What do Obama's policy on Israeli settlements and contraception coverage have in common? They show that over a span of three years the administration still hasn't learned one fundamental lesson: look before you leap.
Shortly after coming into office Obama called for a total halt in settlement construction, including east Jerusalem. He ran into opposition not only from the Israeli government but Republican and Democratic friends of Israel as well. He was forced to back down but not before leaving Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas stranded on that limb and refusing to climb down. The result has been a moribund peace process that, despite a brief false start, never took off.
This week the President ran into a firestorm from the Catholic Church and fueled by his Republican opponents and a handful of Democrats in response to his policy requiring religious affiliated institutions, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide free contraception coverage for women employees. Opponents tried to portray it as an assault on religious freedom, but that was just a ruse to cover their opposition to birth control. The White House took most of the wind out of those sails by removing the responsibility from the institutions and requiring the insurance companies to provide contraception coverage without additional charges.
These are just two of several policy retreats over three years that have left an image of indecisiveness and weakness. What they suggest is that the Obama team rushes out some critical decisions without thoroughly thinking through both the politics and the policy implications. They don't seem to be asking the basic questions: what will be the response of the other side, how will it play with the public, what will be the response not just by the other side but by our own folks?
Obama has looked weak and wobbly by reversing himself on plans to try terrorists in U.S. criminal courts, repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and endorse super PAC fundraising
And that's not the way to win reelection even with a relatively weak stable of Republican hopefuls.