The following story isnt true. It is more of a “political joke” of sorts.
When Nikita Khrushchev was forced out of power in the Soviet Union he left his successor (Leonid Brezhnev) with two letters. He told his successor to open the first letter when he came to his first major crisis and follow the instructions. He was told that following the instructions would get him through the crisis. He was also told that when a second major crisis stuck, he should open the second letter from Khrushchev and follow its instructions.
The inevitable crisis happened and Brezhnev became worried that the crisis could cause him to be removed from power. He opened Khrushchev’s first letter which said “Blame everything on me. The only way that you can stay in power is to blame everything on my poor leadership and announce that you have to reverse my policies in order to save the State.”
So, Brezhnev followed the instructions in the letter and things in the Soviet Union got better for a while. However, after a few more years, the economy began to stagnate and Brezhnev once again became worried that he would lose power. He realized that the advice from Khrushchev’s first letter had saved him once and that maybe it could do so again.
Brezhnev opened the second letter and it read “Sit down and write two letters.”
As I said above, this is not a true story. It is however, a useful lesson on political survival.
I would argue that President Obama began reading his first letter during the campaign when he blamed everything wrong in the world on President Bush. He has continued to beat up on President Bush’s record in a constant attempt to convince the public that the current crisis is not his fault.
He will likely continue to read from this letter for several years.
For example, if the situation in Iraq continues to improve and we can pull our troops out, Mr. Obama will undoubtedly take all of the credit, despite the fact that President Bush’s controversial Surge plan was a complete success and has effectively won us the war. If on the other hand, the situation in Iraq deteriorates and we either do not leave within Mr. Obama’s promised 16 months or we end up leaving in disgrace, there can be no doubt that President Obama will blame Mr. Bush.
Similarly, if the economy turns around in the next year or two, Mr. Obama will take all of the credit. If however, the situation worsens, the economy continues to contract, and unemployment approaches or reaches double digits, President Obama will claim that he inherited this mess. In his speech last night President Obama said “I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hope, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans. My administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing a little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence.” This was effectively Mr. Obama hedging his bet: if the economy turns around, he can take credit, but if it doesnt work, he will say that things are still better than they would have been if the bill wasnt passed and besides, it is still President Bush’s fault.
This is why President Obama still sounds like his is running for President, rather than holding the office. It is safe to say that President Obama was not elected to office based any past accomplishments that he had. He was also not elected based on any future plans that he had. Rather, he was elected because the American public was (and still is) fed up with President Bush. The fact that Mr. Obama was elected President is really only an externality of the perceived failure of the Bush Administration. Mr. Obama really didnt run against John McCain; he really ran against President Bush. How many times did you hear Mr. Obama refer to “8 years of failed policies?” Because Mr. Obama was elected as an opposition candidate–a reactive candidate rather than a proactive candidate– he is likely to continue this course of acton. Expect him to continue to beat up on President Bush’s record. Furthermore, you can expect him to denounce Republicans who vote against his programs (in a manner that will probably become much more hostile in the near future).
The problem is that Mr. Obama cannot continue on this course for too long. The American people are fickle and grow tired of things quickly. Remember that when the War in Iraq started Bush (who was cheered on to war by the American public as well as the media) had an approval rating of near 70%. At some point, the American public will grow tired of hearing Mr. Obama blame all of the country’s problems on the previous administration–especially if things get worse. The people want solutions and when President Obama realizes that he cannot deliver them, he may have to reach for that second letter.
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