President Obama heads to Marine One en route to New York. (Michael Reynolds/EPA) President Obama heads to Marine One en route to New York. (Michael Reynolds/EPA)

All the focus on the impending government shutdown and the dysfunction in Washington so far overlooks that our president’s detachment from reality might be a big part of what is fueling the cluttered mess of American governance.

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the president embarrass himself by trying to get some attention from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the U.N. General Assembly and then herald a brief cell phone call as some sort of breakthrough with Iran.  And he did all this while refusing to negotiate with Speaker of the House John Boehner over a critical looming budget and debt crisis that will directly impact the American economy.

President Obama’s clumsy attempts at outreach to Republican members of Congress have stopped: the contrived encounters, meaningless phone calls, and forced dinner dates with Republican senators were painful to witness, but synthetic outreach and faux friendship is better than the president being isolated and unchallenged by his critics.  It would be good if the president showed some of the same enthusiasm for his dealings with Congress that he showed when trying to ingratiate himself with the new president of Iran or in trying to accommodate President Vladimir Putin and President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

In early September, I wrote that the president appeared “completely disconnected and clueless” about the economic problems we face.  And in response to the president’s stunning speech at the U.N. last week, where he actually said that, “the world is more stable than it was five years ago,” Jackson Diehl of the Post noted that, “a vacuum of leadership…is the tangible result of his presidency.”

The president’s cheerleading – with the goal of boosting morale in defiance of bad news – is one thing, but being delusional is dangerous. Could President Obama really mean what he said?  He needs to recognize how serious the problems we face are, and realize that his denial is making them worse, both domestically and internationally.  If the president believes that the American economy has any momentum or that the world is more stable than it was five years ago, then he has disqualified himself as a serious participant in collaborative problem-solving for the next three years. It is hard to imagine three more years of the same.

It might sound like a partisan insult to suggest that the president is in denial and unaware of the consequences of his actions; but let’s face it, that could account for a lot of the president’s recent behavior.  We have to ask: Does the president have a clear sense of what our challenges are and what role he should play to help solve our problems? It’s a fair question, not an insult.

 

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Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.