The Lost Narrative

Edward Luce of the Financial Times has a video interview with John Podesta, the former Chief of Staff in the Clinton Administration and founder of the DC think tank Center for American Progress who also served as the transition chief for the Obama White House, that is a must listen out this morning. It is the second time in a week that Podesta has taken to the FT to make a cogent, fair and stinging rebuke of the Obama White House.

In the written commentary that accompanies the video interview, Podesta is quoted as saying that the White House has "lost the narrative." Podesta goes on to argue that the White House needs to make more and better use of an All-Star Cabinet in order to regain it. The interview covers three main topics: the current difficult moment for the Obama White House, the prospects for passing a health care reform bill and the deepening crisis in American politics.

Since October, I have been asking one question: where's the vision? Where does Barack Obama want to take the country? While the President has had moments of brilliance such as his recent question time session with the House Republican caucus, these moments have been few and far between. In between these rarified appearances by the President, we have seen the political debate increasingly framed by the GOP in and out of government. Rather being seen as setting the agenda, the Administration is now largely seen as being on the defensive responding not just to Rep. John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell but also to Sarah Palin and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

On the healthcare reform package, Podesta offered this assessment:

First, try to enact the whole thing by using the budget reconciliation process, which would enable it to pass with 51 votes. The Democrats lost their controlling 60-seat super-majority last month in a election defeat in Massachusetts.

The second would be to pass a watered down bill with Republican support. The third would be to abandon the attempt, as Mr Clinton did in 1993.

Podesta also painted a fairly bleak view of the overall health of US politics. “It sucks,” he noted point blankly. Highlighting the strategy of obstructionism über alles by Republican lawmakers, he said: “I think the president is trying to re-engage with Republicans, but, quite frankly, he’s not dealing with the party of [Abraham] Lincoln. He’s dealing with the party of [Sarah] Palin.” And the result has been an increasingly despondent base of the Democratic party as well as a frustrated country overall.

Tags: John Podesta, Obama Administration (all tags)




I don't really get how Obama is going to make that happen.

Yes, there is Clinton, but at SoS, its a positon that must avoid partisan politics. Stick in a Howard Dean, a Bill Richardson, a Wesley Clark, or a Brian Schwietzer, and I'd be listening to a star.

Other than Clinton, and having lost Daschle, who is the "star" that's referred to?

Send out whom?

There's no one there that I've seen has the ability to handle this environment. Yea, we don't see them, and that could be the point, but look at the few examples of when we have, Geithner, Sebelius, Napalitano, and its not very good.

by Jerome Armstrong 2010-02-16 12:51PM | 0 recs
RE: who?

Oh, I disagree. I think Gates is underused. Same for Steven Chu, LaHood, Locke. They have locked up Austan Goolsbee who granted isn't Cabinet level but in the first few months of the Administration, he articulated the most cogent arguments for the fiscal stimulus. Austan is a phenom (he was a national debate champion at Milton Academy and at Yale) and yet when was the last time he was used to deliver a message? My guess is May.

It's not just about having them spout talking points, but putting them in staged opportunities so that they can shine.

Say what you will about the Bush White House, but they understood the marketing power of the Presidency. They used the bully pulpit well. Their stagecraft was well managed and delivered. 

One has to sell ideas. This Administration does have a vision but I'd be damned if I could articulate it easily. The best I can say is that "they are not Bush" but that's a negation, not a positioning.

by Charles Lemos 2010-02-16 01:07PM | 1 recs
Politics versus policy

This is put up or shut up time. Is Obama more concerned with changing the tone in Washington and maintaining his image or actual seeing some changes in government and governing? I think this bipartisan image schtick has run its course (not that it had any use at all) and ended in near disaster for the Democratic party. So does this President have it in him to go it alone and make his stand? Only time will tell. Right now, as Podesta points out, the political outlook for Democrats is very very bleak.

by tarheel74 2010-02-16 01:02PM | 3 recs
I agree

Enough with the bipartisanship.  Enough with coddling the ConDems.  Sometimes, you have to quit offering carrots and start using the stick.

by TheUnknown285 2010-02-16 01:20PM | 0 recs
American politics sucks?

I don't agree. For American politics to really suck, you'd have to have rank and file members of the Party in Power joining together with fringe elements of the Party out of power to constantly vilify and attack the President and all other elected officials of the Party in Power.

That's would be real sucky.

by QTG 2010-02-16 01:59PM | 0 recs
It's becoming difficult

to see how having a Democratically-controlled Congress makes any difference at all.  Now the Repubs are blocking financial reforms.  This should be the deathknell for the Republican party, but instead it's just another day in Washington with no sense that things are moving at all.  Even this is beginning to look like the Democrats' fault. 

At some point you begin to wonder what the Dems actually have in mind.  Were they ever serious about passing Healthcare Reform?  A jobs bill?  Financial reform?  What's their agenda?  Does anyone know?


by the mollusk 2010-02-16 02:29PM | 2 recs
What's their agenda? Does anyone know?

I know! I know!

It's "Kill the Bill!"

yup. zackly.

by QTG 2010-02-16 06:57PM | 0 recs
They need some people from the private sector

Given that the country's #1 challenge is job creation, it seemed strange that right from the start, Obama had no high profile business leaders in the cabinet. As someone with no managerial or executive experience, it's not surprising that he has no strong CEO's on his team; but it's an obvious void. The chosen few came from either academia, Wall Street, or....where else? Government.

A John Chambers from Cisco, a Dan Damico from Nucor....people like this could have played an important role in ensuring that our recovery created jobs. Beyond that, Obama needs someone like Leon Panetta to come in and run the show if he wants his Presidency to survive. Nobody can argue with the impact Panetta had in saving Clinton's Presidency.

That said, Clinton relished a good fight, even thrived on it. Obama seems to cower and shrink from fighting, a trait which may end up being his fatal flaw.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-02-17 01:13AM | 0 recs
Misapplication of Daley/Chicago style media management?

In Chicago mayor Daley does not allow any of his department heads to speak to the media without direct permission. When one is running a government in an authoritarian style then it makes sense to manage media contact very tightly.

But Obama's grip on the presidency and control of congress in no way matches Daley's grip on the mayor's job nor his control of the city council. Obama needs a robust media presence whereas Daley cannot survive one.

by Jeff Wegerson 2010-02-17 10:44AM | 0 recs


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