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Obama the Weak

The perils of a sycophantic administration.

Sep 14, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 48 • By FRED BARNES
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But is Obama really out of touch with the country? Yes, indeed, and it's self-inflicted. In The Age of Reagan, his new book on the Reagan presidency, Steven Hayward argues that administrations rife with factional infighting over policies are more successful than what he calls "sycophantic" administrations. "Fractiousness in an administration is a sign of health," Hayward writes, citing Reagan's feuding but successful White House. He thinks serious disputes over issues lead to better policies.

Maybe they do. I suspect they have a more important value. Different factions help an administration stay attuned to grass-roots opinion outside Washington in a way the Obama White House hasn't been. Obama and his advisers, for example, were the last to learn that the proposed government-run health insurance plan is a deal-killer for many millions of Americans.

By "sycophantic," Hayward means an administration with one view of the big issues, little dissent, and an inflated sense of the president's appeal. That's the Obama administration: pretty much all liberalism, all Obama, all the time. The one real disagreement among the president's top advisers is whether to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. And this quarrel has only recently erupted.

What the Obama team doesn't understand is the limit of the president's appeal. His base is the liberal wing of the Democratic party, which is less than one-quarter of the voting public. Yet his aides believe he's able to captivate and convince a far larger audience. That he's been failing at this for months hasn't stopped the White House from trotting the president out again and again with nothing new to say, as if it's the only option. Perhaps, in a sycophantic administration, it is.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.