The Indifferent Leader
Obama has had a very bad year at the Supreme Court. As catalogued by Reason, the President has suffered a series of stunning and mostly unanimous rebukes at the hands of SCOTUS (including the two Justices he appointed) in connection with executive branch overreach. Predictably, Obama has responded to this rebuke by going on the stump and swearing to do even more than he has in the past without the approval of Congress.
The extent to which the President has made this a centerpiece of his current set of stump speeches can be seen by the extent to which the political punditry has been obsessed in the last couple of days with writing about it, either to criticize or to praise. Predictably, the WSJ and NY Post have lambasted Obama’s almost certainly doomed strategy, while Obama’s media allies like Dan Balz and parody columnist Charles Blow have defended Obama’s petulant whining as necessary in the face of Congressional intransigence.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that insistence on going it alone has become the central feature of the Obama presidency.
What doesn’t even get remarked upon anymore except in passing is the suggestion that Obama could salvage at least some of his agenda by working with Congress. If the country is with Obama, as he seems to mistakenly believe, on the issues decided by the Supreme Court over the last year, why does he not go to Congress and attempt to lead them along with him? The answer – and the reason no one even suggests this – is because everyone knows that it is a thing that Obama is completely incapable of doing. Even when he held a sizeable majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Obama was completely unable to lead Congress in any direction at all. Even during the passage of Obamacare, his signature act, Obama was widely criticized from the left for failing to even show interest in the details of what the health care legislation should look like; whether it should include a public option, and so on, or to lead his own caucus in that direction. When it came to working with Republicans, Obama was even more indifferent from day one, stifling a yawn at Boehner’s concerns about his legislative priorities before snidely declaring that Boehner’s input was not needed or wanted because, “I won.” Never did he seem to stop to think that maybe someday Democrats wouldn’t control the House anymore and he might need the input or at least votes of Congressional Republicans on key issues.
Obama’s suggestion that he is being uniquely mistreated at the hands of Republicans in Congress rings especially hollow in light of the fact that the previous Democrat occupant of the White House was literally impeached by the Republican Congress he faced in his second term. And yet Clinton was able to get roughly twice as much production out of Congress in terms of substantive legislative accomplishments in his last two years than Obama has in the previous year. The reason for this is simple: Whatever Clinton’s personal and ideological failings (and they were legion), he was not a complete failure as a leader. One of the necessary qualities of a leader is being able to convince intransigent followers to row in the same direction as you, at least sometimes. Clinton had this ability; Obama just doesn’t. Moreover, he has never from day one shown any interest in developing it or cultivating it.
And so you have the news cycle we are faced with today; instead of reacting to numerous rebukes at the hands of both the other two branches of government with contrition and promises to refocus and work together, Obama lashes out with increasingly petulant language and promises more of the same. This is not how leadership works. And Obama doesn’t care.