Obama Watch: Day 17 – The Missing Mojo

By Bob Burnett
Monday November 22, 2010 - 03:05:00 PM

The Left Coast is on high alert, waiting for someone to find President Obama’s mojo. It had been missing for most of the year, but no one in the Administration thought it was a problem until the November 2nd shellacking. Now Dems are holding their breath, praying for Barack Obama to get his act together. 

Responsibility for the overwhelming defeat in the mid-term elections falls squarely on the shoulders of Obama, the Party leader. Democrats lost the message battle, and as a result, lost the money war and voter turnout campaign. 

Interviewed just after the election for 60 Minutes , the President acknowledged that his message hadn’t worked: “The hardest argument to make in politics is: things would have been a lot worse if we hadn't done all those taken all these steps…” But he didn’t suggest an alternative message. 

Obama understands he has a problem but he doesn’t seem to know what to do about it. Indeed, immediately after the election he left the country for an extended period without addressing the major issues revealed by the November 2nd debacle: the lack of a coherent Democratic message about jobs, the absence of a coordinated national campaign, the failure of senior Democratic leadership, and the seeming lack of passion on the part of the White House. 

Somewhere over the last two years, the President has neglected two principles that every successful CEO must follow: there can only be one number one priority and it’s not sufficient to work hard, you have to be seen as effective. 

After the mid-term election, many pundits suggested that where Obama went wrong – where he got off track and led the Democratic Party over the cliff – was healthcare reform. The widely-share opinion was that the Administration should have focused on jobs and the economy, rather than healthcare. Nonetheless, the obvious rejoinder is that corporate healthcare costs have been a drag on the economy, and healthcare reform should spur employment. 

Obama’s fundamental problem has been that his priorities aren’t clear. The language of his Administration suggests a cocky attitude: we’re smart folks, who can do everything: fix the economy, fight two wars, abate global climate change, and attend to all the other problems. But that’s an absurd stance. There’s too much going on to tackle all problems simultaneously. Unfortunately, the White House, with their nose to the grindstone and their shoulder to the wheel, can’t see that. 

The President needs to step back, take a deep breath, and declare that his number one priority is resolving the jobs crisis. 

Because Republicans are sheep and therefore easily herded in the same direction, by attack dogs such as Karl Rove, they show remarkable discipline. Typically they have a daily message. The White House needs to emulate this. 

The President’s daily message should be about jobs. “This is what we are doing today to help employment.” “Here’s an example of how our stimulus package saved or created jobs.” “Reducing taxes for the wealthy won’t create jobs; to the contrary it will have the following deleterious affects on the economy…” 

At the moment, there’s confusion about the agenda for the “lame duck” session of Congress. Obama should gather Congressional leaders and say: “My number one priority is creating jobs. Here are the items I want you to work one in order to create jobs.” 

Every day that passes without clear direction from President Obama contributes to the impression that he’s lost his mojo. That the self-confidence and seeming clarity of purpose of his campaign has disappeared. That he’s floundering, buffeted by a series of powerful political winds. That his decisions are guided by arcane political calculations rather than reference to a moral compass. 

As a consequence, the punditocracy has turned against Obama. First, we saw Op-eds predicting Dems were headed for disaster in the mid-term elections. Next came opinion pieces analyzing what went wrong with the Democratic national campaign – most blaming the White House. Now we’re seeing columns suggesting that the Democratic base is angry with Obama. Next will be pseudo-psychoanalytic Op-eds suggesting that the President has a character deficiency that impairs his leadership. How many weeks will pass before pundits prophesy a Democratic insurgency that will run candidates, such as Mayor Bloomberg or Secretary Clinton, against Obama in 2012? 

Obama’s situation isn’t necessarily terminal. He can remedy it by finding his mojo. But he can’t delay. 

Clearly Republicans smell blood. Like a pack of wolves, GOP operatives are circling the White House, lashing out at the Obama Administration, trying to sink their long teeth into the President and bring him down. 

The only way for Barack Obama to avoid what, at the moment, seems like a dreadful season of bloodletting is for him to begin acting like the leader all of us believed him to be when we voted for him in 2008. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at