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Contentions

The Unpresidential President

The New York Times has a rather jaw-dropping look into the inability of Obama to do his job. This report recounts a meeting with lawmakers in mid-January:

As the clock neared 1 a.m., the two sides were at an impasse. Mr. Obama stood up. “‘See what you guys can figure out,’” one participant remembers him saying, adding that the failed effort left the president mad. Another Democrat who was there, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, said Mr. Obama left “frustrated that while he was putting out ways to bridge the problem, we hadn’t reached a conclusion.”

Everything is so hard, it seems, for Obama. The Middle East is hard. Health-care reform is hard. None of it just “happens,” as he might have imagined would happen when he appeared on the scene.

The Times tries to put it gently, suggesting that “Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators.” Maybe “it is not clear whether his gentle, consensus-building style will be enough.” He is just too darn “lofty” and also doggone devoted to “appeals to conscience and history that were his hallmark on the campaign trail.” Hmm. Could it be none of that is really the problem – and rather that he’s just not very effective when it comes to getting things done?

A little reality slips in via one lawmaker, who says Obama needs more “toughness” and doesn’t, come to think of it, really dominate the room. What?! The President of the United States doesn’t dominate the room? What’s he there for, then?

Well, his spinners say it’s not like the old days, when LBJ could twist arms and get things done. Perhaps. But Bill Clinton got things done. Ronald Reagan got things done. And in the first term George W. Bush got things done as well. They all, you see, were up to the task of being president, which includes figuring out where a deal is plausible, persuading recalcitrant lawmakers, and coming up with proposals that have some chance of passing.

This is all a bit bracing, isn’t it? A president who can’t make deals, who doesn’t dominate the room, and who, as a result, really hasn’t accomplished anything. It turns out he lacks some basic skills and the disposition that make for a successful president. It doesn’t mean he can’t improve, but it’s been a year and there’s no sign of things getting any better.



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