The president held a news conference yesterday to mark the first 100 days of his second term. The reviews are in…and they are not good.
According to the pundits the president came off as “defensive,” “weak” and having lost his “juice.” By all accounts this president is in full lame duck mode.
To some extent they are correct. The president has taken some pretty big hits of late and in spite of his protestations to the contrary, rumors of his demise are NOT greatly exaggerated. He took a big hit on the sequester cuts and another one on background checks. Just the other day congress ran over him and sent the air traffic controllers back to work. And the last thing he expected 100 days into his second term is to be answering questions on why he hasn’t been able to close Gitmo. For a guy that just came off a resounding general election win he seems spending a lot of time on defense rather than offense.
The president likes to point the finger of blame at congress; and they have certainly been a key partner in the gridlock that has brought Washington to its knees. (We’ll get to congress in a minute.) But if the president is honest with himself he has to know that some of the blame falls on his shoulders.
The president and his supporters thought his landslide re-election would pave the way for passing his second term agenda. Perhaps they believed that Republicans would simply lay down their swords. Quite the contrary! Republicans have shown that their resolve to stay the course holds true. They will continue do anything they can to stop this president…even to the extent of voting “No” on issues supported by 90% of the country.
We have written many times before about the president’s distaste for the nuts and bolts of Washington politics. He is loath to get down in the weeds and participate in the wheeling and dealing that makes Washington work. He prefers to work from the stump and the podium rather than the smoky backrooms and musty hallways. He prefers to let the voters do the heavy lifting. Thus far that strategy has failed. It’s his job to find a way to make it work.
When people talk about the president’s unwillingness to get his hands dirty when dealing with congress they like to bring up the past. They like to talk about the good old days when LBJ and Ronald Reagan would do whatever was necessary to get congress to do their bidding. (Count us among those who would like to see a little more LBJ type smack down in this president’s approach.)
But in fairness, LBJ and Reagan didn’t have to deal with a Senate that requires 60 votes to order lunch. They didn’t have to deal with a Congress willing to vote “No” on issues favored by 90% of the voters. And LBJ and Reagan didn’t have to deal with the racism, bigotry and outright hatred that this president deals with every single day.
The president still has time to turn the tide and cement his legacy. He can still get a bill on background checks through congress. He can get a budget deal done. And he has a very good shot at immigration reform. Add those initiatives to passing comprehensive health care, saving of the auto and banking industries, turning around the economy, bringing an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the elimination of bin laden; this president has a legacy that will stand the test of history. It is his job to find a way to get it done.
We assume that this president will continue to favor the podium over the poker game. We assume that his opponents will continue to do everything in their power to stop him. The ultimate victor will be decided in the mid-terms. If the president has successfully made his case then his party will wrest control of both chambers on the hill. If he fails then his second term agenda is toast. In the meantime the finger pointing will continue and gridlock will prevail.
There is plenty of blame to go around.