Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do We Care Whether Fineman's Establishment is Mumbling that the President May Not Have What it Takes? Not I!

Newsweek's Howard Fineman penned an article on March 10, 2009, entitled "A Turning Tide?" on the newsmagazine's webpage whose sub-title read: "Obama still has the approval of the people, but the establishment is beginning to mumble that the president may not have what it takes." The article may be found at I found the article rather lame but, then, I am not a particular fan of Howard Fineman.

My critical email response to Mr. Fineman follows:

Dear Howard,

By way of introduction, I’m a 66 year old Brooklyn-born Californian, Princeton educated political scientist turned attorney whose love of politics remains strong, Hillary Clinton supporter who voted for Obama, and a blogger at I remember you as a young pup on “Washington Week in Review” but I admittedly found the program most stimulating during the Peter Lisagor era.

Your March 10, 2009 column, “A Turning Tide?”, was most distressing not because of your assertion that the so-called Establishment, as you define it, has begun to question Obama’s mettle but because you essentially merely repeat the criticisms, which you yourself describe as contradictory, rather than address whether or not they make any sense.

Yes, Obama is seeking to govern from the center. That surely is no surprise to anyone who followed his campaign, which you did. Given his attempt to straddle the center, it is also not surprising that almost no one is quite content with him since the political center is notoriously not the home of ideologues who tend to mass toward the right and left of the spectrum.

So, some want him to spend much more to stimulate the economy, such as Paul Krugman. Others want him to nationalize certain big banks or even eliminate them, such as Alan Greenspan and Senator Shelby. Still others purport to believe that the marketplace provides the solution to our economic woes and therefore advocate no further government support for General Motors or Citigroup, such as John McCain. But should we really care what your Establishment folks think at this juncture?

What seems very clear to many of us is not only that no one has a monopoly of wisdom in the present situation, not even your friends at MsNBC, Olbermann and Matthews, but that few seem even to know what they are talking about. There is much unchartered territory here and the three sides to your Establishment have proven themselves inept in terms of effectively governing this country and leading it in a positive direction or even, in the case of the media, constructively and knowledgeably commenting upon events.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as if America has an alternative elite standing in the wings ready to try its hand at the levers of power. Surely the Republicans don’t meet that standard. I for one would like to fire all the bank executives and mortgage leaders who led us into this debacle. But who is left to lead? Their subordinates who were often equally culpable and who probably drew up the blueprints for the bank CEOs? Legislators who permitted the sub-prime disaster to occur despite the nation’s prior experience with the savings and loan debacle? Indeed, Geithner, claimed by the Administration as a “must have” when he was drowning in his tax misconduct, was surely very much part of the problem so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he has provided no leadership to date.

I’m distressed by some aspects of Obama’s leadership, most notably his penchant to leave to the Congressional Democrats responsibility to design the specifics of his major legislation. I recall during the campaign when Obama praised Reagan as a transformational president, a view that left me, a Hillary supporter, cold, but in addition he also seemed to hold Reagan up as a model for his own leadership style when he praise Reagan for providing the grand designs and leaving to others the task of filling in the details. If Pelosi and Reid are left to fill in the details, Obama’s presidency will not succeed. But the notion that the Establishment is able to determine that Obama lacks what it takes to be a successful president after the first 50 days of his presidency would be laughable were it not dangerous, given the influence some in your Establishment still wield over the body politic.

While I expect you will claim that you were merely reporting the mood of the Establishment in your commentary, you can and must do much better. I don’t ask that you become a partisan. Leave that to your appearances on MsNBC, such as they are. But step forward and analyze what you report, in this case the vacuous thinking of those to whom you attribute the notion that Obama lacks what it takes. I don’t know whether President Obama will succeed but I surely don’t think I or others can meaningfully decide that based upon events to date. Apart from his continuing popularity in the polls, he continues to show grit, determination, calmness under pressure and a sense of direction. Perhaps rather than merely reporting what your Establishment thinks, you ought to be noting to us and to its members that these so-called leaders have already shown us that they lack what it takes to guide this nation.

Borrowing from your buddy Keith, someone I find far too shrill and narcissistic and not someone you should be spending so much time with, “thank you for your time, Howard.”

Donald A. Newman
Long Beach, CA