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Published: Wednesday, 3/10/2010

President is the problem

PERHAPS the surest sign an administration is in trouble comes when members of the President's party start saying in public that the President must shake up his staff.

The Obama Administration has accomplished the remarkable feat of alienating most moderates and many left wingers.

The head liberals would most like to see roll is that of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who, they think, is too willing to compromise.

Mr. Emanuel is a foul-mouthed jerk who may lack management skills. Despite his many flaws, Mr. Emanuel is the closest thing to a grown-up in President Obama's inner circle. The others in it share an adoration of Mr. Obama, malleable ethics, and inexperience on the national stage.

Former Chicago Tribune reporter David Axelrod is a skilled media and political guy who is the Karl Rove of this administration.

After Mr. Axelrod, the most influential aide is Chicago slumlord Valerie Jarrett, who encouraged Mr. Obama to travel to Copenhagen last summer in his embarrassingly futile bid to bring the 2016 Olympics to Chicago.

The key thing to remember about Mr. Obama's aides is that he chose them. Shaking up a troubled presidential staff is mostly an exercise in reshuffling deck chairs on the Titanic, because each administration takes on the characteristics of its chief. There is a reason why Richard Nixon's chief aides were conspiratorial; that so many in the George W. Bush administration were mediocre; that so many in the Clinton administration were corrupt.

Deck-chair shuffling continues, in part, because members of the President's party find it safer to criticize the king's courtiers than the king; in part because they retain illusions about the President. But policy won't change unless Mr. Obama changes.

After a start nearly as bad as Mr. Obama's, President Clinton made a successful midcourse correction. But Mr. Clinton was more interested in holding onto power and in having sex than in advancing policy. Mr. Obama is more ideological, and less inclined to make a major shift toward the center.

Mr. Clinton also had 10 years of executive experience as governor of Arkansas and a circle of intimates that wasn't restricted to radicals and Chicago political thugs.

Only Barack Obama can keep Barack Obama from becoming Jimmy Carter. But he doesn't seem so inclined.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: jkelly@ post-gazette.com

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