Obama’s real ‘leadership’ problem

The only issue in American politics (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)
President Obama at Tuesday’s news conference.  (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Thank God for Greg Sargent and Jonathan Chait. Were it not for their clear-eyed explanation of presidential leadership under President Obama and the irrational role of Republicans in thwarting it, I would be perched on a ledge for a full reenactment of the final scene of “Tosca.”

Chait goes after those who hit the president for his inability to lead his opponents. “ ‘Leadership’ is a real thing — but it’s a quality used to describe the way you rally your underlings or your peers,” he writes in New York Magazine. “You don’t use ‘leadership’ against your opponents!” Chait then points to a sporty analogy employed by the National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who thinks Obama needs a coach to tell him that it’s his job to beat the other team. Chait then boils down the problem with this bit of magical thinking.

If Obama signs new laws, it will be interpreted as him beating the other team. That only happens if Republicans cooperate. And Republicans don’t want to lose!

Yesterday, Sargent highlighted a revealing statement on the failure of the background check bill from Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that ought to put a stop to all the magical thinking about Obama and leadership

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it,” Toomey said.

What Toomey said was nothing new. And the president knows this all too well as he has talked about it many times, including at his Tuesday news conference. But what we don’t talk about enough is how the GOP is complicit in the leadership and policy failures it and the media rail against.

In his 2012 book “The New New Deal,” Michael Grunwald writes that Vice President Biden told him that during the transition, “seven different Republican Senators” told him that “McConnell had demanded unified resistance.” Biden said, “The way it was characterized to me was: ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back.’ ”

That was after Obama and Biden were elected in 2008 but before they were inaugurated in 2009. Grunwald’s revelation was on top of what we learned in Robert Drapers’s 2012 book “Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives.” During a four-hour dinner the night before Obama’s first swearing-in, the Republican leadership met to plot their multi-year recalcitrance.

So, if folks are going to talk about Obama’s “inability to lead” they need to be fully mindful of just how responsible the Republican Party is for it.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.
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Jonathan Capehart | May 2, 2013