President Obama has always been prickly when it comes to receiving criticism and averse to glad-handing or even dealing with Congress, both Democrats and Republicans. LBJ he is not. However, his recent performances go beyond arrogance. And this time it is not only conservative critics who have noticed the obnoxious indifference to others’ views and role in the legislative process.
I don’t often agree with Maureen Dowd, but she pegs Obama’s last news conference as aptly as anyone on the right:
[T]he president always seems to be dancing alone. And that was the vibe of his swan-song press conference for Act One of his presidency.
His words were laced with an edge — churlish, chiding and self-pitying. He sardonically presented himself as Lonely Guy, shafted by the opposition, kicking around the White House on his own. Days before his second inauguration, he seemed to be intimating that the job he had fought so hard for and won against all odds was a bit of a chore, if not a bore.
Even mild-mannered lawmakers voice despair. In an interview Tuesday, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) was both astounded and utterly frustrated with the president’s refusal to engage. “Did you see him?!” he asked rhetorically more than once in reference to the news conference. He worries that no deal will get done on anything.
The Post editorial board put it this way:
Can, or will, Mr. Obama do anything to help the cooler heads within the Republican Party prevail? Or does he regard the debt-ceiling threat as a no-lose proposition for him and his party: either a GOP bluff or a promise to commit political suicide? Certainly Mr. Obama’s refusal to negotiate — coupled with his appropriate refusal to raise the debt ceiling through executive action — suggests that he’s willing to ride with the GOP right up to the brink.
In fact, Republican leaders are conferring on how to delink the debt ceiling and their spending demands. It is President Obama who is spoiling for a fight for reasons that are not altogether clear. He won the election. What is the point?
Obama’s peevish approach to governance is evident even in his approach to gun violence, which reeks of manipulation and defiance. His extreme package of nonattainable items, including an assault-weapons ban and new gun “trafficking” laws, is precisely the sort of measure designed to bring on a fight and not agreement. (He would have done better to heed The Post’s editorial board, which warned last week that “the urgency of action, and the deep polarization of our politics, means the administration should choose its legislative priorities carefully, aiming for those with broad public support and a reasonable chance of approval”). The entire exercise inevitably (whether by design or not) adds salt to wounds inside the Beltway. (There should be no doubt that this is a nonstarter, as CNN reports that Democrats are reluctant to bring up measures such as the assault-weapons ban.)
The House speaker’s spokesman, barely stifling a yawn, responded: “House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that.” Indeed, let the Senate go first. Then the entire package deals a slow death and the president can deplore the inaction. Of course nothing productive is accomplished, but the entire charade acts as a giant distraction from the most pressing business, the looming vote on a debt-ceiling increase. Is the president’s behavior that of a leader?
Winning has made the president less interested in deal-making. Remember that in 2008 he was repeatedly lauded for his first-class temperament. No more. If he were to get a report card akin to the ones received by children, it would read: Does not make good use of time. Does not work well with others. Does not show respect to peers. Is disruptive.
Unfortunately this is no joke. This is going to be a miserable second term. No wonder the inauguration is such a downer.