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You're all just pissin' in the wind

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by basso, Jun 24, 2013.

  1. basso

    basso Member
    Supporting Member

    May 20, 2002
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    you don't know it, but you are.

    [rquoter]Obama in the doldrums
    By: John F. Harris and Jake Sherman and Elizabeth Titus
    June 24, 2013 08:59 PM EDT

    Not yet six months into his second term, Barack Obama’s presidency is in a dead zone.

    A combination of familiar Washington intransigence and a more recent run of bad news and political setbacks have left him with less influence over his circumstances — and more buffeted by factors beyond his control — than at any time in his five years in office.

    But in a damning appraisal, a wide variety of congressional Democrats and presidential scholars said in interviews that there is another decisive factor behind Obama’s current paralysis: his own failure to use the traditional tools of the presidency to exert his will.

    Obama does not instill fear — one of the customary instruments of presidential power. Five years of experience, say lawmakers of both parties, have demonstrated that there is not a huge political or personal cost to be paid for crossing the president.

    (PHOTOS: The two sides of Obama)

    Obama cannot count on friendship. There are plenty of politicians who would love the political and psychic benefits of favored status from the president. But Obama’s distant style and his insular West Wing operation have left congressional Democrats resigned, many said in interviews, to the reality that they will never be insiders and, therefore, have no special incentives to stay on Obama’s good side.

    Obama is not buoyed by the power of ideas. When President Ronald Reagan hit a similar second-term dead zone, during the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986, he was still regarded by conservatives as the godfather of a historic movement. Obama, while retaining wide support among progressives, remains known for a personal brand rather than an ideological one — a status that has not helped much when he is looking for friends in a storm, such as the recent uproars over alleged politicization at the Internal Revenue Service and National Security Agency surveillance.

    Finally, Obama is standing in a presidential pulpit that recently has proved to be the opposite of bully. So far in 2013, he has tried to harness public opinion to bring Congress to heel on both the budget sequestration and gun control debates. In both cases, Republicans — and in key instances, moderate Democrats — shrugged it off with apparent impunity.

    (PHOTOS: 18 defining Obama moments)

    This week marks a critical moment in Obama’s effort to transcend second-term impotence.

    Stymied during his first term from coaxing Congress into backing a robust cap-and-trade program to curb greenhouse gasses, Obama on Tuesday will unveil a series of executive actions — taken on his own authority rather than through new legislation — to clamp down on power plants and otherwise reduce the country’s carbon footprint.

    The White House is trumpeting the environmental package as an illustration of how Obama is determined to set Washington’s policy agenda even as Republicans are determined to keep his presidency in a coma.

    (Also on POLITICO: Obama energy push could loom large in 2014)

    And the White House is taking credit for the immigration push under way in Congress.

    “He won Latinos by a huge majority,” a senior White House official told POLITICO. “If he hadn’t done that, immigration would not be happening.”

    More broadly, the official said that despite Democratic grousing that Obama could do more, the president has been far more involved behind the scenes than people realize. This official also dismissed the notion that Obama does not command loyalty — or fear — on Capitol Hill.

    “We don’t have a problem with our Democrats,” the official said. “Our Democrats stay with us.”

    (PHOTOS: Obama’s dinner with Republicans)

    But in interviews in recent days, numerous congressional Democrats in background and, significantly, on-the-record comments made plain their view that it is not simply the hostility of Republicans responsible for the languid state of Obama’s presidency.

    “I don’t think he has chosen to use all the levers of power that he has at his disposal,” said Rep. Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat. “I think he should.”

    This sometimes means, in Andrews’s view, making clear that people have good reason to be afraid of him. Andrews said Obama should have told Democrats that if they vote against the president’s push for stronger gun laws, they shouldn’t call the White House for any favors. “You want judgeships, ambassadorships, things for your state, don’t bother,” Andrews said, adding Obama should say, “If you’re not with us on this one, we’re not with you on anything either. He doesn’t do that. And he should.”

    “The president has enormous institutional powers,” Andrews said. “Because of his style, and because of the kind of person he is, he has decided not to use those instruments usually against anyone when it comes to rounding up votes.”

    In addition, Obama has not dispensed many small favors he can use when he sends someone to the dog house. In fact, some see him as politically ham-handed. Many House Democrats have lingering resentment over what they see as his subpar effort to help them keep the majority in 2010. Democrats who voted for the bulk of his agenda lost, and Obama was perceived as abandoning them while he saved his political capital for his own reelection bid in 2012.

    “I think he could’ve done more to help those Democrats get reelected,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has served in Washington since the Ford presidency. “They walked out on a plank for him and his program, but there was a huge tidal wave of opposition, and I don’t think it could’ve been overcome.”

    Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), former chairman of the progressive caucus, is generally supportive of Obama and said the president used his power well when passing health care. On gun control, however, he wishes Obama would be “more forceful” and said the president needs to carry a bigger stick.

    Are lawmakers afraid of crossing Obama? “No,” said Grijalva. “I don’t sense any retribution.”

    Waxman said Obama uses a more indirect method of gaining support, different from presidents in the past.

    “The model of Lyndon Johnson was to reward those who supported him and punish those who didn’t, so members of Congress would want to be on his side or suffer the consequences,” Waxman said. “But President Obama operates from a different premise — he operates from the idea that he’s making the case to the American people, and the American people have to get their representative to support his programs and his legislative efforts.”

    This has been the theory behind repeated Obama efforts to take his case to the public. There is growing evidence, however, that Obama’s silver tongue — his public eloquence was what first launched him from Illinois obscurity to national fame in 2004 — is a currency with depreciating value.

    It did not work to pass gun control, even in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut. Andrews fears presidential rhetoric may never be an especially good weapon for Obama in a tight legislative battle. “His barnstorming does not build pressure on Republicans, because people in their base don’t like Democrats,” he said. “Eighty percent of the members are in a district where a primary challenge is their principal political vulnerability. … If the president goes out and barnstorms, it works politically for that member to vote against the president. It has the opposite effect.”

    Doug Sosnik, a veteran Democratic strategist who writes political analyses that are widely followed in Washington circles, wrote last month in his latest report that cumulatively, the erosion of Obama’s power means that “there’s not a single member of either party who fears paying a political price for not falling in line with the president, making it even more difficult to get members to cast difficult votes.”

    It may be cold comfort for Obama amid his frustrations, but every president for the past 50 years — from Johnson on — has spent at least some time in a predicament similar to what Obama is facing now. That is, when a combination of bad news and weak power has left him at the mercy of external events, unable to drive the national agenda. Sometimes the combination is fatal, as it was for Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush.

    But the modern presidency also offers plenty of examples of resilience and recovery. Reagan’s second-term travails have not figured heavily in his historical legacy. In former President Bill Clinton’s case, during the first days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, conservative commentator George Will remarked acidly that his presidency “is dead — deader, really, than Woodrow Wilson’s was after he had a stroke.” Within months, Democrats beat Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections, and it was House Speaker Newt Gingrich, not Clinton, who was dethroned from power.

    The challenge for Obama, whose fortunes have scarcely sunk so low as many of his predecessors, is that there is not an abundance of obvious paths for him to replenish his agenda-setting power.

    White House aides say they are optimistic that comprehensive immigration legislation will reach Obama’s desk for a signature this year. This may yet come to pass, despite fierce opposition by conservatives in the House. So far, however, Obama’s main contribution to the legislative process has been to steer clear of any public involvement, lest he make the politics of immigration more toxic.

    Foreign affairs and national security — the traditional refuge of presidents who feel besieged on the home front — do not offer Obama much sanctuary. Both the Syrian civil war and disclosures of NSA surveillance practices highlight the limits of Obama’s power and the ease with which unplanned events can dominate the news and his attention. Edward Snowden’s global odyssey in recent days tends to underscore the sometimes limited reach of a commander in chief.

    Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton, said Obama has previously seemed “ambivalent about using [the] tool” of unilateral executive power as he is now proposing to do on environmental matters. But Zelizer is a sympathetic grader when it comes to Obama’s limitations in forcing Congress to act through speech-making. In the current climate of polarization, “presidents can’t talk Congress into doing something, and [speech-making] can’t move public opinion very effectively anymore.”

    Alan Brinkley, a Columbia historian, said this does not fully excuse Obama’s coolness to using the powers that his office does have. “He has a reticence that most politicians do not, and Obama is particularly reticent compared to his colleagues,” he said in an email.

    Brinkley added: “Bill Clinton had one of the same blocking from the right, but he worked hard by drawing in friends in the Congress and [traveling] a great deal to make people feel good. Obama doesn’t do much like that. He doesn’t pay much attention to the Congress, even to the Democrats.”

    But even if Obama does become more engaged, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is trying to strike a deal to revive gun control after its defeat earlier this year, cautioned that it might be of modest utility. Murphy said he’s working to get five or six of his colleagues to vote for gun legislation. But the lobbying is being kept in-house.

    “They are not going to change their mind because of some pressure by the president,” Murphy said. “They’re going to do it because of conversations they have with senators and outside groups that are going to play in their election next fall.”

    “Members of my party knew they were going against the president when they voted the way they did. They’re ultimately going to be worried much more about Gabby Giffords’s group, Bloomberg and Moms Demand Action than they are about the White House. So on the gun issue, it’s a pretty unprecedented list of executive actions for which he’s taken a ton of heat from the right. The right’s furious about all his executive actions that he’s taken. Sometimes he’s in a no-win situation.”[/rquoter]

    I never knew a man could tell so many lies
    He had a different story for every set of eyes
    How can he remember who he's talking to?
    Cause I know it ain't me, and hope it isn't you.

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