When I heard that President Obama was going to publicly announce his nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court today, I thought he would take the opportunity to show poise and make an effort to bolster his slipping presidency. I thought he would try to break out from the hand-to-hand combat in Washington and stem the growing malaise within his administration. So I was surprised that, instead, the president adopted a whiny, defensive pout. Obama would rather air his grievances with Republicans than present himself as an effective, engaged president. And no one in the White House can talk him out of it. That’s a bad sign for the president.
Recently, former President Bill Clinton was credited with — or blamed for, depending on your point of view — saying that, “Obama doesn’t know how to be president.” Today was the clearest example I’ve seen in a while that the presidency just doesn’t suit Obama.
President Obama is an able communicator and is credited with writing a lot of his own material. Surely, the president wrote his own remarks today. There is no way that in the West Wing meetings before today’s announcement, someone said to the president, “Mr. President, I think you should go out there, take the low road and give a wounded, partisan harangue against Republicans. That’ll be just the ticket. It’ll give a real tailwind to your nominees.”
Instead of presenting us with an enthusiastic, robust case for his nominees, the president gave us a convoluted, hard-to-follow set of statistics and a detailed, tedious explanation of how he believes Republicans have held up previous judicial nominees. Does the president still believe he can get things passed in Congress by taunting Republicans? I thought David Plouffe and Obama White House aides were freelancing in the last few days in their engagement with Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). But it appears that taunting Republicans is a strategy that’s coming directly from the top. Not that it matters, but you get your nominees confirmed by dealing strategically with the Senate — by packaging confirmations with other confirmations or items that the opposition does want to pass. No one in the Senate thinks there is any consequence to opposing Obama, so when the president lashes out at Republicans, it gets him nowhere.
In the White House, advisers have to pick and choose their battles, and we already know that they pick and choose what they tell this president. But it is shocking that before today’s speech, no one convincingly challenged his biases, told him to keep it cool or told him that it was unflattering for him to rant against Republicans. Maybe this is an indication that the president is more isolated than ever before.