Barack Obama is awful at keeping his enemies closer

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

In an August, 11, 2013, article for Commentary Magazine, John Steele Gordon writes:

“Barack Obama is, by far, the most viciously partisan president in American history. Other presidents have been partisan, often deeply so, but were careful to take the high road so as to keep open lines of communication with the other party, without which governance cannot be successful in a democracy. Not Barack Obama. His incompetence in everything political except winning elections is now costing him (and, inevitably, us) big time.{1}”

We have been told, for five years now, that President Barack Obama is the smartest president the nation has ever had.  We have heard about his sparkling college career, that he was president of the Harvard Law Review, and that he taught Constitutional Law.  Did he ever take a class on Human Psychology, though, and if he did what did he retain?  Did his grandma ever teach him the principle that: “Character is defined by how you treat those that can’t do anything for you.”  Did he learn anything from The Godfather’s line: “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.”  He, like everyone else, probably thought it was just about one of the greatest movie lines ever created, but he obviously never took it to heart.

If Obama had any questions about how to use the that line in Washington politics, I’m quite sure that one of the screenwriters would tell him that the first step is not calling your enemy, “your enemy”, as he did on Univision, before the 2010 midterm elections.  Obama may have backtracked on that comment, saying that he meant to call Republicans his opponents, but how many people heard that backtrack?{2}  If you did hear about that, did you care?  No one did.  It was the kind of meaningless apology that non-apologetic people make when they say, “If what I said hurt your feelings, then I’m sorry.”

Democrat loyalists could use another line from The Godfather to combat the general method of operation of Obama’s White House, saying, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”  The point is that it’s not business, or it’s not good business anyway, to be so openly adversarial with your opponent.  For every time a person slams their opposition, in the ways Obama has articulately, and inarticulately, slammed on them, they make it more and more difficult on themselves when the time comes to close the door and attempt to reach a compromise on crucial matters facing this country.  Continually making comments, such as these, only causes your opponents to seek some manner to defeat the comments you make about them, and it ends up making your relationship more adversarial.  Obama says he thinks about solving the nation’s problems from the moment he wakes up to the moment falls asleep at night, but if he learned how to temper his comments, and he learned how to play better with others better, maybe he could get some more sleep at night.

I’m quite sure that Obama’s advisers have told him it’s not good politics to do what he’s doing, and I’m quite sure that he’s basically told them to go jump in a lake.  ‘I’m the leader of the free world.  No one can tell me what I can and cannot do, or say.’  And I’m sure every U.S. President, and every world leader, has flirted with the conceit of indulging in the fruits of the office in this manner, but most of them have refrained with the knowledge that there are long-term consequences for it.

The price Obama is paying right now is having a ‘do nothing’ Congress, which could be said to be a self-imposed dilemma that he exacerbates with provably untrue, partisan comments like those he issued on Friday, August 9, 2013:

“Now, I think the really interesting question is why it is that my friends in the other party have made the idea of preventing these people from getting health care their holy grail, their number-one priority. The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure that 30 million people don’t have health care and, presumably, repealing all those benefits I just mentioned — kids staying on their parents’ plan; seniors getting discounts on their prescription drugs; I guess a return to lifetime limits on insurance; people with preexisting conditions continuing to be blocked from being able to get health insurance.”

In just about every press conference Obama conducts, he cloaks his inability to work out compromises with Republicans by calling them uncompromising.  If anyone thinks that this doesn’t exacerbate the adversarial relationship Obama has with Republicans, it can only be because they are strictly looking at the relationship from Obama’s point of view.

Even his most ardent fans would have to admit that while his ability to rally his minions is exceptional, his ability to coerce opponents to his way of thinking is just plain lacking.  The most obvious reason for this flaw in his character is that he doesn’t care what the opposition thinks.  He may nod his head in closed-door sessions, and he may be respectfully silent when they speak, but Friday’s press conference shows that he doesn’t put forth any degree of effort in understanding their approach, which anyone that has retained anything from dealing with their opposition understands is one of the keys to defeating them.

If we conducted a scientific study of each president’s ability to generate favorability from his base, Barack Obama would surely rate in the top five.  As a former community organizer, Barack Obama has proven to be quite adept at hyping up his base throughout two elections and five years of presidential politics.  If his base has one problem with him, it’s only that he doesn’t go far enough.  If this study switched its concentration from a president’s base to his opposition, and it factored in the number of legislative votes and approval numbers from the opposition as a barometer of presidential success, Barack Obama would surely fall to the bottom five.  At that characterization, an Obama loyalist would surely offer the debatable point that this country is now more partisan than it’s ever been, and that that is not the fault of Barack Obama.

George W. Bush, they would probably say, was as hated by Democrats as Obama is by Republicans.  That would be a fair point, unless you changed the premise of the question from how much they are hated, to why are they hated?  Bush, it could be said, was hated by Democrats for all aspects of his “uncompromising” foreign policy actions, yet Bush proponents could point to a number of position statements, from leading Democrats, that mirrored those of Bush’s at the time of implementation.{3}  As far as domestic policy is concerned, many Republicans think that Bush bent over backwards to get Democrats to like him, and a number of his key pieces of legislation reflect that.  Was he engaging in what he thought was good governance at the time, was he so sensitive to the other party’s wishes that he conceded some of his own beliefs to diminish the appearance of partisanship in Washington, or was he simply not as conservative as his voters believed?  Whatever the answer is, it is obvious to all that Barack Obama does not ascribe to Bush’s ideas on good governance, or any of his attempts to lessen partisanship.

Barack Obama is a true believer, and he does not seek compromise on his key legislation.  To some, this suggests that Barack Obama does not enjoy the “sausage making” minutiae of crafting a bill.  To others, it suggests that he’s just a “big idea” guy, in the manner Ronald Reagan was a “big idea guy”, that doesn’t play the “small ball” government game well.

How many Republican votes has he accumulated in his five years as president?  Now, some could say that the Republicans have remained stubbornly steadfast against him, but on an issue by issue basis, so have most Americans.  Obama’s signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, currently has an against/oppose rating in the Real Clear Politics average of all polls, of +11.6% from the latest, June 6, 2013 to July 27, 2013, polling. {4}

Bottom line, Obama’s proponents would say, he won two elections.  That’s true, John Gordon Steele writes, he is not incompetent in winning elections, but his incompetence in everything else is what “is costing him (and, inevitably, us) big time.”

In this way, it could be said that Bush played the government game far better than Obama, for as much as it surely pained Bush to do so, he would not answer the charges made by individual Congressman and Senators; he did not engage in petty disputes with his critics in the media; or anywhere else where disparaging remarks were made about his presidency, because he believed it was not presidential to get in the mud with his adversaries.  He believed that he was showing respect for the office by letting these petty remarks go unanswered.  This drove his followers crazy, because they felt that this allowed the disparaging remarks on the record without challenge, but the Bush administration remained steadfast in their belief that this was the way to go.

Barack Obama has apparently learned from those mistakes, for he not only attacks his critics, he parries, and he thrusts.  Respect for the office be damned, is apparently his mantra, I am the office right now, and I ain’t gonna take no trash talking from a lowly Congressman.  He not only answers his critics in Congress, and on Fox News, he engages in petty word wars with Matt Damon{5} that only a fan of MTV’s “Yo Momma” could love.

Some would say that President Obama sticking up for his policies in all venues, simply shows how passionately he believes in them.  They would also say that Bush’s “respect for the office” is a respect for the old boy’s network, that Obama wants no part of.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, until his method of defense stretches from extolling the virtues of his legislation to castigating all those opposed.  To paraphrase another line from The Godfather, “That’s just not good business.”

Every partisan, regardless of party affiliation, nation, or time-period in history, loves to have “their guy” roll the other guys in the mud a little.  This has been a time-honored tradition in the House and the Senate since right around this country began, to the B.C/A.D. era of the Senate of the Roman empire’s Senate, and beyond, but U.S. Presidents have never rolled in the mud to the degree Obama has, to the point where everyone gets dirty in the process.  The restraint that the previous presidents displayed was not due to the fact that these presidents were any smarter, or nicer, than Barack Obama, just more politically nuanced.

Obama’s comments do make for great theater, Kabuki theater, in that the words he chooses to describe Republicans—specifically those in the Friday, August 9, 2013 press conference—may be designed to create the appearance of conflict to cover for the fact that his Affordable Care Act is so flawed legislatively that it might otherwise reflect poorly on him.  If this is the case, it could be said that Obama is attempting to use the “us versus the Republicans” tactic that is similar to the tactics that Fidel Castro used in creating a straw man, bad guy (The United States) argument to describe to his people why they were starving and miserable under his governance.  Every leader has used this ploy to one degree or another, of course, but few U.S. Presidents have been as obvious about it as Barack Obama.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s