The Incredible Shrinking President
Back in the day Pedro Martinez, the ace Red Sox pitcher, let slip after a losing effort against the Yankees that perhaps they were his Daddy. It seems that within the social strata where male parentage is frequently problematical, the phrase refers to a particular kind of dominance on the street. For the balance of his otherwise brilliant career, every appearance at Yankee Stadium was met by the cheer “Who’s your Daddy? Who’s your Daddy?”
So it is with Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. The Obama White House and the Clinton State Department believed that a “reset” with Russia – forgetting the 2008 invasion of neighboring Georgia, unilaterally deciding to pull back on missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic; welcoming the Russians to the meetings of the major international economic powers - would solidify a partnership, to be made “more flexibile” after Obama’s reelection. Enter Syria and Putin’s demonstration that he knew how to play chess while Obama was struggling with checkers. Now the Ukraine. One can only hope that Putin believes it is in Russia’s interest to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
The domestic equivalent began when the Republicans recaptured the House in 2010, but it became painfully bipartisan when Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid declared in January that he opposed Obama’s call for European Union and Asia-Pacific free trade agreements – the day after Obama had touted them in his State of the Union address. White rook to queen’s knight 3. Check.
A domestic sequel occured this week when the Senate, despite the 2013 rules change to approve nominations by a simple majority vote, rejected the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the civil rights division of the Justice Department. In picking the lead defense attorney in the liberal cause celebre case of the killing of a Philadelphia policeman in 1982, Obama and Eric Holder put too many Red State Democrats in the position of voting against the National Fraternal Order of Police which called the nomination “a thumb in the eye of our nation’s law enforcement officers.” White knight to king’s bishop 4. Check.
Things promise to get worse. Despite objections from the deficit hawks the Republicans have decided to make Obamacare the predominant focus of of the 2014 elections. With CBS polls showing the president’s approval rating down to 37% and Obamacare approval at 31%, that seems like a winning strategy – and a good opportunity to test Republican catch-up efforts on big data and social media. Look to a marriage of three data bases supporting Republican phone banks and precinct walkers: the voting records of all House and Senate members; the publicly available individual voter records for swing districts to identify who will likely be voting; and the identities of the millions of voters who have had their insurance cancelled. The Tea Party was a spontaneous uprising in 2010; this time there will be both a major media blitz and a targeted, professional Get Out The Vote effort – as seen in the Vidak and Faulconer elections in California and the Jolly election in Florida.
2015 and 2016 promise to be lonely years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as world leaders bypass Washington to visit Silicon Valley. Over his presidency Obama has not followed the lead of presidents from Reagan to Clinton and Bush to kindle personal relationships which can be called upon during a crisis – not Merkel in Germany; not Cameron in Great Britain; not Abe in Japan; not Harper in Canada; not Xi Jinping in China; not Netanyahu in Israel. With his Senate leader openly challenging him and an increasing likelihood that he will start to need to use his veto pen on legislation that is approved by both houses, he will have plenty of time to work on his golf game.
Hopefully, the nation and the world can hang on until January 2017.
This week’s “bonus” is a phone message by Bill Clinton in support of Alex Sink who lost a special election in the Tampa area to easily-beatable Republican lobbyist David Jolly. Sink had greater name recognition and outspent Jolly significantly in the swing district which had twice voted for Obama. Obama was in Florida on vacation but did not stop by to help the Democrat.