Writing in the Washington Post last week, E.J. Dionne admiringly noted that President Obama has successfully “changed the narrative” in national politics in highlighting Republican inactivity and obstructionism. Dionne notes, however, that Obama is feeling frustrated these days because the Republicans obstruct his initiatives, yet he takes the blame. (Mainstream media organs still adore this man no matter how many times he fumbles the ball, but no matter!) Dionne cautions that Obama should face the reality that the GOP will not make things easy for him and that constant complaints about congressional inactivity may soon become an excuse for his own inability to execute any of his agenda.
Mr. Dionne praises the president for his astute political analysis, particularly the penetratingly shrewd realization that the Republicans will probably not assist too much in their own destruction. He then declares, “…he (Obama) really is dealing with a novel situation…the strong Presidents with whom he is often compared, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, did not face these obstacles.” It is true that LBJ faced minimal congressional opposition between 1963-67 due to massive Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. He forgets, however, that President Reagan never had a majority in the House of Representatives, and had only a slim Senate majority from 1981-87. Reagan pushed much of his agenda through a hostile Congress, usually without crying a river over his plight.
Dionne concludes his piece with a friendly warning that Obama had better get back to leading from the front, not from behind, and start to actively work to advance his agenda. He ticks off a number of items that Obama should immediately address: The civil war in Syria, the greatness of the Affordable Care Act and how the Administration plans to make this unworkable monstrosity actually work, and, of course, a plan to reignite the stagnant economy, which the public has anticipated since January of 2009. Dionne warns rather ominously, “Obama’s calling card was hope. There is more to be hopeful about right now than his own public weariness would suggest.” In short, E.J. Dionne is urging the President to drop his lethargy and get serious about advancing his popular political agenda.
The big flaw in this mainstream liberal argument, as outlined by Dionne in the pages of the Washington Post, is the mistaken notion that Obama has an agenda based on reality and, furthermore, that he has any interest in governing, at all. Does Obama have any real agenda other than permanently campaigning? He shows no interest in the mundane specifics of governing such as the budget, taxes, and the administration of justice. His agenda, such as it is, consists of working tirelessly to chip away at the Second Amendment, using grieving Connecticut families as his props. In the State of the Union Address in January, the President promised a new offensive against global warming, while those of us in the Midwest are shivering through the coldest spring since climatological record keeping began in 1884. Also, in a move calculated to appeal to his government-loving base, the President proposed a new entitlement in the form of universal preschool for 5-year-olds, without any mention of how he intends to pay for this new extravagance.
In truth we are seeing the consequences of electing a President who was ill prepared for the job in the sense that he had little previous immersion in the real world. A glance at Mr. Obama’s curriculum vitae before he entered electoral politics proves this point. He had fashioned a career as an agitator and a part time academic. Obama’s record before politics centered on “community organizing” in South Chicago, and teaching part time at the University of Chicago School of Law. During his pre-political life Obama held one job in the private sector, working as an associate at a tony law firm where, in his own words, he “felt as though he were behind enemy lines.” He then retreated to the world of ACORN and organizing that he knew much better.
As a community organizer the future President searched for emotional, hot-button issues to stir the pot and keep his community engaged. He led protests against overzealous police officers, in favor of rent control, in demands for quotas in city contracting for minorities, and in squelching investigations into electoral fraud in Chicago and surrounding environs. These were the areas into which Mr. Obama channeled his energies. He advanced quickly in public life by using his talents and by knowing the right people and using them, whenever necessary.
As President, Mr. Obama has not changed his modus operandi. He is not interested in the nuts-and-bolts of crafting policy like Bill Clinton, or in the inner workings of the governmental machinery like Jimmy Carter. Obama does not have a Reaganesque core of belief that guides his decisions, nor has the Presidency and associated circumstances allowed Mr. Obama to find himself, as the job did with George W. Bush. President Obama remains the perpetual community agitator. He draws meaning from stirring people by using emotionally driven issues. The only difference between the President in 2013 and the community organizer of twenty years ago is that today he is on the inside and he doesn’t know what to do now that he is there!