- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009


Coming soon to a TV near you - President Obama. He is addressing a joint session of Congress, speaking to the United Nations, and he’s on five Sunday political talk shows (all except for Fox).

And yes, that is Mr. Obama on the “Late Show With David Letterman.” The president even finds time to go to Copenhagen to beg the International Olympic Committee to bring the Olympics to Chicago in 2016, where he presumably will suit up for the U.S. basketball team.

Mr. Obama loves the pageantry of the presidency. If speeches and public appearances were all that were required to be a great president, Mr. Obama would already have secured the title. He makes people laugh. He gives a great speech. However, his ratings continue to fall. That’s because there’s more to the presidency than wowing a late-night audience.

What is Mr. Obama not doing very well?

First, he’s not paying attention to substance. His administration continues to turn out thousand-page bills that will have profound consequences for the United States - his stimulus bill, health care bill and proposed cap-and-trade environmental legislation.

Does the president understand what he is proposing? Has he really studied and analyzed the impact of these huge bills?

He left the drafting of the stimulus bill to Congress. His town-hall appearances suggest he doesn’t understand his health care proposals. His administration seems to be auditing congressional deliberations rather than impacting them. Does he want the public option? What taxes does he support to pay for his plan? No one knows. Maybe it’s because the president doesn’t know.

Second, he’s not really working with Congress. Presidents who want to affect real change take time to “lobby” (oops, that’s a dirty word) individual members. They meet with members, talk to them on the phone, and try to convince them of the wisdom of their policies. How many rank-and-file members of Congress does he really talk to? How many Republicans has he actually asked for support? The answer is probably few. Lobbying individual members is hard work and is a lot less fun than the bright lights of the TV studio and adoring crowds on the stump, but it’s essential to a successful presidency.

Third, he’s not managing his own administration very well. Mr. Obama set a one-year deadline to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but is nowhere close to achieving that objective because he hasn’t done the hard work necessary to achieve consensus. He says he wants to “move on” and then watches his own attorney general announce an investigation of the Bush administration’s policies on terror suspects.

After several false starts, his proposals regarding overall regulation of banks and the financial sector - arguably the most important prerequisite to renewed economic confidence - continue to languish. He calls Afghanistan the “central front” in the war on terror, then dithers even as his own generals request more troops to fight the war.

The irony for liberals is that Mr. Obama is everything they accused Ronald Reagan of being - detached, not engaged in substance and programmed by others. But he does give a great speech.

Mr. Obama’s penchant for good media coverage will not protect him forever. By the next election, Americans will pry open the presidential curtain to see who is really behind it.

Frank Donatelli is chairman of GOPAC, the Republican Party’s training and education political action committee.

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