Over the past six years much has been written about President Obama’s disdain for engaging in the nitty- gritty of politics. The whole idea of “backroom politics;” where relationships are developed,arms are twisted…and laws are passed…resides far outside his comfort zone.
Prior to the 2010 mid-terms New York Times reporter Peter Baker asked the president if he had learned any lessons during his first two years in office. The president told Baker that he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency but admitted to what he called “tactical lessons.” “…we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right” Obama said; “than trying to get the politics right.”
Those tactical errors cost the president dearly. Less than two weeks after Baker’s interview voters slapped the self confident president with a cruel dose of reality; electing Republicans to a majority in the House and thereby effectively bringing the president’s agenda to a screeching halt.
In a recent New York Times piece, reporters Carl Hulse, Jeremy Peters and Michael Shear write that not much has changed. In fact not only has the president dismissed any notion of mending fences with his Republican opponents he has refused to engage his Democrat supporters as well.
The Times article centers on a White House meeting in June between Obama and the four top leaders in congress. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Reid suddenly shifted gears and chastised McConnell and Republican senators for blocking dozens of the president’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. Reid expected the president to back him up. But, as the Times reports, Obama quickly dismissed the matter: ‘You and Mitch work it out,” Obama said, ending any further discussion. Reid seethed through the remainder of the meeting and later told other senators that he was astonished at how disengaged the president was given that these were the president’s own ambassadors that were being blocked. The president had chastised Republicans publically for blocking the ambassador appointments, especially to hotspots like Russia and the Ukraine. But when it came to seizing the opportunity to discuss the matter face to face with the leader of the opposition; the president backed off.
As the 2014 mid-terms approach we are hearing more and more Democrats express their frustration over the president’s refusal to build relationships and work hand in hand with them to move his agenda forward. As the president’s approval ratings plummet vulnerable Democrats are distancing themselves from him in much the same manner that he turned his back on them. With no personal relationship, no working relationship and no friendship to bond them to the president…who can blame them? If Republicans take the senate there is little for Obama to do than prepare his farewell speech.
The president likes to blame the gridlock in Washington on the Republicans in congress. A 17% congressional approval rating would suggest that the public agrees. Certainly their obstructionist tactics have played a major role in the failings of our government. But with all due respect Mr. President, how do you expect to break through that gridlock if you won’t even engage with your own supporters to find solutions.
It takes more than soaring rhetoric to move a nation forward. The president said he had learned that lesson. Unfortunately for this president and his legacy, actions speak louder than words.