(NNPA)—I couldn’t believe the headlines in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times which asked whether President Obama had responsibility for the oil spill on the Louisiana-Mississippi coastline.
Of course, as president, he has a responsibility to see that it is cleaned up, first by the resources of BP, the company that made the mess, but ultimately by the U.S. government.
But at this stage of the crisis, the article felt decidedly like there was some culpability of Obama for not having had his Minerals Management Service regulate oil drilling more vigorously. This doesn’t wash, because it’s like blaming the Obama administration for not being able to see into the future, but it is consistent with the way in which he has been viewed increasingly.
The Obama administration has increasingly found it difficult to claim that it inherited a mammoth set of problems that they have tried to fix by applying federal resources to them. That is the issue about oil drilling. Remember the Republican mantra, “drill, baby, drill” and oil executives being secretly shifted into the White House to help vice president Cheney set energy policy?
This was especially evident in the attempt to characterize the recent elections as a referendum on the Obama administration, but it was thwarted because the Republicans failed to nationalize the election sufficiently, so that it turned out to be a referendum on the Tea Party instead. Nevertheless, Obama was referred to nearly as a pariah, someone whom candidates should have been reluctant to campaign with because of the faulty view that the Health Care Act was unpopular with the American people. Strikingly, in this way, they made an incorrect parallel to similar feelings many Republican candidates had toward George Bush in the last year of his administration.
But, it was not realistic for Democrats to respond to the pariah painting of Obama when he has passed historic legislation with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress that will benefit millions of people. What happened is that the media overplayed the Tea Party phenomenon, blowing up the anti-Obama sentiments of a relatively small segment of the electorate and proposing that Obama’s association with Democratic candidates would have a negative effect. In a May 23rd article, the dean of political journalists, David Broder of The Washington Post, characterized the Obama administration this way: “…the fundamental tension in the political system is becoming clear. A liberal government is struggling to impose its agenda on an electorate increasingly responsive to an activist conservative movement operating inside the Republican party.”
He should know better. Maybe he does.
The problem with being president of the United States is that ultimately the big problems will land in your lap. And so, whether or not Obama inherited a horrendous set of problems, they eventually will become his the longer they go unresolved. The difficulty here is trying to determine whether this happens naturally or whether people are placing things in his lap in a blame circus designed to complicate his governance and eventually bring him down. The degree of the Obama blame game is indeed withering, almost everything is found to have been related to some fault of the manner in which it was handled by his administration.
One of the most amazing things is the references—by people who should know better—to Obama as almost a singular decision maker who is inexperienced and mistake prone, ignoring the fact that he deliberately brought into his own close company in the White House and into cabinet agencies experienced people who have a major role in running the government.
What the Obama administration must now know as a result of the fight over health care is that it is not enough to do something good for the American people and have it speak for itself. Why the Republican minority has been able, time and again, to define the actions of the administration is not a puzzle, the Obama administration—and the Democratic Party in general—is horrible at message discipline. Republicans all sing from the same hymn book while Democrats are all over the map and even supporters are often left confused about what the various spokespersons are attempting to communicate and how what they say attacks their opponents successfully.
Democrats have to get better at message competition because I don’t expect the blame game to let up any time soon.
(Dr. Ron Walters is a political analysts and professor emeritus at the University of Maryland College Park.)