From Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal:
He is willowy when people yearn for solid, reed-like where they hope for substantial, a bright older brother when they want Papa, cool where they probably prefer warmth. . . .
Such impressions—coolness, slightness—can come to matter only if they capture or express some larger or more meaningful truth. At the moment they connect, for me, to something insubstantial and weightless in the administration's economic pronouncements and policies. The president seems everywhere and nowhere, not fully focused on the matters at hand. He's trying to keep up with the news cycle with less and less to say . . .
Policy seems makeshift, provisional. James K. Galbraith captures some of this in The Washington Monthly: "The president has an economic program. But there is, so far, no clear statement of the thinking behind the program." . . .
The fact is that Mr. Obama only has two jobs, but they're huge. The first is to pull us out of an economic death spiral—to save the banks, get them lending, fix the mortgage mess, address unemployment, forestall inflation. TARP, TALF, financial oversight and regulation of Wall Street—all of this is enormously complex, involving questions of scale, emphasis and direction. All else—windmills, green technology, remaking health care—is secondary. The economy is the domestic issue now, and for the next three years at least.
So one wonders why, say, the president does not step in and insist on staffing the top level of his Treasury Department, where besieged Secretary Tim Geithner struggles without deputies through his 15-hour days. Might AIG and the bonus scandals have been stopped or discovered sooner if Treasury had someone to answer the phones? Leadership is needed here. Not talkership, leadership.
Mr. Obama's second job is America's safety at home and in the world. Dick Cheney this week warned again of future terrorism and said Mr. Obama's actions have left us "less safe." White House press secretary Robert Gibbs reacted with disdain. Mr. Cheney is part of a "Republican cabal." "I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy." This was cheap. . . . Mr. Obama likes to say presidents can do more than one thing at a time, but in fact modern presidents are lucky to do one thing at a time, never mind two. Great forces are arrayed against them.
These are the two great issues, the economic crisis and our safety. In the face of them, what strikes one is the weightlessness of the Obama administration, the jumping from issue to issue and venue to venue from day to day. Isaiah Berlin famously suggested a leader is a fox or a hedgehog. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. In political leadership the hedgehog has certain significant advantages, focus and clarity of vision among them. Most presidents are one or the other. So far Mr. Obama seems neither.