Controlling the Agenda - What Obama Can and Cannot Do

One of the political truisms is that a lot will happen between now and November – for some the president will claim credit; for others it will be excuses and “there are no silver bullets”. Some he can affect; others he cannot – in the short term.

First, some that he can affect:

– Rile up the women’s vote. Give everybody “free” birth control and morning after pills. Paint it as a “women’s health” issue as we move from “choice” to “entitlement”.  Maybe some conservative broadcaster will blow the issue up. Maybe one of the Republican candidates will lock in on the immorality of contraception. Well done.

– Rile up the Hispanic vote. Sue those racists in Texas for requiring voter identifications. It’s OK that several states, including Connecticut, have similar laws and that the Supreme Court has said that they were legitimate. That’s not the point – the Republicans need 40% of the Hispanic vote. Well done.

And those that he cannot – at least in the short run – for they are a result of several years of policies and actions or inactions:

– Energy inflation – at the moment in the form of gas prices, but more broadly. Could he have allowed energy development on federal lands, in Alaska, off the coasts (including more in the Gulf)? Sure. Could he have shown some American leadership in the oil producing regions of the world? Sure. Could he have been a champion of North American energy independence with the highly symbolic Keystone Pipeline? Sure. Could he have forced a solution to the problem of nuclear waste disposal which serves as a block to new construction? Sure. Could he get a short term benefit by releasing the strategic oil reserve? Probably will. Could he get his energy secretary to stop saying that he favors “European level” gas prices? We’ll see.

– The Arab Spring – the missed opportunity to help shape and support a new political order from North Africa through the Middle East. These countries would not be liberal democracies, but it would seem that we have not tried to help pro-Western elements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, or Syria. Whether help to the Iranian dissidents in 2009 would have made a difference is questionable, but we did nothing. If Egypt blows up it is their problem – and Israel’s and Obama’s.

– Afghanistan – Obama’s “good war”, as opposed to Bush’s “bad war” in Iraq. We’ve liquidated our position in Iraq and the American public doesn’t much care what happens – except as it affects gas prices. But Afghanistan – where Obama dithered for 6 months before deciding to “surge” our troop levels by 50% (while announcing a withdrawal date), and dithered again before deciding on a “handover” plan extending to 2014, and now under question.  Atrocities are inevitable in a war zone and feed the storyline of the Taliban – against the tens of thousands who are at risk if we leave precipitously. There is no good military or domestic political answer. To the rear … ‘harch.

Whatever “new news” comes up in the next several months, it is hard to see how this administration has laid the groundwork for a good outcome (except for claiming credit for the business cycle.) Hopefully the American voters will understand that longer term inept policies have led to the lack of silver bullets today.


Here’s the administration’s spokesman denying that there is a plan to release oil from the Strategic Oil Reserves which are intended for legitimate emergencies. When Jay Carney replaced Robert Gibbs in January 2011, the president deliberately chose somebody who was not in the inner circle and could speak untruth to the pliant media with the excuse that he just didn’t know what was going on. In a more positive vein, I wonder when Romney and Santorum will recognize the benefit of having a designated high profile spokesman to help run interference.

bill bowen – 3/16/12

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