Commentary Magazine


Topic: Valerie Jarrett

Tom Perez and the Trusted Few

The Obama administration’s active engagement with pop culture can sometimes backfire, as it seemed to last night. Valerie Jarrett apparently made a cameo on last night’s episode of The Good Wife, urging a main character to run for state’s attorney. But, lamented a New York Times arts critic, “The political functionaries can’t act — they’re a distraction, and they flatten every scene they’re in.” At least the role was believable.

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The Obama administration’s active engagement with pop culture can sometimes backfire, as it seemed to last night. Valerie Jarrett apparently made a cameo on last night’s episode of The Good Wife, urging a main character to run for state’s attorney. But, lamented a New York Times arts critic, “The political functionaries can’t act — they’re a distraction, and they flatten every scene they’re in.” At least the role was believable.

Jarrett made another cameo over the weekend, also backing a favored candidate. But this one was in the real world, in a Politico consideration of possible successors to Attorney General Eric Holder–and one in particular: Tom Perez.

Perez is already a member of President Obama’s Cabinet; he’s the labor secretary. But the administration is seeking to replace Holder at Justice, and some insiders, Jarrett among them, reportedly like the idea of shifting Perez over to Holder’s spot. It’s not that there aren’t any traditional candidates; Solicitor General Donald Verrilli is apparently on the list, as is outgoing Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration.

Perez, in fact, isn’t even on some of the speculative lists circulating in the political press. But in this insular White House, there are few trusted by the president. Few enough, it appears, to have to shift them from Cabinet secretarial post to Cabinet secretarial post:

Perez has made more stops with the president than any other Cabinet secretary, events that are often followed by rides home and private meetings on Air Force One. And he’s often been out on his own, making over 40 appearances around the country since May where he’s pumped out the message of an economy that is actually recovering and has urged people not to see the president as having given up or disappeared.

Obama’s not the only one in the White House who’s come to rely on him. Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett’s been a Perez fan and promoter for years, going back to Perez’s time in the Civil Rights Division, and she and Holder continued to call on him for advice even as the violent protests overtook Ferguson last month. (Perez refers to that as “part of other duties as assigned.”) At Holder’s resignation announcement Thursday at the White House, Perez was right there in the front row, clearly emotional. And White House Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz has known Perez since they were both Hill staffers in the 1990s, and their relationship has expanded as they’ve collaborated over the past year and a half.

This is not to cast doubt on Perez’s qualifications–he’s already served as an assistant attorney general as well–nor to imply that there aren’t quite logical political reasons to nominate him to replace Holder. Chief among those reasons would be (as Politico also notes) the fact that as a Cabinet secretary, Perez has already been confirmed by the Senate. That takes some of the air out of Republican opposition, though his last confirmation vote was fairly close.

It does, however, reinforce a theme we’ve seen surface intermittently throughout the six years of the Obama presidency: insularity and a fortified inner circle. In differentiating the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq and Obama’s botched health-care reform, Dana Milbank nonetheless saw eerie similarities:

But the decision-making is disturbingly similar: In both cases, insular administrations, staffed by loyalists and obsessed with secrecy, participated in group-think and let the president hear only what they thought he wanted to hear.

In a damning account of the Obamacare implementation, my Post colleagues Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin described how Obama rejected pleas from outside experts and even some of his own advisers to bring in people with the expertise to handle the mammoth task; he instead left the project in the care of in-house loyalists.

MSNBC described the same phenomenon thus: “Obamacare burned by culture of secrecy.” Ron Fournier asked: “Will Insularity, Incompetence, and Lies Doom Obamacare?” Brent Budowsky said Obama “governs through a tightly controlled and highly centralized White House staff that is overloaded, dangerously insular, short on gravitas, and often hostile to outside advice even from friends and supporters.”

It was not a new concern. In 2010, the L.A. Times reported that Democrats worried about Obama’s insularity. He was replacing staffers and appointees with loyalists everywhere you turned, the paper noted, from the Council of Economic Advisors to his own chief of staff–and of course, always leaning on Valerie Jarrett:

Obama’s executive style relies heavily on a cordon of advisors who were with him at earlier points in his career. In nearly every instance, as senior advisors have resigned, Obama has filled the vacancies with trusted confidants who are closer to him than the people they replaced.

It should be noted that, as the above examples suggest, it is Democrats who are more worried about this than Republicans. Democrats are the ones getting shut out of the inner circle while the party’s congressional candidates have to suffer for Obama’s sins. And Democrats are the ones doomed to a mess of a bench thanks to the dried-up talent pool that, aside from a select few (Susan Rice, for example), leaves Democrats with a team of political hacks and yes-men staffing the White House. The atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust in this administration, on the other hand, would make a Clinton succession pretty seamless.

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Should Hillary Fear Warren? Maybe.

Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

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Put me down as a skeptic about the theory floated by author Edward Klein about President Obama having a preference for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren over Hillary Clinton on the question of who should be his successor. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Warren was rethinking her decision to stay out of the 2016 contest.

Klein is the author of a new book Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas. The conceit of this effort centers on the tension that has existed between the two rivals for the 2008 Democratic nomination and which is now beginning to resurface after a four-year hiatus while Hillary served as secretary of state. That Clinton has more centrist tendencies is no secret, especially with regard to foreign policy. Other differences are more a matter of style and temperament. As Seth wrote earlier today, the slow rollout of her 2016 campaign will involve a degree of triangulation as she struggles to thread the needle between establishing her own identity and not offending a Democratic base that still reveres Obama.

It’s also probably true that Obama may have a greater affinity for Warren’s left-wing populist shtick than Hillary’s ill-fitting pose as a woman of the people even though she is far more comfortable associating with the Goldman Sachs crowd than rank and file Democrats.

But Klein’s tale about Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett being ordered “to conduct a full-court press to convince Warren to throw her hat into the ring” in 2016 strikes me as the sort of scoop that seems more about promoting book sales than providing any real insight about the battle to succeed Obama.

It’s not that I disagree with Klein’s speculations about the president’s dislike of Bill Clinton, suspicions about the Clinton political machine, or his distaste for the Clinton’s second-guessing about his inability to work with Republicans. It’s just that I don’t really believe the president cares that much about the identity of the next president aside from a vague desire to see any Democratic successor as serving a third Obama term. Obama has always viewed himself as sui generis, a historic figure that cannot be compared to any of his predecessors. I doubt that any latent animus for the Clintons would be enough to cause him to be willing to expend the sort of political capital that would be needed to derail Hillary. My guess is that the only future political question that will really excite him is defending his historic legacy. The identity of the 2016 Democratic nominee is relevant to that issue but not integral to the effort to bolster his reputation after he has left the White House.

But even if we leave Obama and Jarrett out of any pre-2016 intrigue, Senator Warren may well be wondering if her promise not to oppose Clinton could be walked back. Clinton’s shaky book tour performance did more than expose the awkward political instincts that hurt her in 2008 against Obama. Her “broke” gaffe and the subsequent attention devoted to the wealth she and her husband have accumulated since 2001 constitute a huge opening for a credible left-wing opponent who is willing to buck the “inevitability” factor that is the engine driving Clinton’s drive for the presidency.

It won’t be easy for anyone to challenge a candidate who has all but wrapped up the Democratic nomination years before the contest starts. It has also got to be difficult for any Democratic woman to muster the guts to try to stop a candidate whose main argument for the presidency is that she is female.

But there’s also no question that much of the Democratic base would be delighted with a real race, especially if it meant that Clinton would be forced to shift hard to the left to avoid being outflanked by an ideologue like Warren. The Massachusetts senator is not quite the magical political figure that Obama proved to be but, just as was the case in 2008, Clinton has shown herself to be vulnerable. If anyone were to have a chance against her, it would have to be a candidate who could also appeal to women and to the party’s liberal roots. Though Warren might not have the same hubris that drove Obama to think himself ready for the presidency after only a couple of years in the Senate, a few more Clinton missteps might convince her to try her luck.

If she does, I don’t think the alleged Obama-Clinton feud will be the driving force in such a race. Rather, it would be a recognition that the woman many Democrats have anointed as their next leader is not quite as inevitable as she would like us to think.

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ObamaCare and Arbitrary Power

Following on the heels of CBS’s Benghazi report, NBC News is joining in the “now it can be told” parade. With the president safely reelected and ObamaCare surviving its key challenges at the Supreme Court, it is now apparently safe to start reporting on the fact that the health-care reform law was constructed on a very transparent falsehood. “Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance” screams the headline, and the article notes that “the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.”

President Obama stuck by the ludicrous promise that those who liked their insurance could keep their insurance–“period,” as the president liked to emphasize. This was never true, as conservatives pointed out time and again. The law was specifically designed to prevent this promise from being kept. But the media kept repeating it, so the president kept saying it. What’s new in the NBC report is not that Obama knew he was peddling a false promise; of course the White House knew what it was up to. Rather, what’s interesting is the degree to which the Obama administration concentrated on making sure that people couldn’t keep their policies, even if it meant rewriting key parts of the law’s regulations after the fact:

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Following on the heels of CBS’s Benghazi report, NBC News is joining in the “now it can be told” parade. With the president safely reelected and ObamaCare surviving its key challenges at the Supreme Court, it is now apparently safe to start reporting on the fact that the health-care reform law was constructed on a very transparent falsehood. “Obama administration knew millions could not keep their health insurance” screams the headline, and the article notes that “the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them.”

President Obama stuck by the ludicrous promise that those who liked their insurance could keep their insurance–“period,” as the president liked to emphasize. This was never true, as conservatives pointed out time and again. The law was specifically designed to prevent this promise from being kept. But the media kept repeating it, so the president kept saying it. What’s new in the NBC report is not that Obama knew he was peddling a false promise; of course the White House knew what it was up to. Rather, what’s interesting is the degree to which the Obama administration concentrated on making sure that people couldn’t keep their policies, even if it meant rewriting key parts of the law’s regulations after the fact:

None of this should come as a shock to the Obama administration. The law states that policies in effect as of March 23, 2010 will be “grandfathered,” meaning consumers can keep those policies even though they don’t meet requirements of the new health care law. But the Department of Health and Human Services then wrote regulations that narrowed that provision, by saying that if any part of a policy was significantly changed since that date — the deductible, co-pay, or benefits, for example — the policy would not be grandfathered.

ObamaCare continues to be the epitome of arbitrary government. Not only was the law unpopular when it was passed, but the administration then kicked the public while it was down by changing the law on the fly and ensuring that a key promise used to pass the law would be unfulfilled. Unilaterally extending deadlines, waiving requirements for interest groups, delaying aspects of the law: it turns out we didn’t have to pass the law to find out what was in it, since it simply didn’t matter what was in it.

Speaking of arbitrary power, key administration advisor Valerie Jarrett took to Twitter last night to attempt to spin the story. Even by the standards of this administration, Jarrett’s effort was both inept and bitterly defensive:

jarretttweet

As Mary Katherine Ham noted, this “delusion” amounts to: “no change is required by you under Obamacare unless your insurance company goes and changes your existing plan to comply with Obamacare.” Jarrett’s combination of contempt for private industry and self-indulgent blame shifting is characteristic of the Obama administration.

Blaming the insurance industry was perhaps inevitable. But other attempts to spin the news don’t do much better since there’s no refuting the core of this latest PR disaster. Here, for example, is Time magazine’s headline: “The Bright Side of Obamacare’s Broken Promise.” There’s no question it’s a broken promise; but the president’s defenders hope they can mitigate that damage by explaining that the government deceived you for the greater good. Welcome to the team.

Here is how Time’s report opens: “President Obama has broken his promise that Americans who like their health insurance plans can keep them under the Affordable Care Act. Citing the new law, insurers have recently mailed policy cancellation notices to hundreds of thousands of people across the country, providing more ammunition to critics who say the law is bad for consumers.” It’s true: the continuing confirmation that the law is bad for consumers will provide ammunition to those who point out that the law is bad for consumers.

Then Time warns: “And that number may grow.” It seems it already has. CBS reports that “more than two million Americans have been told they cannot renew their current insurance policies — more than triple the number of people said to be buying insurance under the new Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.”

Given all this, Obama’s motivation for peddling the false promise becomes clear. The public already disliked the law, and he was barely able, through procedural tricks and horse trading, to muster the votes to pass it. Imagine how much more difficult his task would have been had the sales pitch for ObamaCare not been “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” but rather “If you like your plan, you’re selfish and don’t know what’s good for you, and you need to be coerced into doing your part to help the president establish a new entitlement scheme.”

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West Wing Throws Holder Under the Bus

Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

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Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

As the Times story suggests, Holder’s long tenure despite a series of disasters that included the Fast and Furious scandal as well as the revelations about the Department of Justice’s snooping on the Associated Press and Fox News is purely a function of having friends in high places. In Holder’s case that means Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett and her good friend Michelle Obama, who also happens to be pals with Holder’s wife. The president also likes Holder and that, and only that, has kept him in place despite the public relations disaster that has unfolded in recent weeks.

Any other Cabinet official that lied to Congress and then spoke of “regrets” to the Daily Beast in the same week as he tried to get the press to make nice with him in off-the-record meetings would be widely thought of as having one foot on a banana peel and another out the door. But with three aces like that in his hand, Holder may be under no real pressure to resign. That’s why some deep thinkers in the West Wing have realized that despite the loyalty felt toward Holder by the boss and the most powerful women in the administration, he is a clear liability that is helping to mire the president’s second term in scandal.

The West Wing leakers are right about Holder’s problems.

“The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time,” said a Democratic former government official who did not want to be identified while talking about friends.

Some advisers to Mr. Obama believe that Mr. Holder does not manage or foresee problems, the former official said. “How hard would it be to anticipate that The A.P. would be unhappy?” the former official said. “And then they haven’t defended their position.”

But, of course, Holder’s problems go a lot deeper than a lack of PR expertise. Holder’s lies about the Rosen investigation help feed the public’s frustration with the administration’s incompetence that flows from the Benghazi and IRS scandals. But they are also a sign of a department of Justice that is out of control and a leader with a credibility problem.

Democrats may be confident that the last of month of scandals will eventually calm down and that most Americans won’t care that much about them in the long run. But so long as Eric Holder remains in office, it’s going to be difficult for the administration to turn the page. Holder serves at the pleasure of the president, and so long as Obama sticks with him he need not resign, even as he is raked over the coals for his mendacity before Congress. But the cracks in the heretofore solid wall of administration defense of Holder shows that even he knows it’s only a matter of time before he packs it in.

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Will Obama Block New Iran Sanctions?

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.

Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.

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The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran’s nuclear program is due out on Friday, but the contents are already being discussed in the international press. One source has already told Agence France Presse that it will detail the fact that the installation of 2,700 centrifuges at the mountain bunker facility at Fordow is now complete. The expectation is that enrichment of uranium that can be used to produce a nuclear weapon at this site will increase in the coming months, bringing Tehran much closer to being capable of producing a weapon. That leaves the Obama administration with a dilemma.

Though the economic sanctions that President Obama belatedly embraced last year have inflicted pain on the Iranian economy, as the IAEA report makes clear, they have done nothing to halt their nuclear progress. While the president has reportedly assigned Valerie Jarrett, a close personal confidante, the task of carrying out secret talks with representatives of the ayatollah, there is little reason to believe they are interested in accepting the terms of a possible deal that Obama laid out during the third presidential debate, in which he said they would not be permitted to retain a nuclear program. If that is the president’s goal, he ought to embrace a plan for new and tougher economic sanctions that might actually have a chance to force the Iranians to reconsider their defiance. Yet a report published yesterday in Congressional Quarterly indicates that the administration plans to oppose the scheme.

According to CQ, the same bipartisan Senate team that dragged the administration into the tough sanctions last year is at it again. Illinois Republican Mark Kirk and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez are proposing ratcheting up the economic pressure on Iran. Their goal is to expand the loosely enforced measures now in place into something that would approximate an economic embargo. The new legislation would build on the existing law they helped draft to ban virtually all international trade and transactions with Iran except for food, medicine and humanitarian aid. Though it would not override the waivers given China and other Iranian oil customers allowed by the administration in the last year, the bill has the potential to bring the country to its knees and perhaps force its leaders to abandon their nuclear ambition.

Yet, as was the case with Kirk and Menendez’s previous efforts, the president may adamantly oppose the bill. Last year, the senators watered down their bill in an attempt to address administration concerns, but were disappointed to discover that the White House was still trying to spike it. They prevailed nonetheless and, in a stroke of irony, the president and his surrogates spent the presidential campaign bragging about the same Iran sanctions he had actually opposed before their passage.

If the president tries to stop Kirk and Menendez again this year, it will raise serious questions about his motives. The new sanctions plan provides what may be the only possible path to stopping the Iranians short of the use of force. Opposition to it could mean that the current negotiations being undertaken by Jarrett are aimed at a compromise that will fall far short of the president’s repeated campaign pledges not to allow the Iranians to retain a nuclear program. The president may think such “flexibility” will allow him to avoid a conflict with Tehran, but it will also leave open the very real possibility that the centrifuges in Fordow will not be stopped from producing the weapon that the world fears.

While the White House remains mum about Jarrett’s secret talks, the president’s stance on the Kirk-Menendez sanctions will give us a clue as to whether he will make good on his pledges to stop Iran during a second term.

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Jarrett’s Secret Iran Talks Raise Questions About Obama’s Intentions

During the presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama denied that his administration was preparing to conduct secret talks with Iran after the presidential election, as a New York Times story alleged. But according to a report published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot and on its English-language website Ynet.com, such talks are not only planned but have been going on for months and are being led by presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. This raises questions not only about whether the president will stand by his pledge in the debate that any deal with Iran must require them to give up their “nuclear program,” but also whether she is negotiating a compromise along the lines sought by the Europeans in the P5+1 talks. In that compromise, Tehran would be allowed considerable leeway in terms of its nuclear future. It also places in context the administration’s absolute refusal to agree to “red lines,” in response to Israel’s request that the U.S. promise diplomacy would not be allowed to drag on until it would be too late to take action to forestall Iran’s nuclear goal.

That secret talks are going on with Iran is, in itself, hardly surprising since Tehran has been holding off-and-on talks with the West about the nuclear issue for years. But Jarrett’s involvement signals the importance the issue has for Obama because of her standing as a senior advisor and her close personal connection with the Obama family. But by putting someone with no background on security issues in charge of this track, Obama may be signaling that the president’s goal here is not an Iranian surrender of nuclear capability, but rather a political compromise that may not eliminate the threat of an Islamist bomb sometime down the road.

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During the presidential debate on foreign policy, President Obama denied that his administration was preparing to conduct secret talks with Iran after the presidential election, as a New York Times story alleged. But according to a report published today in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot and on its English-language website Ynet.com, such talks are not only planned but have been going on for months and are being led by presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett. This raises questions not only about whether the president will stand by his pledge in the debate that any deal with Iran must require them to give up their “nuclear program,” but also whether she is negotiating a compromise along the lines sought by the Europeans in the P5+1 talks. In that compromise, Tehran would be allowed considerable leeway in terms of its nuclear future. It also places in context the administration’s absolute refusal to agree to “red lines,” in response to Israel’s request that the U.S. promise diplomacy would not be allowed to drag on until it would be too late to take action to forestall Iran’s nuclear goal.

That secret talks are going on with Iran is, in itself, hardly surprising since Tehran has been holding off-and-on talks with the West about the nuclear issue for years. But Jarrett’s involvement signals the importance the issue has for Obama because of her standing as a senior advisor and her close personal connection with the Obama family. But by putting someone with no background on security issues in charge of this track, Obama may be signaling that the president’s goal here is not an Iranian surrender of nuclear capability, but rather a political compromise that may not eliminate the threat of an Islamist bomb sometime down the road.

Jarrett was born in Shiraz, Iran (her father ran a hospital there) but left when she was 5, though she is said to have spoken Persian as a child. But that’s the extent of her expertise on the country. Her main qualification is that she is a close confidante of both the president and his wife. She is also widely given credit for helping to jump-start the president’s career by introducing him into the corrupt world of Chicago politics, where she was a significant player. That gives her credibility with the Iranians since she has a direct line to the White House. But if a re-elected Obama is rightly suspected of wanting to show more “flexibility” with America’s foes, then the Jarrett caper seems to be evidence that he is more interested in making this sore issue go away rather than pushing Iran hard to give up the possibility of attaining a weapon.

Though Jarrett and Obama may think their Chicago background makes them tough, the Iranians have made fools of every Western negotiator they’ve dealt with in the past decade, because of their tenacity and willingness to use the charade of talks as a way to run out the clock while their scientists get closer to achieving the country’s nuclear ambition. While the sanctions that the administration reluctantly put in place against Iran have caused the country economic pain, the American conviction that this gives them leverage over the ayatollahs may be mistaken. So long as the Iranian regime believes they can outlast and out-talk the West on this issue, it’s doubtful they can be compelled to sign a deal that would eliminate the nuclear threat–or to observe it even if they did.

While the president has been talking tough about Iran during the election year, it remains to be seen how tough his envoy has been with the Iranians in their secret talks. If Ms. Jarrett emerges with a deal sometime after the election, the suspicion is that her goal is more to get the president off the hook for his promises than to actually stop the Iranians.

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Did Turf War End Daley’s WH Job Early?

There was much speculation in January about the reason behind the sudden departure of President Obama’s chief of staff, Bill Daley. As a Catholic, Daley might have been especially uncomfortable playing such a high-profile role in an administration in open conflict with the church after Obama refused to back off a new requirement forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control in their health care plans. Or it might have been, as I wrote at the time, that Daley was brought in for his ties to the business community, which had just become the administration’s new favorite target, and Daley was put in an uncomfortable and unfair position.

But now, according to Glenn Thrush’s new ebook on the Obama re-election effort, evidence is emerging that Daley left because Obama gave him specific instructions on how to do his job, and Daley followed those instructions… too well? From the book:

The president’s only complaint about [Peter] Rouse’s tenure as temporary chief of staff in late 2010 (admittedly, a big one) was that too many papers and people were making it through Rouse’s filter to the Oval Office, several current and former White House aides told me.

Rouse had let the president become far more accessible than he wanted, and he was probably spending too much time on unnecessary paperwork and the like. So Daley did the opposite, but ended up at the other extreme:

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There was much speculation in January about the reason behind the sudden departure of President Obama’s chief of staff, Bill Daley. As a Catholic, Daley might have been especially uncomfortable playing such a high-profile role in an administration in open conflict with the church after Obama refused to back off a new requirement forcing Catholic institutions to cover birth control in their health care plans. Or it might have been, as I wrote at the time, that Daley was brought in for his ties to the business community, which had just become the administration’s new favorite target, and Daley was put in an uncomfortable and unfair position.

But now, according to Glenn Thrush’s new ebook on the Obama re-election effort, evidence is emerging that Daley left because Obama gave him specific instructions on how to do his job, and Daley followed those instructions… too well? From the book:

The president’s only complaint about [Peter] Rouse’s tenure as temporary chief of staff in late 2010 (admittedly, a big one) was that too many papers and people were making it through Rouse’s filter to the Oval Office, several current and former White House aides told me.

Rouse had let the president become far more accessible than he wanted, and he was probably spending too much time on unnecessary paperwork and the like. So Daley did the opposite, but ended up at the other extreme:

He scrapped Emanuel’s open door to the chief of staff and canceled an early-morning meeting that gave mid-level staffers an opportunity to air their opinions…. He also angered [Harry] Reid and other Hill leaders by delegating subordinates to field their calls.

Thrush says that these might have been pardonable sins but for Daley’s “biggest misstep”: alienating Valerie Jarrett and Alyssa Mastromonaco, Obama’s scheduler. He also cut the well-liked Jen Psaki out of the loop and in response, Psaki left the White House (though she serves as a press secretary with the president’s re-election campaign). Getting on Jarrett’s bad side seems to have been the last mistake Daley was permitted to make, and Obama’s inner circle, feeling frozen out by Daley, returned the favor.

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Joe Biden’s—and the President’s—Sycophancy Problem

In an interview with GQ magazine, Vice President Biden, when asked about Barack Obama’s problem in being perceived as aloof, provided us with this answer: “I think what it is, is he’s so brilliant. He is an intellectual.”

So that’s the real explanation for the president’s troubles. It isn’t really a communications problem after all; it’s an IQ Gap between Obama and America. He’s just so much smarter, and so much better, than the rest of us. It can’t be easy for a man so gifted in so many ways to maintain the common touch. That, at least, seems to be the view from ObamaLand.

This, of course, is exactly what the president doesn’t need: aides like Biden, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and others who, as things get worse for Mr. Obama, double down on their flattery of him.

There are many things in life I’m confident Mr. Obama needs; more sycophancy from his advisers is not one of them. What he needs, in fact, are mature, responsible, well-grounded people with standing in his life to let him know what is happening to his presidency. It is coming apart for a variety of reasons, including dogmatism and ideological rigidity, growing incompetence, unwise policies, and the poor performance of the American economy. The problems are not all of Obama’s making — but he bears a large share of the blame for taking America in the wrong direction.

I have little doubt that Vice President Biden’s words reflect his true views. That may be the most worrisome thing of all for the president. Because if this fiction continues to be entertained, things will only get worse for Obama, and for us.

In an interview with GQ magazine, Vice President Biden, when asked about Barack Obama’s problem in being perceived as aloof, provided us with this answer: “I think what it is, is he’s so brilliant. He is an intellectual.”

So that’s the real explanation for the president’s troubles. It isn’t really a communications problem after all; it’s an IQ Gap between Obama and America. He’s just so much smarter, and so much better, than the rest of us. It can’t be easy for a man so gifted in so many ways to maintain the common touch. That, at least, seems to be the view from ObamaLand.

This, of course, is exactly what the president doesn’t need: aides like Biden, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and others who, as things get worse for Mr. Obama, double down on their flattery of him.

There are many things in life I’m confident Mr. Obama needs; more sycophancy from his advisers is not one of them. What he needs, in fact, are mature, responsible, well-grounded people with standing in his life to let him know what is happening to his presidency. It is coming apart for a variety of reasons, including dogmatism and ideological rigidity, growing incompetence, unwise policies, and the poor performance of the American economy. The problems are not all of Obama’s making — but he bears a large share of the blame for taking America in the wrong direction.

I have little doubt that Vice President Biden’s words reflect his true views. That may be the most worrisome thing of all for the president. Because if this fiction continues to be entertained, things will only get worse for Obama, and for us.

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“And the Name of That Town Is Vanity”

In a story titled “The ego factor: Can Barack Obama change?” Politico highlights a passage from David Remnick’s Obama biography, The Bridge. Remnick quotes White House adviser and longtime friend Valerie Jarrett:

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So, what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.

This quote is rather astonishing, even by ObamaLand standards.

On his trip to Asia, the president might consider pulling out a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress and reading about the dangers lurking in “a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity.”

In a story titled “The ego factor: Can Barack Obama change?” Politico highlights a passage from David Remnick’s Obama biography, The Bridge. Remnick quotes White House adviser and longtime friend Valerie Jarrett:

I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He knows exactly how smart he is. … He knows how perceptive he is. He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows that he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense out of them, and I think that he has never really been challenged intellectually. … So, what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy. … He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.

This quote is rather astonishing, even by ObamaLand standards.

On his trip to Asia, the president might consider pulling out a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress and reading about the dangers lurking in “a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity.”

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Predictions

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

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Best Supporting Role in a Civil Rights Cover-Up

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) – to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

Hollywood is not the only place where self-congratulatory awards are plentiful. Andrew Malcolm notes that the Obama Department of Justice has handed out a slew of these — more than 300 (if you didn’t get one, start updating your resume) – to their attorneys and staffers. He empathizes (no, not really) with the “workload” all this entails:

Dropping the Black Panther voter intimidation case. Not closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Suing Arizona for trying to do the federal job of securing the porous Mexican border against drug and human smugglers. Fighting in federal court to uphold the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law on gays in the military that Obama often says he really, really opposes and will certainly change someday on his watch. Ditto for the department’s ongoing legal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Even though top Obama aide Valerie Jarrett got caught on an interview video recently kinda letting the cat out of the bag about the White House view of gay being a lifestyle choice. But she apologized for the revelation.

Let’s not forget about hiring attorneys who previously represented al-Qaeda terrorists, refusing to enforce portions of the Voting Rights Act (which would head off fraud), and giving rotten advice (later countermanded) with respect to the release of detainee-abuse photos. You wonder what these awards were for. Best misleading answer to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Most egregious case of conflict of interest in matters of national security. The mind reels.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Without Obama, the GOP could never have gotten this far, this fast: “Two weeks before Election Day, Democrats fear their grip on the House may be gone, and Republicans are poised to celebrate big gains in the Senate and governors’ mansions as well. Analysts in both parties say all major indicators tilt toward the Republicans. President Barack Obama‘s policies are widely unpopular. Congress, run by the Democrats, rates even lower. Fear and anger over unemployment and deep deficits are energizing conservative voters; liberals are demoralized.”

The White House’s assault on the Chamber of Commerce is without evidence and without shame: “Democratic leaders in the House and Senate criticizing GOP groups for allegedly funneling foreign money into campaign ads have seen their party raise more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies.”

The White House truly is without friends. A New York Times reporter debunks the White House’s claim that it is all a communication problem; she says it’s really a policy problem. Yeah, the Times.

Without social and economic conservatives, it’s hard to win the GOP presidential nomination: “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has now managed to alienate prominent social and fiscal conservatives. The potential presidential candidate’s already rocky path to the Republican nomination became more treacherous this weekend after the country’s most powerful anti-tax activist and one of the House’s most respected fiscal conservatives disparaged Daniels’ openness to considering a controversial value added tax as part of a larger tax system overhaul.”

Without a doubt, Daniels would have been wise to consult with Gary Bauer before setting out on his pre-campaign tours: “I would say to Governor Mitch Daniels you know, it’s — it’s not our side that has declared war on social issues. I would love to be able to call a truce on it. The reason the social issues are in such play so many years is that others have declared war. There’s a major movement going on in this country to change the definition of marriage. Now, if — if Mitch Daniels thinks he can call a truce on that, that would be great, but as long as people are pushing to change the definition of marriage, there are going to be millions of Americans that say no; we want marriage to stay between one man and one woman.”

Without peer as the least-credible White House press secretary in recent memory: “Though Republicans across the country are hammering Democratic opponents by linking them to President Obama’s policies, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asserted Sunday that 2010 is a ‘local’ election.”

Without independents and strong support from their base, the Dems are heading for a wipeout: “Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall. Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.”

Without any self-awareness, Valerie Jarrett is still in messiah-mode: “‘He doesn’t have the shtick, you know, the way a lot of politicians do. He’s completely sincere and true and I think people are not used to seeing that in their politicians. So it’s taking people a while to realize that he’s actually a real person and he’s not just trying to pretend and fool them and trick them into thinking he’s something else.’ … Jarrett also blamed some of the president’s perceived problems on ‘the fact that there’s a kind of toxicity in the language.’ She said the president ‘always keeps an even tone and … he always looks for the better angels in people.’”

Without Obama, the GOP could never have gotten this far, this fast: “Two weeks before Election Day, Democrats fear their grip on the House may be gone, and Republicans are poised to celebrate big gains in the Senate and governors’ mansions as well. Analysts in both parties say all major indicators tilt toward the Republicans. President Barack Obama‘s policies are widely unpopular. Congress, run by the Democrats, rates even lower. Fear and anger over unemployment and deep deficits are energizing conservative voters; liberals are demoralized.”

The White House’s assault on the Chamber of Commerce is without evidence and without shame: “Democratic leaders in the House and Senate criticizing GOP groups for allegedly funneling foreign money into campaign ads have seen their party raise more than $1 million from political action committees affiliated with foreign companies.”

The White House truly is without friends. A New York Times reporter debunks the White House’s claim that it is all a communication problem; she says it’s really a policy problem. Yeah, the Times.

Without social and economic conservatives, it’s hard to win the GOP presidential nomination: “Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has now managed to alienate prominent social and fiscal conservatives. The potential presidential candidate’s already rocky path to the Republican nomination became more treacherous this weekend after the country’s most powerful anti-tax activist and one of the House’s most respected fiscal conservatives disparaged Daniels’ openness to considering a controversial value added tax as part of a larger tax system overhaul.”

Without a doubt, Daniels would have been wise to consult with Gary Bauer before setting out on his pre-campaign tours: “I would say to Governor Mitch Daniels you know, it’s — it’s not our side that has declared war on social issues. I would love to be able to call a truce on it. The reason the social issues are in such play so many years is that others have declared war. There’s a major movement going on in this country to change the definition of marriage. Now, if — if Mitch Daniels thinks he can call a truce on that, that would be great, but as long as people are pushing to change the definition of marriage, there are going to be millions of Americans that say no; we want marriage to stay between one man and one woman.”

Without peer as the least-credible White House press secretary in recent memory: “Though Republicans across the country are hammering Democratic opponents by linking them to President Obama’s policies, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asserted Sunday that 2010 is a ‘local’ election.”

Without independents and strong support from their base, the Dems are heading for a wipeout: “Nearly two years after putting Obama in the White House, one-quarter of those who voted for the Democrat are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall. Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2, according to an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll released two weeks before Obama’s first midterm elections.”

Without any self-awareness, Valerie Jarrett is still in messiah-mode: “‘He doesn’t have the shtick, you know, the way a lot of politicians do. He’s completely sincere and true and I think people are not used to seeing that in their politicians. So it’s taking people a while to realize that he’s actually a real person and he’s not just trying to pretend and fool them and trick them into thinking he’s something else.’ … Jarrett also blamed some of the president’s perceived problems on ‘the fact that there’s a kind of toxicity in the language.’ She said the president ‘always keeps an even tone and … he always looks for the better angels in people.’”

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The Art of Discontent

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

Peter Baker, one of the nation’s finest and fairest political reporters, has written an illuminating story for the New York Times Magazine. “Education of a President” is based on interviews with Barack Obama and a dozen of his advisers.

There are three overriding impression I took away from the piece, beginning with how much events are humbling the president and his top aides. “This is an administration that feels shellshocked,” Baker writes. “Many officials worry, they say, that the best days of the Obama presidency are behind them.” One aide confessed to Baker, “We’re all a lot more cynical now.” In their darkest moments, Baker informs us, “White House aides wonder aloud whether it is even possible for a modern president to succeed.”

The second takeaway from Baker’s piece is how the blame for Obama’s failures rests with everyone else. “Washington is even more broken than we thought,” one aide tells Baker. The system “is not on the level” — a phrase commonly used around the West Wing meaning “Republicans, the news media, the lobbyists, the whole Washington culture is not serious about solving problems.” Obama himself says, “Given how much stuff was coming at us, we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right.” (Read: we were too virtuous for our own good.)

The third impression from Baker’s article is the degree of self-pity and moral and intellectual superiority that remains so prevalent in the Obama White House. “The view from inside the administration starts with a basic mantra,” Baker writes. “Obama inherited the worst problems of any president in years. Or in generations. Or in American history.” Obama does little to disguise his disdain for Washington and the conventions of modern politics, Baker writes. He has little patience for what Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, calls “the inevitable theatrics of Washington.” And in his conversation with Baker, Obama used some variation of the phrase “they’re not serious” four times in referring to Republican budget plans. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told Baker that Obama “always believes he is the smartest person in any room.”

The White House, then, is characterized by habitual vanity, rising cynicism, collapsing morale, and increasing resentment toward politics and governing, itself. Having worked in the White House for most of two terms, I understand that life there can present an array of challenges. Still, those working in the Obama White House seem utterly devoid of any enchantment and joy rooted in an appreciation of history — the kind of that that makes working in the White House, even on the worst days, an honor beyond measure.

In writing about Edward Grey, John Buchan told about how he had been the most fortunate of mortals, for he had everything — health, beauty, easy means, a great reputation, innumerable friends. One by one, the sources of his happiness vanished, yet Grey persevered. “Under the buffetings of life he never winced or complained,” Buchan writes, “and the spectacle of his gentle fortitude was . . . an inspiration.”

Later in Pilgrim’s Way, Buchan, in describing himself, says, “I was brought up in times when one was not ashamed to be happy, and I have never learned the art of discontent.”

The White House today seems to be inhabited by people who have learned the art of discontent. Some day, it may dawn on them what a privilege and gift their White House years really were. But by then, the moment will be gone with the wind.

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The Last Thing This Administration Needs

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

Earlier this month, I commented that it was quite possible that Obama could choose a worse chief of staff to replace Rahm Emanuel — Valerie Jarrett. Her personal judgment is poor, her political instincts run far-left, and she is so cozy with the president, she’s unlikely to part with him — or deliver contrary views — and thereby curb his most self-destructive tendencies. Dana Milbank confirms my take:

As the senior adviser in charge of “public engagement,” she has been the White House official responsible for maintaining relationships with the business community and with liberal interest groups — two of the most conspicuous areas of failure for the White House during Obama’s first two years.

She’s also the one who arranged the hiring of social secretary Desiree Rogers, only to cut her friend loose when Rogers was tarnished by the party-crashing Salahis at a state dinner in November.

In addition to Jarrett’s hiring of Van Jones, support for the Ground Zero mosque, and enthusiasm for Fox News–bashing, Milbank points out that she’s ridden to the rescue of two problematic figures:

Consider the recent hiring of Harvard’s Elizabeth Warren as the White House official in charge of setting up the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection. Emanuel and others had opposed the appointment on grounds that Warren is difficult to work with and politically radioactive. But Jarrett, arguing for the need for more senior women in the White House, got Obama to overrule Warren’s detractors. …

Jarrett made a similar intervention months earlier, when some senior White House officials were losing confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. His job appeared to be in jeopardy over the decision to put Khalid Sheikh Mohammad on trial in New York, but Jarrett made sure that Holder, a friend, would remain in good standing.

Her judgment is deeply flawed, and her ascension would essentially rule out any significant policy readjustment by the Obama administration.  Selecting her would confirm that Obama is not one to self-reflect, admit error, and adjust to new circumstances.

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The Cocooned President

The Washington Post tells us that Obama is to be “deprived” within the next six months or so of the services of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod (who will go run Obama’s reelection campaign, a task indistinguishable from his current role), James Jones, and other advisers. (Before you get excited, remember who is picking their successors.) The Post tells us that the worldly and sophisticated president (the media told us he was, so how can that be wrong?) “doesn’t like new people.” Let’s hope that isn’t right. Because, to be frank, you’d expect more social adeptness and flexibility from a third grader (and I do). Unfortunately, the problem is all too real:

Recent White House hires reflect the president’s desire to surround himself with people he knows well. Elizabeth Warren, recently tapped as the government’s first consumer protection adviser, is someone Obama describes as a “dear friend.” Austan Goolsbee, brought in as the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has been in the Obama orbit much longer than the woman he replaced, Christina Romer.

It seems — really, who knew? — as though the president is too insulated:

“They miscalculated where people were out in the country on jobs, on spending, on the deficit, on debt,” said a longtime Democratic strategist who works with the White House on a variety of issues. “They have not been able to get ahead of any of it. And it’s all about the insularity. Otherwise how do you explain how a group who came in with more goodwill in decades squandered it?” The strategist asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the president and his staff.

This is not an uncommon view among Democratic political professionals, many of whom share the goals of the White House but have grown frustrated with a staff they see as unapproachable and set in their ways.

The solution? Valerie Jarrett as chief of staff!

Apparently yes men and women, unwilling to challenge Obama’s basic assumptions or deliver inconvenient truths, are in high demand. No hope and change for Obama.

This peek at the White House’s circle-the-wagons mentality suggests that Obama is not one to reassess, clean house, and chart a new course after the midterms. It might take him out of his comfort zone. That’s bad news for the country, but music to the ears of the 2012 GOP presidential contenders.

The Washington Post tells us that Obama is to be “deprived” within the next six months or so of the services of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod (who will go run Obama’s reelection campaign, a task indistinguishable from his current role), James Jones, and other advisers. (Before you get excited, remember who is picking their successors.) The Post tells us that the worldly and sophisticated president (the media told us he was, so how can that be wrong?) “doesn’t like new people.” Let’s hope that isn’t right. Because, to be frank, you’d expect more social adeptness and flexibility from a third grader (and I do). Unfortunately, the problem is all too real:

Recent White House hires reflect the president’s desire to surround himself with people he knows well. Elizabeth Warren, recently tapped as the government’s first consumer protection adviser, is someone Obama describes as a “dear friend.” Austan Goolsbee, brought in as the new chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has been in the Obama orbit much longer than the woman he replaced, Christina Romer.

It seems — really, who knew? — as though the president is too insulated:

“They miscalculated where people were out in the country on jobs, on spending, on the deficit, on debt,” said a longtime Democratic strategist who works with the White House on a variety of issues. “They have not been able to get ahead of any of it. And it’s all about the insularity. Otherwise how do you explain how a group who came in with more goodwill in decades squandered it?” The strategist asked not to be identified in order to speak freely about the president and his staff.

This is not an uncommon view among Democratic political professionals, many of whom share the goals of the White House but have grown frustrated with a staff they see as unapproachable and set in their ways.

The solution? Valerie Jarrett as chief of staff!

Apparently yes men and women, unwilling to challenge Obama’s basic assumptions or deliver inconvenient truths, are in high demand. No hope and change for Obama.

This peek at the White House’s circle-the-wagons mentality suggests that Obama is not one to reassess, clean house, and chart a new course after the midterms. It might take him out of his comfort zone. That’s bad news for the country, but music to the ears of the 2012 GOP presidential contenders.

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Now Liberal Women Are Mad at Him Too

Young people, old people, Hispanics, and independents have all grown weary of Obama. His base is grouchy, sensing that a deluge is coming. And now the self-appointed feminist bean counters are in a snit:

President Obama is facing new criticism from women’s rights groups for failing to nominate a woman to his core group of economic advisers.

Obama on Friday named longtime adviser Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers after Christina Romer left to return to the University of California at Berkeley.

Women’s rights groups — including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and The New Agenda — have sharply criticized the White House for not including more women in prominent positions overseeing the economy and financial policy.

Not enough for them to have the secretary of state, the secretary of health and human services, the labor secretary, two new Supreme Court justices, and a potential chief of staff (Valerie Jarrett). You can almost sympathize with the White House. Almost – because it, along with every other Democratic administration in recent history, has played the diversity game, proudly showing off its women and minorities as evidence of its anti-bias credentials. Apparently, one of the rules now in this tiresome game is that a woman has to substitute for a woman, or a woman has to be named in the same policy area.

Good golly. If anything, women’s groups should be pleased that their sisters haven’t been sullied by association with possibly the worst economic team since Herbert Hoover. All those men will have a blot on their records, but not the liberal sisterhood.

This sure does seem badly out of date, a creaky remnant of the 1970s: “‘The problem with the president insulating himself with the old boys around him is that he is really not getting information about how people are struggling, how women are struggling,’ Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, said earlier last week.” Do people believe this claptrap anymore?

The real motive, however, may be to pressure the Obami into appointing a left-wing zealot (Elizabeth Warren) to head up the new consumer financial protection office. Maybe if they guilt-trip him, they’ll get their gal in the spot. Well, if Obama is willing to use yet another recess appointment, it’s possible, but there’s little chance she’ll get through the Senate. The current Senate (not to mention the next one) will be reluctant to rubber-stamp another extremist.

You wonder how much longer NOW will be in business. Perhaps NOW and the NAACP should get together for a going-out-of-business sale. Really, the rest of us have moved on. Isn’t it time they did too?

Young people, old people, Hispanics, and independents have all grown weary of Obama. His base is grouchy, sensing that a deluge is coming. And now the self-appointed feminist bean counters are in a snit:

President Obama is facing new criticism from women’s rights groups for failing to nominate a woman to his core group of economic advisers.

Obama on Friday named longtime adviser Austan Goolsbee to head the Council of Economic Advisers after Christina Romer left to return to the University of California at Berkeley.

Women’s rights groups — including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and The New Agenda — have sharply criticized the White House for not including more women in prominent positions overseeing the economy and financial policy.

Not enough for them to have the secretary of state, the secretary of health and human services, the labor secretary, two new Supreme Court justices, and a potential chief of staff (Valerie Jarrett). You can almost sympathize with the White House. Almost – because it, along with every other Democratic administration in recent history, has played the diversity game, proudly showing off its women and minorities as evidence of its anti-bias credentials. Apparently, one of the rules now in this tiresome game is that a woman has to substitute for a woman, or a woman has to be named in the same policy area.

Good golly. If anything, women’s groups should be pleased that their sisters haven’t been sullied by association with possibly the worst economic team since Herbert Hoover. All those men will have a blot on their records, but not the liberal sisterhood.

This sure does seem badly out of date, a creaky remnant of the 1970s: “‘The problem with the president insulating himself with the old boys around him is that he is really not getting information about how people are struggling, how women are struggling,’ Terry O’Neill, head of NOW, said earlier last week.” Do people believe this claptrap anymore?

The real motive, however, may be to pressure the Obami into appointing a left-wing zealot (Elizabeth Warren) to head up the new consumer financial protection office. Maybe if they guilt-trip him, they’ll get their gal in the spot. Well, if Obama is willing to use yet another recess appointment, it’s possible, but there’s little chance she’ll get through the Senate. The current Senate (not to mention the next one) will be reluctant to rubber-stamp another extremist.

You wonder how much longer NOW will be in business. Perhaps NOW and the NAACP should get together for a going-out-of-business sale. Really, the rest of us have moved on. Isn’t it time they did too?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Other than that, he’s done just fine. Howard Fineman: “Obama misread his mandate. … Obama misread the clock. … Obama misread his surroundings.” And most of all, the mainstream media misread him.

Other than “delusional,” how would you describe this? “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks voters will eventually warm to health care reform.”

Other than the Obami, who likes ObamaCare? “Many Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing for the repeal of a tax provision in the new health care law that imposes a huge information-reporting burden on small businesses.” And that’s the New York Times reporting.

Other than Larry King, who has the good sense to retire, is there a worse interviewer than Christiane Amanpour? Not a single tough follow-up question in her chat with Imam Abdul Rauf, no queries about his funding for the Ground Zero mosque, and no questions about his statements blaming the U.S. for 9/11. ABC execs who thought putting her in the host’s chair was a great idea should be embarrassed.

Other than keeping the current line-up, what personnel decision would be a loser? “There are indications that Obama plans to replace Emanuel with a loyalist. Among the names being floated is Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification for having a White House job is that she is a long-time Obama friend. In one of the most hilariously revealing utterances of the Obama presidency, Jarrett stated that the White House was ‘speaking truth to power’ by castigating Fox News. To make Jarrett chief of staff would be disastrous.”

Other than this, the recovery is going swell: “President Obama’s new chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs (CEA) said Sunday that the national unemployment rate will not decrease significantly anytime soon.”

Other than losing independents, turning off his base, and energizing conservatives, Obama has been great for his party. “Obama voters evince little interest in the midterm election. When they express goodwill toward the president, it rarely extends to his allies in Congress. Many do not consider themselves Democrats. Pew’s survey experts routinely ask respondents to characterize the president in a single word. In their most recent poll, conducted this summer, more respondents than ever answered with the word ‘disappointing.’ Some who threw their lot in with Obama expressed a sense of being let down by the man who promised change and pledged to transform the country. Some attributed that to their own lofty expectations and, perhaps, their naivete. Others pointed to what they saw as his lack of focus on the still-faltering economy.” These were people who voted for him in 2008.

Other than that, he’s done just fine. Howard Fineman: “Obama misread his mandate. … Obama misread the clock. … Obama misread his surroundings.” And most of all, the mainstream media misread him.

Other than “delusional,” how would you describe this? “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks voters will eventually warm to health care reform.”

Other than the Obami, who likes ObamaCare? “Many Democrats have joined Republicans in pushing for the repeal of a tax provision in the new health care law that imposes a huge information-reporting burden on small businesses.” And that’s the New York Times reporting.

Other than Larry King, who has the good sense to retire, is there a worse interviewer than Christiane Amanpour? Not a single tough follow-up question in her chat with Imam Abdul Rauf, no queries about his funding for the Ground Zero mosque, and no questions about his statements blaming the U.S. for 9/11. ABC execs who thought putting her in the host’s chair was a great idea should be embarrassed.

Other than keeping the current line-up, what personnel decision would be a loser? “There are indications that Obama plans to replace Emanuel with a loyalist. Among the names being floated is Valerie Jarrett, whose sole qualification for having a White House job is that she is a long-time Obama friend. In one of the most hilariously revealing utterances of the Obama presidency, Jarrett stated that the White House was ‘speaking truth to power’ by castigating Fox News. To make Jarrett chief of staff would be disastrous.”

Other than this, the recovery is going swell: “President Obama’s new chairman of the Council of Economic Affairs (CEA) said Sunday that the national unemployment rate will not decrease significantly anytime soon.”

Other than losing independents, turning off his base, and energizing conservatives, Obama has been great for his party. “Obama voters evince little interest in the midterm election. When they express goodwill toward the president, it rarely extends to his allies in Congress. Many do not consider themselves Democrats. Pew’s survey experts routinely ask respondents to characterize the president in a single word. In their most recent poll, conducted this summer, more respondents than ever answered with the word ‘disappointing.’ Some who threw their lot in with Obama expressed a sense of being let down by the man who promised change and pledged to transform the country. Some attributed that to their own lofty expectations and, perhaps, their naivete. Others pointed to what they saw as his lack of focus on the still-faltering economy.” These were people who voted for him in 2008.

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From the Frying Pan into the Fire

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

Those who keep advising Obama to fire people miss a key point: the replacements could be worse than the current crew. No, it really is possible. Mayor Daley of Chicago won’t run for another term, and Washington is abuzz with speculation that Rahm Emanuel will leave (flee?) the administration to run for the job. Ben Smith reports: “Emanuel has told Chicago associates, a source tells me, who he believes will likely succeed him: senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.”

Obama will be trading one Chicago pol (who at least understood how to elect Democrats from places that weren’t deep Blue) for a liberal Chicago pol whose instincts seem to mirror David Axelrod’s: when in doubt, go left. This was the gal who thought Obama’s defense of the Ground Zero mosque was a swell idea. She also remains a potential witness in the Blago retrial. She also led the vendetta against Fox News.  And of course, 9/11 truther Van Jones was her hire.

In short, if the Obami are looking for a far-left chief of staff with bad political instincts and a Chicago-machine outlook, they couldn’t do “better” than Valerie Jarrett.

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How Bad?

How bad is the Ground Zero mosque story for the White House? Bad enough that Obama advisers are pointing fingers at the president and trying to absolve themselves of the fiasco. Politico reports:

Prior to the decision, [Rahm] Emanuel and Obama’s communications staff vividly — and presciently — predicted that Obama would be handing Republicans a weapon to batter Democrats as weak-kneed on terrorism three months before the midterms, according to several people familiar with the situation.

In other words, not our fault! Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, the president’s most devoted cheerleaders for the most extreme liberal positions, were all for it, you see. But not Emanuel and the communications team because they are smart enough — they remind us — to tell Obama what a harebrained idea this was. But it wouldn’t look good, especially for Emanuel, who had his own bout of “not my fault” media coverage early in the year, to look so blatantly disloyal. So he throws in an e-mail:

“Give me a break,” Emanuel e-mailed POLITICO when asked about a press report that he had opposed the move. “We all stand behind and support the president’s decision.”

But on background, you guys should know: “not my fault!” What is clear is that Axelrod and Jarrett, arguably the most powerful of Obama’s team, also possess the worst instincts:

No one supported Obama more forcefully than Jarrett, Obama’s close friend and the administration’s liaison to the civil rights community, who told people she thought the mosque issue was a matter of core Democratic principle, according to several sources familiar with her actions.

And Axelrod, a canny tactician with a keen sensitivity to political danger, didn’t dissuade his boss from jumping in, citing his own parents’ experiences with religious persecution as Jews in Europe.

Well, I guess his sensitivity to political danger was on the fritz. And his disgusting  invocation of the Nazi analogy — make no mistake, the American people get the role of the Nazis in this one, and the Muslims are awarded the status of potential Holocaust victims – suggests his undiluted leftism has rendered him tone deaf and a severe liability for a president who needs his worst instinct to be curbed, not accentuated.

But this is a reminder that the one responsible for the White House’s egregious political malpractice and who is hermetically sealed from the concerns and values of the American people is the president. He is the only one who matters — and it is his flawed judgment and estrangement from ordinary Americans that have landed him in a ditch.

How bad is the Ground Zero mosque story for the White House? Bad enough that Obama advisers are pointing fingers at the president and trying to absolve themselves of the fiasco. Politico reports:

Prior to the decision, [Rahm] Emanuel and Obama’s communications staff vividly — and presciently — predicted that Obama would be handing Republicans a weapon to batter Democrats as weak-kneed on terrorism three months before the midterms, according to several people familiar with the situation.

In other words, not our fault! Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, the president’s most devoted cheerleaders for the most extreme liberal positions, were all for it, you see. But not Emanuel and the communications team because they are smart enough — they remind us — to tell Obama what a harebrained idea this was. But it wouldn’t look good, especially for Emanuel, who had his own bout of “not my fault” media coverage early in the year, to look so blatantly disloyal. So he throws in an e-mail:

“Give me a break,” Emanuel e-mailed POLITICO when asked about a press report that he had opposed the move. “We all stand behind and support the president’s decision.”

But on background, you guys should know: “not my fault!” What is clear is that Axelrod and Jarrett, arguably the most powerful of Obama’s team, also possess the worst instincts:

No one supported Obama more forcefully than Jarrett, Obama’s close friend and the administration’s liaison to the civil rights community, who told people she thought the mosque issue was a matter of core Democratic principle, according to several sources familiar with her actions.

And Axelrod, a canny tactician with a keen sensitivity to political danger, didn’t dissuade his boss from jumping in, citing his own parents’ experiences with religious persecution as Jews in Europe.

Well, I guess his sensitivity to political danger was on the fritz. And his disgusting  invocation of the Nazi analogy — make no mistake, the American people get the role of the Nazis in this one, and the Muslims are awarded the status of potential Holocaust victims – suggests his undiluted leftism has rendered him tone deaf and a severe liability for a president who needs his worst instinct to be curbed, not accentuated.

But this is a reminder that the one responsible for the White House’s egregious political malpractice and who is hermetically sealed from the concerns and values of the American people is the president. He is the only one who matters — and it is his flawed judgment and estrangement from ordinary Americans that have landed him in a ditch.

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The Increasingly Self-Pitying Obama White House

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

According to the preview offered by Vanity Fair:

[Todd] Purdum spends a day inside the West Wing and talks to Obama’s top aides, who tell him about the challenges of playing the Beltway game, ugly as it has become, even as their boss insists they find a way to transcend it.

“There’s a relentlessness to this that’s unlike anything else, especially when you come into office in a time of crisis,” says Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. “We did not exactly ease into the tub. The world is so much smaller, and events reverberate much more quickly, and one person can create an event so quickly from one computer terminal.”

Larry Summers, who served as Clinton’s Treasury secretary for the last 18 months of his term, says, “It used to be there was a kind of rhythm to the day” with the tempo picking up after the markets closed and as newspaper deadlines approached, between four and seven P.M. “That’s gone.” And, according to Rahm Emanuel, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta thinks “it’s a huge problem” that Washington runs at such “a highly caffeinated speed.”

Emanuel calls it “F***nutsville,” and Valerie Jarrett says she looks back wistfully to a time when credible people could put a stamp of reliability on information and opinion: “Walter Cronkite would get on and say the truth, and people believed the media,” she says.

It got so bad last December that President Obama and Emanuel would joke that, when it was all over, they were going to open a T-shirt stand on a beach in Hawaii. It would face the ocean and sell only one color and one size. “We didn’t want to make another decision, or choice, or judgment,” Emanuel tells Purdum. They took to beginning staff meetings with Obama smiling at Emanuel and simply saying “White,” and Emanuel nodding back and replying “Medium.”

I’ll reserve final judgment until I read the entire piece. But based on these excerpts — which presumably reflect the thrust of the 10,000-word article — what is striking is the degree of self-pity we find in Obama’s advisers, which is reflected in the president’s words and attitude as well. Team Obama sounds nothing so much as overmatched and overwhelmed, unable to understand what has gone wrong, and increasingly bitter toward the nation’s capital and the pace and nature of politics.

What we are seeing, I think, is a group of supremely arrogant people humbled by events. They are turning out to be a good deal more incompetent than they (and many Americans) ever imagined. They see impending political doom in the form of the midterm elections. Yet this is not leading them toward any apparent serious self-reflection; rather, they are engaging in an extraordinary degree of whining, finger-pointing, and self-indulgence.

It was said of President Kennedy that he was a happy president. “Happiness, [Kennedy] often said, paraphrasing Aristotle, is the full use of one’s faculties along lines of excellence, and to him the Presidency offered the ideal opportunity to pursue excellence,” Theodore Sorenson wrote in Kennedy. “He liked the job, he thrived on its pressures.”

One doesn’t get that sense with Obama or his key advisers. In 18 months they appear to have developed deep grievances and an increasing unhappiness and frustration with the duties of governing.

Life in the White House is challenging; anyone who has worked there can testify to that. And Washington, D.C., is certainly an imperfect city, as all are. But the impression Team Obama is trying to create — that no group has ever faced more challenges, more difficulties, or more hardships — is silly and somewhat pathetic. Politics is the worthiest ambition, wrote John Buchan (the author of JFK’s favorite book, Pilgrim’s Way); it is the greatest and most honorable adventure.

If Obama and his aides don’t see that or anything like that — if they view politics and governing only through a lens tinted by bitterness, frustration, and resentment — then it is time for them to step aside. If not, then they should man up. Self-pity is a terribly unattractive quality.

Read Less




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