As we’ve all heard by now President Obama has finally admitted that while hope died out quite a while ago, change has now died along with it.
The clip of Obama’s actual statement is the first video clip at this link below.
Now I try to give people a little slack when they make comments that I feel are being misconstrued. For example, do I think Mitt really believes 47% of the country are freeloaders? No, I really don’t. My Mitt translator tells me Mitt was describing the size of the 47% Democratic base, the fact that lowering taxes is less likely to appeal to many of the 47% of the people who are non-taxpayers, and that some voters are honestly not convincible because they’re unlikely to vote against their pocketbooks. Are those people all Democrats? No. Does that group make up 47% of the populace? I don’t think Mitt really thinks that. In the setting of a fundraiser, where the comments are less precise (remember Obama’s “god and guns”?) Mitt just ran those concepts together. I can cut him some slack on that, knowing I could easily do the same, and I know President Obama and Joe Biden have said much worse. And Mitt made clear he thinks there’s a legitimate debate to be had about creating dependency rather than jobs, and that true success will be in growing the entire economy so that all succeed rather than focusing on redistribution of wealth (which has never worked). But do I think he believes half of the country are freeloaders? Absolutely not. Is there a large percent of Dems who won’t vote for a Republican no matter what? Yes. Those are the people he was saying he can’t worry about trying to please in an election. Of course once you’re president, it’s different: Mitt’s said as much before. If elected he’d be the president of everyone, not a subgroup.
Now admittedly as a Mitt fan I’m happy to zing President Obama a bit on the face value of his words, just as Obama fans like to do to Mitt. And lest anyone misunderstand, let no one say Mitt’s any more prone to misstatement than President “you didn’t build that” Obama or Joe “put y’all back in chains” Biden.
Part of Obama’s statement is honestly shocking: the candidate who entered office on a wave of “hope and change” and “change you can believe in” has now come to the conclusion, even calling it the “most important lesson” he learned in the last four years (seriously?), that he can’t change Washington from the inside. Ouch.
Of course the natural response is to respond energetically that we should change the locks on the Oval Office and let him try and effect change from the outside. And I think there’s something to that sentiment. But, trying to calm myself down from my sometimes partisan view, I tried throughout the day today to take, let’s say, a more detached view of what the president said and try to understand what he meant. Unfortunately, often as I think about what Team “Ann never worked a day in her life” Obama says, unlike Mitt, I find that their intended message is just as disturbing as the easy first interpretation. So today’s question is “did President Obama really mean he’s given up on changing Washington?”
Now, in fairness, after the clip above, the president went on to say:
That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments, like health care, got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families.
As far as I can tell, and admittedly I’m now using my Obama-translator, President Obama is trying to say that for him to succeed at changing Washington, he can’t do it alone, he needs a mandate. He needs help from the voters. And, likely, he’s saying he needs different people in Congress. So, in my estimation, giving the president every benefit of the doubt, I hear in President Obama’s statement a plea for voters’ help to send him back to Washington with a mandate, a renewal of that same energy he had in 2008, and, in his best case scenario, with a different Congress.
So now that I’ve run his statement through my Obama-translator, if it’s working correctly, what does that really mean?
Obama entered the White House with the proverbial wind at his back. For those of you who ride bikes long distances, you know that when the wind’s at your back you tend to over-estimate your own abilities. Things come easy. But inevitably, unless you’re on a one-way trip, you’ve got to turn around and pedal into the wind, where your real abilities are tested. Clearly President Obama wants to reclaim some of that momentum he felt behind him in 2008. He was the candidate that would halt the rise of the oceans, provide healthcare for all. He had an army of college students behind him frustrated with the George W. Bush years. But now as he approaches what he hopes is a second term, his job has become hard. The economy won’t grow and he has no idea how to make it better. All he can do is continue to repeat the blame of “wow, it was a really big problem,” and, his favorite, “Mitt wants to give tax breaks to millionaires” (he actually wants to give tax breaks to everyone). So the president is asking for some of that 2008 energy back. Unfortunately for him, given that he’s now President Obama, and not candidate Obama, with a real track record of failing to please even his base, that’s just not going to happen.
In 2008 candidate Obama willingly acted as an empty container into which he invited voters to pour their various hopes and dreams. He promised post-partisan, post-racial politics, where we talked first and argued second, even with our enemies, who, he believes, just mis-understand us. But as the receptacle for everyone’s hopes, many of which were contradictory, he was destined to fail. No one short of deity can deliver on everyone’s fondest hopes. They must meet reality. And, it turns out, al Qaida really doesn’t like us. Was it wrong to hope? No, hope can be a powerful force. But it was wrong to believe that one person could deliver everything everyone wanted. And it’s wrong to let ourselves fall twice for the same line.
With that mojo and, for the first two years of his presidency, with a Democratic Congress, we saw the best performance we could ever expect from this president. I personally never agreed with his policies, and was very worried for our country about what he would do with the wind at his back. But even then he was relatively unsuccessful at implementing “change.” He spent all his political capital and tailwind on healthcare reform, a law that passed, not as he said because he rallied people outside Washington, but despite outcry from a majority of citizens, through back room deals (remember the Cornhusker Kickback?). When you force such sweeping change through what I’ll call parliamentary tricks (gutting a previously passed Senate bill and replacing its innards with Obamacare so that only a majority of the Senate need approve it) and succeed by only one vote, with no support from any Republican, all of whom were also duly elected by their constituents to be their voice in Congress, you’re bound to lose that “spirit of cooperation” you’re looking for. What President Obama did violated the basic contract between us and our government: major changes require more than a simple majority and parliamentary sleight of hand to pass. Major changes should be debated and discussed, and passed only once there’s true majority agreement they’re a good idea. Our system is built to resist major changes. So when President Obama violated that compact, it was all downhill for cooperation and “hope and change.” The president was left to pedal into the wind, his energy spent and his weakness soon to be made evident.
Of course in 2010 the Tea Party revolted against the president and his taxing and spending ways. He was rewarded for his hubris with a Republican House, as citizens effectively said they wanted him to create a bigger consensus before continuing to tax and spend. So his next 2 years didn’t accomplish much. He blamed that Congress for being intransigent, but in reality it was his weakness and inability to lead that was the problem. By all accounts he really didn’t try to meet with Congress, or build the relationships it takes to convince others to follow, or to reach compromises that permit the system to work. Apparently by this point he’d learned his “most important lesson” and stopped trying. And, by blaming Congress, by extension he was blaming those on the “outside” that elected that Congress. But beyond his troubles in convincing anyone in Congress to work with him, the Democratic Senate failed in its duties to even pass a budget. The president’s own budget didn’t even gain a single Democratic vote. He admits failing to pass immigration reform, but he didn’t really even try. He just assumed Republicans would be against it so he bypassed Congress and did what he wanted through a constitutionally-questionable executive order.
So where does that leave us now? Obama seems to be trying to recreate the bygone era of 2008, trying to recapture some of that spent energy. But given his actual performance, which even Democrats and independents recognize is abysmal on the economy, should he be re-elected, he wouldn’t have a mandate. Even if he had such a mandate, of course we could not reasonably expect he would be any more successful at accomplishing more this time than he did before. And if he has less of a mandate, it’s clear from his statement he’s relying on outside energy that things will be worse. Can we reasonably say that Barack Obama has learned from his past mistakes, that he will try to cooperate with Congress rather than fight it? Indications are, from his statement he does not believe he has the power to change Washington from the inside, that he has not. I believe his comments are reasonably interpreted to mean he does not believe he can succeed by working with Congress. And doesn’t this preview a four year period of trying to bully Congress into doing what he wants by avoiding discussion with them and trying to directly sway public opinion? While democracy is great, there’s a reason why our country is a representative republic: sometimes making laws is complicated and it’s not easy to have a full public discussion of a law’s ramifications through 10 second soundbites. For those with any doubt look at my home state of California’s unwieldy system of allowing the citizens to directly adopt propositions. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes it’s very bad. And what “legislation by media” leads to is bills that we must pass before we know what they say, and the person with the biggest cult of personality winning, not on merit, but on sheer popularity.
Unfortunately having a president unable and/or unwilling to work with Congress is a recipe for disaster. Prognosticators are currently predicting the House will remain in Republican hands. The Senate may also go Republican. Either way, it’s likely President Obama would, in order to get things done, need to rely on cooperation and forging relationships to succeed, which he has been unable to make work in the past. So can we expect this president to succeed in changing Washington? Absolutely not.
In all fairness to the President, even ignoring the initial shock of his leaving behind the “change” part of “hope and change” that got him elected in the first place, his comments are reason for serious reflection on the part of anyone thinking of voting to re-elect him. In my view, it’s foolish, seeing his performance over the past four years, to expect that in the next four, with less of a mandate and clearly less desire on his part, he will succeed in getting anything done. He won’t even try. Four more years? That’d be four more years of gridlock, or even worse, more executive orders and end runs around the Constitution. That’s not healthy for our system, period. Much less to address the crisis awaiting the president and the lame duck Congress when they head back: the looming fiscal cliff.
Meanwhile, we have the choice of Mitt Romney. Sure, there are times he’d change the way he says some things. But if Mitt were elected, he’d have a GOP House, and quite possibly a GOP Senate. He’d also have as powerful of a mandate as candidate Obama did when he entered office. Could Mitt succeed at “changing Washington” where Obama failed? The record indicates he just might. Elected as the Republican governor of a mostly Democratic state, he worked with an 85% Democratic legislature to balance a budget, go from a deficit to a surplus, and re-vamp the state’s healthcare delivery system. At the GOP convention there were speakers who discussed how respectful Mitt was and how it was a pleasure to work with him. And these were Massachusetts Democrats. Frankly I supported him back in 2008 because of his record of working across the aisle. Could we expect a better performance out of Mitt Romney than President Obama? While Obama’s record suggests failure, Mitt’s suggests success. And that’s before discussing his knowledge of the economy and fiscal discipline to balance budgets.
No, Mr. President, you can’t change Washington from the inside. And it’s only human that we want to believe we can achieve success before we try. Clearly you’re looking to the outside to give you that energy, but it’s not coming. It’s time, therefore, we turn to a solution with the highest likelihood of success: elect Mitt Romney.