s decision to appoint a bipartisan budget commission and about the national mood on spending.  In brief, she believes that the appointment of the commission may be viewed as a fresh approach that is helpful to the President and that there is a deep concern in the country about runaway government spending and the resulting massive budget deficits and mounting national debt.

I agree with Noonan on the latter point, but not the former.  I think people are extraordinarily worried about the direction of the country and the obvious inability of our elected representatives, from the President on down, to act responsibly and courageously when it comes to spending.  We are seeing no signs that Congress and the President really share our concern — as opposed to mouthing the standard platitudes — and will do something about it.  That is why I disagree with Noonan on the former point.  I think most people will view the bipartisan commission as a feeble dodge, a way for the President to pass the buck on his budgeting responsibilities.  The reality is that we do not need another commission to hold hearings and eventually author a long report that no one will read.  Instead, we need elected representatives who actually do their jobs, make tough choices, and take the political heat that results because they know as a country we have no other choice.  In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie has done exactly that, in an effort to bring New Jersey’s budget woes under control.  No one in Washington has stepped up in similar fashion.

This is a big part of the reason why I think President Obama is falling so dramatically in the polls.  Many of the people who voted for the President had faith in his ability to do things differently and to make a real, meaningful change in how our country and our political systems operate.  So far, he has not delivered.  Appointing another “bipartisan commission” of former politicians and Washington insiders doesn’t seem like any change at all, much less anything meaningful.  I think the President risks losing the faith of most of the people who voted for him, and once faith is gone it is hard to regain.