Podesta back again to save a sinking second term
President Obama hired a counselor this week. By the looks of the White House dysfunction of late, he needed it. A little time on the couch could be a good thing, because maybe then this president could explain how things got so woefully off track.
Obama hired John Podesta, a former chief of staff of President Bill Clinton. The move is needed because of the Administration’s handling of the rollout of the Affordable Health Care act this fall, a truly bumbling effort that made all the Grand Old Party’s laments against the government’s ability to do anything well seem prophetic.
Podesta’s one-year assignment will be to help Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, on “issues related to healthcare law, executive orders and climate change,” according to the White House.
Podesta’s experience may prove invaluable. It won’t be the first time he stepped in to help an Administration circling the White House drain. Podesta joined Clinton in 1998, advising the tempestuous president during his final beleaguered three years in office. You might recall a nasty little problem with a young intern that led to a historic vote for impeachment. That’s what Podesta dealt with the last time he advised a president.
Though Obama’s administration has mostly avoided an incessant conservative witch-hunt for anything hinting of a scandal, the similarities between his and Clinton’s second terms are head-scratching precisely because Obama’s laser-like focus centered on avoiding this exact quicksand. He pointed it out. He said, see that quicksand over there, the one that ensnared every second-term president lately, that’s the one I’m going to avoid. Then he promptly swan-dived right into the center of it.
According to recent polls, Obama’s approval ratings are at an all-time low. Most troubling, the next generation of voters that Obama enticed into politics as his most enthusiastic followers are more disheartened than ever, according to polls. The dead-on-arrival Republican Party — if they are smart, which … well you’ve seen their strategies these past few years… — should have recruitment tents on every college campus in America right now. It’s like a rom-com flick where the broken-hearted gal ends up with the good-guy friend she didn’t notice until the golden boy flamed out. Obama flamed out, and there is the argyle-clad GOP waiting to be loved.
So how did this Administration get so hopelessly off track? How did a President who often seemed like the only grown-up in a city full of childish lawmakers doing little more than pointing fingers and whining about others end up on a the proverbial shrink’s couch in Podesta’s office? In a word: Obamacare. Nothing else matters because nothing else has so stained this Administration.
Take away Obamacare and you have a second-term president who led the country out of a global recession, who saved the auto industry, who killed Osama Bin Laden, who built a coalition strong enough to force Syria to give up chemical weapons and bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapon program. We don’t even talk anymore about how in 2008 our addiction to foreign oil was so bad we needed a 12-step program. Now… well, when was the last time you heard the words “peak oil?”
We’re talking about epic achievements to right a world that wobbled on its very axis because of global economic calamity, global warming and global war. And yet the president’s approval rating hovers at a very Bush-like 38 percent. Obamacare outshines every other thing about this Administration. It’s Obama’s blue dress.
Obama has no one to blame but himself. He knew the stakes. When he embraced the derogatory name of his signature achievement — the Affordable Health Care Act– and actually started calling it Obamacare, he did so with pride, confident that when the act was fully implemented it would stand alongside Social Security and Medicare, a cornerstone achievement, one future generations of Americans would defend at all cost. When something is named after you, you’d better be proud of it.
Obama knew the stakes. He answered perfectly when asked what he would do to change American opinion about Obamacare.
We will implement it,” he said.
Only then he completely botched the implementation.
The president knew the stakes. He knew he’d been outgunned on the PR spin about the Affordable Health Care act from the start. He knew his only shot was to get it out there and let people see how it worked. Most importantly he believed that the launch itself, the actual benefit of having affordable health care bought from a competitive marketplace that kept costs down would win the day in the end. He wasn’t wrong.
But how, knowing all that was on the line, did the president allow such a botched roll out under his watch? It’s suddenly the only question that matters, the one that causes everything else this president has accomplished to be tarnished.
When Podesta became Clinton’s chief of staff his job, one official said at the time, was to save Clinton from himself. Now he to save has another president who appears to be his own worst enemy at the worst possible time.