The Calgon President

By James Morrow in Sydney

10 March 2009

If I could give one piece of advice to President Obama - besides telling him to shut up and let the Dow have a good day for a change - it would be to stop trying to do everything all at once. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may have famously said that one should never let a good crisis go to waste (and oh, imagine the outrage had, say, Dick Cheney uttered similar words!), but in trying to do everything, Obama risks doing everything wrong.

"Look, I wish I had the luxury of just dealing with a modest recession or just dealing with health care or just dealing with energy or just dealing with Iraq or just dealing with Afghanistan," Obama said recently, even as it was reported that the new president is already "too tired" to do his job properly.

And the strain is starting to show. Take foreign policy, which Obama reportedly has very little interest in even at the best of times. Whether it is the clumsy snub of British PM Gordon Brown, the even clumsier offer to sell-out Poland and the Czech Republic to buy a little leverage against the Iranians, or the absolutely cringe-making "reset button" incident (what, the State Department doesn't have any translators), one is almost wistful for the clarity of George W. Bush's with-us-or-against-us doctrines.

None of this is helping the main game, which is the economy. The New York Times reports that "events are getting ahead" of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who has so far failed to impress either the public or the share markets.

The President needs to focus all his energies on restoring credit flows and national and international confidence in the American economy and its private capital markets. Now is not the time to tackle health care reform or attempt to impose the huge inefficiencies of a carbon cap-and-trade system on the US economy, nevermind the illusory promise of so-called "green jobs".

Obama's sort of stressed out, all over the shop sort of urgency does not inspire the feeling that the US has a confident, inspiring captain at the helm for the difficult times to come.

Instead, it calls to mind thoughts of the stressed-out housewife pleading, "Calgon, take me away!"

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