Barack Obama’s Former Mentor Criticizes ‘Complacent Administration’


professor-chris-edleyPresident Obama’s self-confidence borders on complacency. He is ill served by senior staff, especially his Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel. He does not appear to be learning on the job as he did when campaigning for the White House. His Administration is too deferential to Congress, too reliant on the President’s personal charm, and as a result is regarded by its enemies as weak and ineffectual.

As Obama prepared to release his $3.8 trillion (£2.4 trillion) budget, this assessment of his first year in office came not from one of his established critics on the Right, but from one of his most respected mentors – his former professor at Harvard Law School, Chris Edley.

“What I fear is that having made history, having won a Nobel prize, having been celebrated around the world, a measure of complacency may have set in,” Professor Edley told The Times. “I don’t mean that the effort is not there, but that the discipline of self-criticism has perhaps faded.”

Professor Edley, who worked in the Clinton and Carter Administrations and is now Dean of the Law School at the University of California, Berkeley, added: “I wouldn’t give [Obama] as high a grade as President as I gave him when he was my student. I know he can do better.”

He reserved the harshest criticism for Emanuel, the second-most powerful figure in the White House, who has been pilloried by liberals for appearing to undermine Obama’s healthcare reforms since the loss of a crucial Senate seat to the Republicans.

“You’re not going to reinvent Barack into somebody who delights in pummelling a policy opponent, so his staff need to do that for him. And as far as one can tell from the outside, that is precisely what Rahm Emanuel has failed to do,” he said.

Referring to the prospect of Democratic losses in the mid-term elections, as a result of opposition among independent voters to the stimulus and healthcare Bills, Professor Edley added: “It’s almost as if Rahm Emanuel cares more about the re-election prospects of his friends on [Capitol] Hill than he does about scoring policy victories that reflect Obama’s values.”

Emanuel’s willingness to let health reforms slide could condemn Obama to “a caretaker presidency”, Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, has warned.

Congressional Democrats have accused Emanuel of being more visible on television than on Capitol Hill, and there is increasing speculation that he may be the first senior staffer to be eased out of the White House – or that he may resign to run for the Chicago mayoralty.

Nothing would please Professor Edley more. In late 2007, at Obama’s invitation, he made a dramatic intervention in his presidential campaign, dismissing as mediocre the policy positions drawn up by senior staff and imploring them to give the young Senator from Illinois more time to think.

Asked what he would say if given a similar opportunity one year into the Obama presidency, Edley lamented the failure of the White House to force Congress into line, as President Lyndon Johnson would have done. “You have to be his inner LBJ, the leader who twists arms past their breaking point and is prepared to make some enemies in order to make some progress,” he said.

The professor fears that Obama’s best chance to deliver the change he promised may have been wasted. The White House was overly dependent on the President’s personality as an instrument of persuasion, “and if your only advocacy tool is charm you should expect some pretty strong headwinds”, Professor Edley said.

The Administration’s biggest mistake, he said, has been to pander to Congressional vanities by leaving the two chambers to argue about their own versions of healthcare reform with little concrete guidance from the White House. “As a result the Administration has accomplished less than it might have and is perceived on the Hill as much weaker than it might have been,” he concluded.

Obama will hope for a rosier assessment next time round.

{Times Online/Noam Newscenter}