The Washington Post

The permanent campaign has crowded out governing

The permanent campaign has existed in presidential politics for decades. My old boss Lee Atwater is credited with being one of the pioneers of this evolution. But the balance between governing and campaigning was never settled between Lee and former president George H. W. Bush. There was always friction between Lee wanting the campaign to have a seat in every West Wing gathering and in every Oval Office meeting, and Bush always wanting some distance, anonymity and subservience from the "campaign people" to those engaged in serious governance.

Since then, it is safe to say the "campaign people" have fully arrived. In President Obama's case, this week confirms they are in charge. And his team makes it clear that putting campaign types in charge isn't always the best politics.

The anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death is a vivid example of how the campaign can overreach and diminish an easy political bonanza. Obama had to do very little while others retold and embellished the story of how Obama swept away the doubters and the hand-wringers and made the bold decision to send America's best on a dangerous and complicated mission to get the world's most wanted man. Obama could have brightened the spotlight on himself by insisting it belonged elsewhere. Grace and solemn reflection would have been the best politics.

Ha! Not for this crowd. They wanted to get ALL the credit and even belittled their opponent by asserting that, hypothetically, Mitt Romney would have not made the right decision. There was even a political ad that included tribute to the boss. Are they so insecure or cocky that they thought the accolades would have been insufficient and no one would notice the grasp for glory?

Now many voters are rolling their eyes as they realize that the gall of the campaigner in chief has no limits. The Seals who carried the guns into harm's way a year ago and the intelligence professionals who did the hard, often dangerous, work for years are grumbling, and Obama looks smaller. The permanent campaign is here to stay, but sometimes the best politics is good government.  And when it comes to taking credit, sometimes less is more.  

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.


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