Many of my Democrat friends are bemoaning the lack of any personal relationship between the President and Congressional leaders - not only John Boehner (who he stiffed on the Grand Bargain in 2011) and Mitch McConnell (who targeted his defeat after the Obamacare trampling in 2009), but also Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other leaders of his party. The embarrassing inability to do anything on gun control has highlighted the lack, after five years in office, of any personal allies leaving the President to rely totally on speeches and regulation.
This doesn't just happen. Washington is full of people who would like to be the friend of the President, any President. It doesn't take the warmth of a Clinton, a Reagan, or a George W Bush. For an insight into Obama's missing "interpersonal gene", lets look at the recent dismissal of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
On the June 18 Charlie Rose interview Obama announced that Bernanke had done a good job, but "he's already stayed a lot longer than he wanted or he was supposed to." Nobody knows what Bernanke's wishes were beyond the end of his second term on December 31, what conversations there had been, or how best to announce a transition without roiling the markets, but good graces would seem to have called for Bernanke to make the announcement himself, or at least to have been on the stage with his boss. Ben is not one to raise a fuss, but it can be assumed that the management of the Fed for the next six months will have a stronger component of looking to Ben's legacy than the president's.
A few recent international examples are also instructive:
- When the new Chinese president, Xi Jinping visited for a "getting to know you" visit with Obama in California, he brought his wife, an accomplished singer and popular good will ambassador. Michelle took a pass, staying in Washington to attend one of their daughter's school events and Obama used the occasion to publicly lecture the Chinese on their stealing of American technical secrets in the middle of our own NSA spying disclosures.
- In a misread of Russian politics Obama played for three years to Alexander Medvedev, Putin's temporary stand-in as president, dissing the real power. It is hard to imagine being more accomodating to Russia on policy - cancelling missile defenses in central Europe, diminishing our presence on the southern flank in Afghanistan, and offering to drastically reduce our nuclear forces. The result? - a brusque dismissal of nuclear talks and safe transit for NSA spy Snowden without a phone call.
- Relations with Canada have been hurt not only by the incessant delay of the XL Pipeline, but also Obama's on-mic characterization of Prime Minister Harper as "all pudge and hair."
In fairness, Obama's falling out with Harmid Karzai has more to do with policy and Karzai's failings than personalities, and relations seem to be improving with several European leaders whose voters like large government programs and an America who "leads from behind" - particularly Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande. And he does have Michelle, the kids, and "Auntie Valerie" Jarrett.
This week's video is of another IRS manager invoking the 5th Amendment before Darrell Issa's investigating committee - this time relating to $500 million of fraudulent acquisition of IT services. While another scandal, Issa should not be distracted from pursuing the use of the IRS to attack Obama's political enemies, even as the Treasury Inspector General has explicitly rebutted the Democratic claim that "progressive" groups were also targeted.