Last evening PBS's Jim Lehrer interviewed Barack Obama in the hard hitting, and presumably award winning, style that has characterized the press's relationship with the Administration.
What we learned from this interview is two things. First, Obama thinks he is very, very good and it not reticent about sharing that view with anyone who cares to listen. Second, he is obsessed with having his way and apparently believes "governance" consists of him getting what he wants and the rest of us shutting up.
For a man whose administration has managed through misfeasance or malfeasance to damage or destroy just about every policy area it has touched, Obama is insufferably pleased with himself and doesn't mind running Truth through the food processor to engage in self-deification. For instance,
I said it had to be deficit-neutral. It doesn't just meet that criteria; it actually reduces the deficit.
This is true, of course, if you use Madoff accounting principles. The bill passed by the Senate uses double counting of notional savings and a projected savings of another $500 billion through eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare... something that seemingly wasn't possible in the past for reasons that are more than a little unclear.
We have this:
As I said before, if you compare where we are now on health care to where I started at the beginning of the year, what would've I said during my campaign? I'm getting 95 percent of what I want.
The - there's no doubt that the experience of this year, meeting with our troops, looking at intelligence, going to Dover to watch caskets coming in, had a profound impact on how I think about my responsibilities.
Those are views that are actually fairly consistent. Obviously, the experience of the last year being president deepens and enriches that general philosophy, but it's one that I've held for some time.
And the big picture:
I think that we have managed an economic crisis of monumental proportions, two wars, a whole host of other challenges, very well.
But what I do have confidence in is that we've made good decisions, that we've applied sound judgment to some very difficult situations, and that if we stay on a path where we are working hard, maintaining a sense of possibility for the future - we're willing not to defer tough decisions around health care or energy or education, so that somebody else deals with them - that America will be strong again.
And I think that - I think I've shown this year that I can make hard decisions, even when they're not popular, and that I take a long view on these problems. And I frankly think that that's what America needs right now.
Most troubling is Obama's view of the role of Congress as a branch of government.
. LEHRER: How do you feel about the way the 60-vote filibuster rule has been employed on the health-care debate? [Editor's note: Marvel at the hard hitting question]
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am very frustrated.
I think that right now that's the way things are operating. And we've had to make sure that we fight through those issues. I think Harry Reid has done a very good job grinding it out.
But as somebody who served in the Senate, who values the traditions of the Senate, who thinks that institution has been the world's greatest deliberative body, to see the filibuster rule, which imposes a 60-vote supermajority on legislation - to see that invoked on every single piece of legislation, during the course of this year, is unheard of.
I mean, if you look historically back in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s - even when there was sharp political disagreements, when the Democrats were in control for example and Ronald Reagan was president - you didn't see even routine items subject to the 60-vote rule.
So I think that if this pattern continues, you're going to see an inability on the part of America to deal with big problems in a very competitive world, and other countries are going to start running circles around us. We're going to have to return to some sense that governance is more important than politics inside the Senate. We're not there right now.
Governance is not a contest, it is a process. Other nations can't "start running circles around us" because the progress of nations is inherently hampered by legislation rather than enhanced. If expediting laws was a hallmark of a successful government then the USSR would be a world power rather than the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. And the alleged problem Obama exposes, other than his solid B plus in using false analogies, is a basic one. Do we live in a country of majority rule and minority rights or simply majority rule? It seems from this interview that Obama is incapable of grasping the very basic notion that he is not a deity or monarch and that the reason the rather ineffectual Republican minority is digging in on issues is because his agenda is so far outside the mainstream of American political and economic tradition that it is frightening. The fact is that the filibuster is really no threat to Obama's agenda so long as the Democrats in the Senate agree. They have 60 votes. What this rather petulant statement underscores is the difficulty Obama is having in getting even Democrats to vote for his schemes.
Two final notes.
Over the years I've blogged here I've been accused of refusing to admit error. For those holding that view please bookmark this post. During the 2008 election I was convinced that Obama was a superficially attractive lightweight whose overwhelming goal in life was to be President. Not to govern or to make an impact on the nation but simply <em>to be.</em> I thought his presidency would be an inconsequential grab bag of fluffy liberal ideas while he skated effortlessly across the surface.
I was wrong. The man is dangerous. At this point he and his administration lack the political skill to do much other than resemble the proverbial bull in a china shop but that will change with experience. It is one thing to push your agenda, he was elected by the moron and wishful thinking lobbies to do that, but the hostility this bunch shows to anyone who opposes them is truly frightening. From the war on Fox, to the demonization of the Tea Party movement, to this misstatement of how the filibuster is being used all point to a man and administration that will not tolerate disagreement.
The only humor in this story is Jim Lehrer's enthusiastic fellating of Obama. A few samples:
MR. LEHRER: Are you going to be involved in the reconciliation?
MR. LEHRER: All right. What is - what's going to be your position when you sit down and talk about this?
MR. LEHRER: So it is not - that's not a deal-breaker for you in any - any way, either way
MR. LEHRER: You'd sign it?
MR. LEHRER: (Chuckles.) Okay.
MR. LEHRER: How do you feel about the way the 60-vote filibuster rule has been employed on the health-care debate?
MR. LEHRER: Is there anything you can do about this as president of the United States? Isn't it a Senate situation?
To put it in perspective, imagine President Bush being asked these questions.
Lehrer, however, does manage to interject one moment of unintentional humor into the interview. You can wade through the self-congratulatory drivel in the first two paragraphs of jump straight to the punchline.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The - there's no doubt that the experience of this year, meeting with our troops, looking at intelligence, going to Dover to watch caskets coming in, had a profound impact on how I think about my responsibilities.
The general theme of the Nobel speech, which says that this is a dangerous world where real evil exists out there and that compels us to occasionally make very difficult decisions about using force; that we shouldn't glorify war, but we should accept that there are times where we have to defend our nation, protect our values: That theme is actually pretty consistent.
One of the interesting things that people forget, probably the first speech of mine that actually got noticed in my political career was back when I was a state Sen. and the run-up to the Iraq war was occurring, and I stood in the plaza, Daley Plaza, in - at a anti-war rally.
MR. LEHRER: It's in Chicago.
The good news from all this is that we can see a glimmer of how the Administration plans on creating at least a few new jobs to replace the millions it has destroyed and is planning to destroy. Shorthand classes and skill of taking dictation are making a comeback presumably creating new jobs in the profession of journalism.