FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
A Majority Party (and President) with a Minority Mindset
Barely two weeks into his first term in office, President Obama is sucking for air and grasping at straws to pull even the semblance of a single victory of any kind out of the rubble that is fast becoming his presidency. His Washington Post op-ed, and the other tactics being employed in the offensive he is waging to get this unstimulative $800,000,000,000.00 pork barrel spending bill passed as quickly as possible (with as few Americans actually reading it or hearing what is included), are clear signs of desperation on the part of a man who has never actually had to negotiate anything before in his life, and who hasn’t a clue how to actually lead anybody anywhere.
President Obama’s handling of this pork bill demonstrates how little reality reflects the transformational themes and sweeping rhetoric that made up the his campaign. Beneath the veneer of “post-partisanship,” of being a uniter and not a divide, and of a “new tone,” was a man who had never once successfully brought people together from opposite sides of the political spectrum in the past, who had never once managed anything so much as a candy store (remember all the late-campaign talk about how campaigning for president was all the experience he needed?), and who had never lead on anything in his life.
A major part of the issue here is that the President and Congressional Democrats — “lead” by Nancy “500 million Americans a month are losing their jobs!” Pelosi and Harry “Why yes, I did come straight from a Normal Rockwell painting” Reid — are all engaged in a game of who can avoid leading (and thereby being responsible) for anything the longest.
The Majority that Would be a Minority
With over 250 votes in the House (nearly 60% of the total), Speaker Pelosi is demanding Republican support for legislation she, had she the slightest bit of competence and political acumen, could ram through without broaching the least bit of dissent (witness the pork barrel bill’s passage despite 11 Democrats and 100% of Republicans opposing it). With nearly 60 D/I votes in the Senate, a handful of liberal Republicans just itching to work with him, and the GOP’s strength being taken down yet another notch with the departure of
Jim Jeffords Judd Gregg to fill a ceremonial role at best in President Obama’s cabinet, Harry Reid could push through anything he wanted with little time spared for needless debate or discussion. With the power of the bully pulpit and both houses of Congress on his side of the partisan divide, President Obama could push nearly anything he wanted through the legislature, demanding votes first and questions/discussion/reading later.
Unfortunately for Democrats, none of the Big Three, nor apparently anybody else in the party or caucus, actually wants to act like they won the 2008 election. Rather than taking advantage of the sole proprietorship Washington has become and using those near-supermajorities, combined with the message-amplifying power of a sympathetic media, to impose agenda item after agenda item on America, Obama, Reid, Pelosi, et al are still trying to push off responsibility for governing — for bill passage and failure, for the economy, for international crises, etc. — on everybody else, including the near-powerless and effectively silenced minority.
The American electorate provided the Democratic party with a two-year window — 2009-10 — to make all of its campaign rhetoric into reality, with no opposition and the sheer numbers to do whatever it wants. Unfortunately, the Democrats in the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives simply don’t know what to do with this sudden power, nor with the responsibility that comes along with it. Reid and Pelosi would much rather be responsible for nothing but poking the Republicans with pointy sticks over whatever domestic or foreign issue may be on the radar that day, and Obama himself is far less interested in leading or governing than he is in standing apart, looking Presidential, and taking credit for others’ good actions while blaming others for his own mistakes.
When all you have in leadership is followers, talkers, and obstructors, as the Democrats currently do, actual accomplishments will be few and far between indeed (though the entertainment value of such a majority will be, as it currently is, off the charts).
The “New Tone”
Eight years ago, a different president came into the Oval Office carrying with him the promise of a New Tone. That determination to foster civility and bipartisanship, which he had successfully done as governor of a state, was seen not as a promise by those inhabiting the left side of the aisle, but as a challenge, and the opposition never missed a chance to rub his face in the fact that his high-minded efforts were incredibly out of place in intransigent Washington culture.
Despite having far less experience than his predecessor, and never once having actually worked across party lines or brought people together (though he certainly has talked about it a great deal), Mr. Obama appears to have bought into his own campaign rhetoric, and to believe that, if he simply issues a few more words followed by a pensive look, he will be catered to by allies and enemies alike — something which is simply not accurate.
The Keystone Kops Administration
I can’t recall an entering executive misfiring on so many issues — from his nomination of lawbreakers to high office, to breaking his own self-imposed ethics rules, to throwing away any and all goodwill he had from House Republicans with his “I won” retort, to his having to apologize to Old Europe for having a tin ear on protectionist trade policies, to being utterly surprised that his efforts to unilaterally and without precondition meet with the leaders of Iran were publicly perceived as a sign of weakness and defeat, to his driving portions of New Europe away from America and back towards the Russians — at one time as Mr. Obama has in just sixteen days as president.
In his panic to have something done in this first few weeks in office not be a failure, Mr. Obama is grasping at the straw of campaign strategy and rhetoric. While going back to the one thing that actually worked for him in the last year is the most sensible (really, only) option for Mr. Obama, it will likely be as unsuccessful as everything else he has done since taking office just over two weeks ago.