The president has a hard time taking criticism. Scandals are not episodes of his own administration’s failings but of partisan sniping and opportunism by his opponents. He usually pleads ignorance (of the Internal Revenue shenanigans, the Veterans Affairs deceptions and delays, of his attorney general’s criminalization of ordinary reporting, of the Obamacare rollout flaws) as if his own lack of awareness is a defense. When he is directly involved, as he was in telling Americans they could keep their insurance and doctor, he has tried to rewrite his own words, disavow culpability and then resort to the passive voice (he was sorry people relied on his statements).
But the Taliban trade is the most egregious episode yet because it combines the worst of all his flaws. First, he refuses to bring Congress into the loop, thereby prompting outrage when he takes action and denying him the benefit of a warning about his poor judgment. Second, everything for this White House — from troop withdrawals to a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline — becomes a partisan photo-op or fodder for political attacks, no matter how inappropriate. The Rose Garden show bragging about releasing five hardened Taliban terrorists was a new low, even for him. Third, his staff doesn’t have the nerve or the sense to head him off, even when obvious fallout awaits him. Fourth, his foreign policy judgment is poor — in large part because his primary goal is getting America out of a jihadist war that isn’t going to vanish even if he pulls every soldier out of Afghanistan and finds a dumping place for every detainee in the Guantanamo Bay prison. Fifth, he insists on gilding the lily — in this case, sending administration spinners out to sing the praises of a soldier his comrades in arms consider a deserter. And finally, when the torrent of criticism rains down he attacks critics rather than trying to correct his missteps. (It is becoming easy to see why he insisted for two weeks after the Benghazi, Libya, attacks that the trigger was a video, not jihadist hatred of America on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.) His investment in false, self-serving narratives (al-Qaeda is on its heels) blinds him and his advisers to facts and analysis that don’t bolster his self-image.
Obama again is paying a price for his intransigence and poor judgment. In a USA Today/Pew poll, 43 percent of Americans say he was wrong to make the Taliban terrorist deal with only 34 percent approving. In short, he entirely misread the public reaction. Veterans opposed the move by a huge margin of 68 to 16 percent, emphasizing his weak-on-defense image.
Obama had no idea Americans would be so offended by letting five Taliban terrorists go free in exchange for someone who may well face prosecution for his actions. It is stunning how he could have imagined this was going to be a political plus for him.
The irony is that for a president who subsumes everything to politics he can’t seem to anticipate the strong negative reaction to everything from Obamacare to the Taliban trade. The result is a toxic mix of bad policy and bad politics.
Democrats are grousing to the media that the president doesn’t know how to govern. But they and sycophantic media types should consider their own culpability. They sold the idea everything that goes wrong is the Republicans’ fault. They built him up to be a genius. They made excuses for every scandal. They propagated the notion that the president institutionally cannot really get much done. Senate Democrats rubber-stamped his proposals and played defense time and time again. So now they don’t like the result? Well, some tough love might have been in order somewhere along the way.
The White House is now in perpetual damage-control mode. What was left of his agenda is prisoner to endless scandals and investigations. And after more than five years of this, he has few defenders. So we have come full circle: The candidate who could do no wrong has become the president who can do no right.