December 16, 2013

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Barack Obama’s presidency is that he’s frequently failed to live up to the terrific standards that his campaign set in 2008 for looking beyond the current news cycle.

The chatter continues today about The Post’s important story about the Obama administration’s decision to delay many regulations until after the 2012 election. John Sides put it best with a sarcastic tweet: “Good thing White House did this, since SO MANY presidential elections turn on bureaucratic rule-making.”

In this Nov. 14, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. It survived the Supreme Court, a presidential election and numerous repeal votes in Congress, but now President Barack Obama's health care law risks coming unglued because of his own mistakes explaining it and his administration's bungled implementation. Obama now needs breakthroughs on three separate fronts: the cancellations mess, technology troubles, and a crisis in confidence among his own supporters. It’s daunting, but working in his favor is evidence of pent-up demand for the program’s benefits and an unlikely collaborator _ the insurance industry (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
President Obama pauses while speaking about his signature health care law in November. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

We should be careful. It certainly is possible for a White House to turn key interest groups against it by siding with those groups’ opponents in the bureaucratic rule-making process. Do that to enough groups and a presidency can cause real electoral damage.

On the other hand, what seems to have been happening here was an attempt to prevent Republicans from developing partisan talking points based on news reports. That’s futile — because a political party can always develop talking points, regardless of what’s in the news, and because those talking points are unlikely to have any substantial electoral effect.

In fact, the Obama campaign in 2008 promoted itself as having realized that losing news cycles really didn’t matter. That was a correct insight and a valuable one; politicians who allow themselves to be bullied into an attempt to win news cycles will rarely accomplish anything else. Too often, however, the Obama White House has forgotten the lesson that the Obama campaign learned so well.

To be sure: The pressure to fight over every front page, every cable news recap and every tweet is strong. Lose a few in a row, and the pundits will start declaring the presidency dead. Managing to remember, in the thick of everything, that those things really don’t matter very much isn’t easy, especially since “winning” such fights feels as if something is being accomplished — and since often actually getting anything done doesn’t provide a quick, easy, victory.

Still, it’s the policy accomplishments that count. And it’s very disappointing to see how often the Obama administration has made the wrong choice.