Does the Obama Campaign Foreshadow His Presidency?
Now, skill at crisis management is not the only quality we need in a president. After seven-plus years of George Bush and two terms of Bill Clinton, many voters are concerned about honesty and openness. The buzz word is "transparency." For better or worse, this usually means affording the media access to complete and truthful information. But once again the Obama camp seems allergic to this prescription for presidential success.
When the Tony Rezko matter broke into national view, Obama made a brief media appearance, but quickly became peeved after a whole eight questions. When reporters probed his views on Hamas, he pleaded to be left alone so he could just eat his darn waffle. After McCain released his entire medical history, Obama provided only a skimpy one-page letter from his doctor. And, of course, Obama does not regularly do press "avails" or open media calls as his opponent John McCain does.
In short, Obama's standard operating procedure has been one of evasion, seclusion, and unwillingness to put himself or potentially harmful information out for full inspection by the media -- no matter how friendly and helpful they have been during his primary race.
If openness and transparency are ongoing concerns for voters, the conduct of the Obama campaign -- up to now at least -- suggests that an Obama presidency won't have much of either.
Still, there are other qualities in a president. For example, it is generally a good idea for the president to be able to stand up to criticism and avoid the common trap of believing they are under siege from hostile forces. That just causes them to batten down the hatches and recede into their own close-knit group of advisors, right?
But there again, we see that Obama's conduct during the campaign suggests that he has the thinnest of skins. He frequently has demonstrated that he does not appreciate being on the receiving end of any criticism. Any examination of his record or reminder of his own inconvenient words from the opposing camp has been termed a "smear" or a "distraction" or "the politics of division." His record, his own words, his policy positions, his associations -- all are deemed inappropriate topics for the campaign.
Likewise, when debate moderators had the temerity to ask tougher-than-usual questions about his past associations, he whined:
So the problem that we have in our politics, which is fairly typical, is that you take one person's statement, if it's not properly phrased, and you just beat it to death.
And when they persisted he complained:
And, you know, the notion that somehow that the American people are going to be distracted once again by comments not made by me, but somebody who is associated with me that I have disowned, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit.
Finally, the ability to select key advisors, vet them effectively, and not allow your message and policy plans to be disrupted by personnel landmines is critical, as more than one president has learned. But of course Obama's past problem with assessing those around him -- Tony Rezko and Jeremiah Wright, most clearly -- is apparently a systemic problem. The James Johnson fiasco personified all the worst personnel mistakes one can make: not checking references, not listening to early warning signs of trouble, defending your choice with incredible and unbelievable arguments -- e.g., no vetting was needed for a discreet job; he wasn't "working" for Obama -- and belatedly firing the appointee after days of bad press. This hardly suggests finesse or good judgment in executive management.
So if we take Obama's fans at their word and use the campaign to assess the Democratic nominee, we should consider the full picture. Granted, Obama won the nomination and ran a campaign less dysfunctional than Clinton did. Yet that certainly is setting the bar awfully low. (And does he get any demerits for losing the second half of the race and wheezing across the finish line?)
However, it seems we should also be wary of some troubling signs emanating from the Obama campaign: a propensity to avoid problems, a lack of candor with the media, an unwarranted defensiveness about any criticism and inept personnel decision-making. Those qualities severely damaged more than one presidency. And in the absence of any real national record, it is virtually all we have at our disposal on which to judge Obama.