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01/22/2010

Obama's First Year: Lessons Learned

  Remember just before he took office, when President-elect Barack Obama predicted that he and the soon-to-be first family would return to sweet home Chicago every few weeks or so?  Since moving into the White House, the Obamas have spent only one weekend--Valentine's Day last year--in their Hyde Park mini-mansion.

  When Mr. Obama made his prediction, he apparently was clueless about the changes in his personal life that the presidency would demand.  On that first and only trip home, the President learned that there was no way his south side house and neighborhood could accomodate the personal staff and multi-layered security required to travel with the leader of the free world.  And that's not to mention the big city traffic nightmare caused by every movement of the presidential motorcade.

  The point is that the first twelve months of Barack Obama's presidency has been a learning experience from the very beginning.  Here are three other lessons learned:

1) Presidential politics is labor-intensive.  The round-the-clock energy of barackobama.com that kept our blackberries chirping during the 2008 campaign waned after the January, 2009 inauguration.  It virtually disappeared last summer and at best has remained low-level ever since. 

  That's not the case with the "tea partiers" whose conservative, anti-Obama messages inflame millions of electronic mailboxes several times a day. 

  Wanna know what happened to the the President's 62-36% 2008 general election majority in Massachusetts where the democrats lost the late Ted Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat this week?  Obama's now relatively moribund political apparatus got outhustled from start to finish, plain and simple.  The consequence is that the President's healthcare reform agenda, the major policy initiative of his first year in office, is in serious jeopardy.

2) Stay out of local politics.  I remember cringing when the President answered the Lynn Sweet (Sun-Times) question last summer about the racially-charged controversy over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.   The White House "Beer Summit" looked as silly as it was.  And guess where the presidential involvement in the silliness got its biggest play in the news?  Did I hear Massachusetts?  Connect those dots.

   And hopefully, never again will Barack Obama put the prestige of the presidency on the line for hometown political boss Richard M. Daley.  That's what he did when he flew to Copenhagen to beg the International Olympic Committee to stage its games in Chicago in 2016.  

  At the urging of the mayor, his Chicago-bred advisers (Jarrett/Axelrod/Emmanuel) put Obama in a situation where he had no control over the outcome.  The President of the United States is not supposed to beg any foreigner for anything much less lose the appeal.

3) Hiring friends is risky.  Chicagoan Desiree Rogers' friendship with somebody in the Obama's inner circle has to be the explanation for how she got her job as White House social secretary.  Rogers' profound lack of experience and qualification for the post is the easiest explanation for why she failed so miserably in her first attempt to manage a state dinner.  The "party crashers" incident caused the administration several weeks of embarassment and provided fodder for anti-Obama editorialists that distracted the electorate from the real issues facing the country.


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