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Smoothness Lies in the Eyes of the Beholder

January 10, 2009

This Politico story points out how the media has been collecting a pile of “first mistakes” committed by the Obama transition team since November 4:

On Nov. 7 — just three days after the election — Los Angeles’ KNBC said Obama’s flubbed joke about Nancy Reagan and séances was his “first misstep.”

On Nov. 14, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote a Huffington Post piece on Obama’s economic advisory team titled “President-Elect Obama’s First Big Mistake.”

And on Nov. 19, Michael Goodwin of the New York Daily News said Obama’s secretary of state dealings with Hillary Clinton might just have been “his first big mistake.”

Add the Blago mess, the Eric Holder pick, Rich Warren for the inauguration and Bill Richardson’s surprise shove under the Obama bus and it’s easy to see why the tale of the “smooth transition” has changed into the “first mistake” series.  But why is everyone so willing to forget past missteps of Obama’s team and seems surprised at every new mistake, calling it the first one each time?

Of course the theory mentioned in the Politico story could be part of the explanation: a first blunder is so much more exciting than a second or a third. Or maybe not. For some reason the French Cowboy can’t imagine that some second mistake committed by Sarah Palin would be called less exciting than a first one to the extend that mainstream media would press the amnesia button and call this second mistake Palin’s first. Ditto for everything beyond the second. So it appears to me that everything concerning M Obama is interpreted in the best possible way, meaning in the way that favours him most.

There also seems to be some parallel to the appraisal of Obama’s presidential campaign. “No big mistakes were made.”, is what you hear from pretty much every commentator. That may well be, but it also depends on the definition of “big”. Given that Obama rose to a quasi-divine status during the campaign, what sort of mistake would he have had to make in order for it to be called “big”? It is almost trivial to say that the guy who won the election and is highly popular has made no major mistakes during his campaign. This is especially the case when said guy is extremely talented in decision avoidance tactics.

Which brings me to the next point: during his presidential campaign M Obama stood out as being on both sides of all the important issues. The one memorial instance when he took a firm stand during his campaign was when Obama announced that he would meet with leaders of hostile nations without preconditions. He tried to revise the meaning of what he has said ever since without wanting to admit that he has said something pretty foolish. Otherwise Obama’s message was pretty much reduced to Hope and Change with everybody free to make of those two words what they wished.

This strategy has worked well. People from both sides of the political spectrum believed Obama to embrace their respective policy wishes. When Obama said something pretty right-wingish or appeared not as fervently leftish as the left would have hoped, they forgave him explaining that he has to say such and such things or to appear so and so moderate in order to get the presidency during which he will rule as the true lefty he is.

A similar notion was expressed by the odd creatures that call themselves conservative but at one point publicly endorsed M Obama. Their argumentation as to why they chose to go for the other party’s candidate was, in every case known to the French Cowboy, more or less on the lines of “Well, he does stand for policies totally contradictory to my worldview, but I somehow feel so good about him and I just hope that he will adopt policies more to my liking once he is in office.” With admirers like this it is no surprise when people say that you have made “no big mistakes.”

The biggest mistake M Obama can make in his situation is to actually take a stand on controversial issues and smash too many people’s bubbles. And he seems to be keenly aware of this. His economic “stimulus” package apart, there seems to be no issue Obama or his surrogates want to talk about. From the Gaza conflict to the Burris’ Senate seat, all we get to hear is that the President-elect is “monitoring the situation.” If Obama had gotten elected CIC as in “Contemplator-in-Chief” the French Cowboy wouldn’t worry.

It is no wonder that those who have projected their own ideas of what “hope and change” stand for on Obama are also convinced that Obama can do no wrong. Of course this means for them that his campaign was basically flawless (how else could he have won) and that his transition will be flawless as well, as will his presidency.

But Obama has already been forced to make some decisions and such always spawn critics. Also, the self-important members of the political class, with whom Obama has to deal now more directly, are not as forgiving as a fawning media or gullible voters. With each definite decision Obama makes on his way to the inauguration some feathers get ruffled. And those to whom those feathers belong will see to it that “mistakes” will not be forgiven so fast that a little later no one even remembers that any mistakes have been made.

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