By Dave Andrusko
This is the last post of the week and it’s a story I’ve tried to write since Monday. As fate would have it, that delay proved fortuitous.
My original thought was to try to make sense of the piece written for POLITICO by Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein: “THE OBAMA PARADOX.”
I didn’t understand the “paradox,” and moreover the story is at odds with itself in many places. The good fortune is the delay is that other stories appeared this week which helped me appreciate what is really going on.
Here’s the setting for Brown’s and Epstein’s “paradox.” They write
“The interviews [‘with more than 60 people’] which illuminate Obama’s thinking, outlook and choices as he navigates his second term, suggest a paradox. Often stymied at home and abroad, Obama recognizes that he is less in control of the Washington agenda than ever in his presidency — a reality that has left him deeply frustrated at times.”
“Yet his newfound realism has also given him a palpable sense of liberation.”
Honestly, having waded through some 6,700+ words, the only “liberation” I can find is that Brown and Epstein portray him as liberated from working very hard (“Obama spent 46 days on the golf course in 2013”); liberated him from even pretending that he is not spending more time working on his “legacy” than being president; and liberated from worrying about aides who “fretted over elaborate state dinners and how a glitzy Halloween party for the children of military service members, featuring actor Johnny Depp and movie director Tim Burton, would play with jobless Americans.” According to Brown and Epstein,
“Now, settled into the second term, the Obamas are less concerned about the optics of mingling with boldfaced names, and seem to want to take advantage of the presidential perch.”
Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. If you believe two reporters from a publication that has carried oceans of water for this president, Obama spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing elbows with athletes and academics and eating the finest foods in the snazziest places. Take this, for example:
The setting was the U.S. ambassador’s residence — a 15th-century house known as Villa Taverna. For nearly four hours, Obama and seven others dined on assorted pasta dishes and sipped red wine from Tuscany and a white wine from northeast Italy. The guests — Obama had asked his hosts to put together a dinner of “interesting Italians’’ — included renowned architect Renzo Piano, particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti, Fiat heir John Elkann and his sister, Ginevra.
“He wanted to spend one evening talking about what is quite interesting in this country to talk about — art, science, community, architecture, cities and all that,” Piano said in an interview. “It was a very calm evening, a quite long dinner.”
Even now I’m not sure if the entire piece was tongue-in-cheek or they don’t grasp what a hugely unflattering profile they have painted of President Obama.
Either way if you place this story in the context of one account after another this week—including in the New York Times, of all places—you can’t miss the sense that friendly/friendlier observers worry the administration is on autopilot. Less friendly observers accuse Mr. Obama of mailing it in.
One other point worth considering. Conservatives and/or Republicans who’ve been on the receiving end of Obama’s hectoring lectures about their alleged unwillingness to work with him have always complained that Obama not only doesn’t try to work with them, but then lambasts them for not taking the [non-] extended hand of friendship.
But why would he? Obama is always right. Always. Worse, as columnist and Fox News panelist George Will said this week, there is a “recurring theme” in Obama’s presidency: “There is no such thing as honest, intelligent disagreement with him.”
What’s happened of late is that with the November elections coming up fast, Democrats, who have privately leaked to sympathetic reporters their complaint that Obama worries about #1 and only #1, are publicly lamenting that he is hanging them out to dry. I believe when the history of this administration is written, one of THE tell-tale quotes will be from the Times story this week written by Carl Hulse. He wrote
“Despite the president’s service in the Senate, the relationship between the Obama White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill has been troubled in recent years as lawmakers complained that administration paid scant attention to the political needs of Democratic members and didn’t reach out to them enough. White House allies have suggested that lawmakers are too needy and that stroking congressional egos in either party is no guarantee of legislative progress.”
Can you imagine Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or either President Bush dismissing members of their own party as “too needy”?
As they say, it boggles the mind.