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FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR

Calm in the Storm

Heckuva Job, Barry

One of the more surreal arguments made on behalf of Obama is that he showed us something meaningful about his temperament by his handling of the credit crisis. It’s certainly the case that we judge potential presidents by how they have been tested in crisis, and that we have no previous experience by which to judge how Obama handles crises other than hard times on the campaign trail. On the trail, the answer has generally been to see Obama get snippy, lash out in passive-aggressive fashion (at “bitter” Pennsylvanians, or with remarks like the “lipstick on a pig” line or similar efforts to personally provoke Hillary), duck debates and the press, and play the race card again and again and again to deflect criticism.

But the essential requirement for proving your mettle in a crisis is that you have to believe you are facing a crisis – and for Obama, the credit crisis wasn’t a crisis at all. It was the best thing that happened to him all year. It was manna from heaven at a time when he was trailing in the polls, and at present it looks likely to deliver him to the White House in spite of his manifold errors and weaknesses as a candidate. As Jay Cost noted, for historical reasons there was pretty much no way the GOP could avoid taking damage from a banking crisis under any circumstances, much less while controlling the White House. Obama’s main challenge was avoiding being seen visibly doing cartwheels.

Second, let’s consider how Obama actually managed the crisis:

(1) Stay calm.

(2) Remain at a distance from where the crisis was being handled unless directly summoned there.

(3) Continue going about his usual daily routine.

(4) Avoid hands-on involvement in making sure things got done.

(5) Leave things uncritically in the hands of incompetent leaders in his party on the assumption that they’ll call him if they need him.

In a word, exactly to the letter how Bush handled Hurricane Katrina.

This is not reassuring.

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