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Ed Driscoll

‘An Isolated Man Trapped in a Collapsing Presidency’

October 10th, 2011 - 12:36 pm

Michael Goodwin paints a sad portrait of President Obama in the New York Post:

The reports are not good, disturbing even. I have heard basically the same story four times in the last 10 days, and the people doing the talking are in New York and Washington and are spread across the political spectrum.

The gist is this: President Obama has become a lone wolf, a stranger to his own government. He talks mostly, and sometimes only, to friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett and to David Axelrod, his political strategist.

Everybody else, including members of his Cabinet, have little face time with him except for brief meetings that serve as photo ops. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner both have complained, according to people who have talked to them, that they are shut out of important decisions.

The president’s workdays are said to end early, often at 4 p.m. He usually has dinner in the family residence with his wife and daughters, then retreats to a private office. One person said he takes a stack of briefing books. Others aren’t sure what he does.

If the reports are accurate, and I believe they are, they paint a picture of an isolated man trapped in a collapsing presidency. While there is no indication Obama is walking the halls of the White House late at night, talking to the portraits of former presidents, as Richard Nixon did during Watergate, the reports help explain his odd public remarks.

Obama conceded in one television interview recently that Americans are not “better off than they were four years ago” and said in another that the nation had “gotten a little soft.” Both smacked of a man who feels discouraged and alienated and sparked comparisons to Jimmy Carter, never a good sign.

What’s worse is that Obama has compared himself to Jimmy Carter in Ron Susskind’s new book. About which, Jon Meacham, former editor of the once supremely Obama-friendly Newsweek recently told the the once supremely Obama-friendly Politico, is  “a history-sized mistake,” the equivalent of “Nixon evoking Harding,” Meacham added. (Obama as Nixon? I just can’t see it myself…)

And Goodwin’s essay appears in the right-leaning New York Post appears immediately on top of the Friday article in the Obama-supportive Washington Post titled “Obama, the loner president” and painting a similar picture:

This president endures with little joy the small talk and back-slapping of retail politics, rarely spends more than a few minutes on a rope line, refuses to coddle even his biggest donors. His relationship with Democrats on Capitol Hill is frosty, to be generous. Personal lobbying on behalf of legislation? He prefers to leave that to Vice President Biden, an old-school political charmer.

Obama’s circle of close advisers is as small as the cluster of personal friends that predates his presidency. There is no entourage, no Friends of Barack to explain or defend a politician who has confounded many supporters with his cool personality and penchant for compromise.

Obama is, in short, a political loner who prefers policy over the people who make politics in this country work.

As Jonah Goldberg wrote yesterday at the Corner, responding to the above article, “Where’s the Evidence Obama’s a Policy Genius?”

Here’s a thought: Maybe Obama is just a big fan of public policy the way I’m a big fan of movies? I can talk about movies all day long. I can discuss camera work, acting, story, directing etc. with some fluency. I can even talk about how movies are financed and the role of foreign markets.  But you know what? I don’t have a frickn’ clue how to make a Hollywood movie (and I’ve actually made some documentaries).

Maybe he’s not a public policy Scorsese. Maybe he’s, at best, the Roger Ebert of policymaking – or more likely, just a policy buff.

This also raises an interesting question: Do you even want a super-wonk to be president? As Wilson discusses in his piece, Bill Clinton was certainly a wonk and so was Jimmy Carter. But to the extent Clinton’s presidency was successful it was attributable to his political skills, not his policy genius (and to an economic boom for which he deserves significantly less credit than he claims). Jimmy Carter’s presidency demonstrates that point well enough. If Obama’s wonkiness translates itself into simply hawking the existing inventory of liberal ideas, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a salesman who can, you know, sell the inventory?

But if the reports that Mr. Obama has mentally checked out of the job and started talking to the paintings are true, then they could mean several things:

  • He’s lazy, and his new-agey worshipful fanboy at the San Francisco Chronicle who dubbed him “the lightworker” in 2008 should have added a space to separate the two words.
  • He’s pacing himself, and preparing for the long grind of the 2012 campaign.
  • He’s seen the advance polling numbers and the brewing scandals, and knows that he’s toast.

Regarding that last item, in his latest op-ed, Michael Barone writes that the challenge for his reelection team is “how to rally unruly coalition,” and drag their man across the finish line once again:

It’s not clear that lambasting Republicans for not raising taxes on millionaires and corporate jets is going to win votes or rally the enthusiasm of currently disappointed college-educated and young voters.

They may actually have looked past the campaign rally cries of “pass this bill” to notice that it doesn’t have 50 votes in the Democratic-majority Senate and indeed has hardly any Democratic co-sponsors. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been employing parliamentary legerdemain to prevent a vote on Obama’s bill.

It’s not so clear either that bashing millionaires and corporate jets is going to rekindle the enthusiasm of young voters and Latinos discouraged after months of joblessness. They may remember that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on the 2009 stimulus package didn’t do much good.

At the moment, the only states where polls since June show Obama with job approval as high as 50 or 51 percent are those where he got 60 percent plus in 2008, plus New Jersey, where he got 57 percent.

Those are enough to get him up to 200 electoral votes, 70 short of a majority.

But they’re not enough to reassemble the 53 percent coalition that hoped he would bring change for the better. That coalition, historically unusual, seems now to be part of history itself.

At Hot Air, Ed Morrissey notes that an “unexpectedly” bipartisan consensus of AP, John Boehner and himself agree that the president has checked out from reality — which the Grand Forks Herald makes explicit in their headline: “Obama’s jobs bill sales pitch disconnects rhetoric, reality,” leaving Ed to conclude:

Obama doesn’t want to get anything accomplished except win another election.  He had 14 months to work with Republicans before the next election; heck, he had 34 months to work with Republicans before that speech.  Instead of trying for a compromise on the basis of comprehensive tax-code reform, which both parties would like to accomplish, Obama decided to declare war on capital instead and provoke demonstrations in the streets.  It’s a petulant and impotent response to the utter failure of his economic policies, and the OccupyWallStreet protests won’t be enough to distract people from that reality — even if Obama can’t face it himself.

Jimmy Carter has certainly been churlish over the latest 30 years, after the American people rejected his awesomely awesome genius in 1980. If Barack Obama loses next year, expect an even worse level of bitterness, especially in private, one that will make the conclusion of Secret Honor, Robert Altman’s 1984 Nixon parody seem like Romper Room. (NSFW language warning — I wouldn’t play this at work, unless on headphones):

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(Via Orrin Judd, who asks, “Where Have You Gone, Bebe Rebozo?”)

Related: Back from vacation, Ace dares to utter the D-word.

Update: Jim Treacher reminds us that once again, life imitates the Onion -- in this case, a remarkably prescient video from August of 2009, before it all went wrong:

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As Treacher writes, “Becoming president is a narcissist’s dream. Having to do the job is his nightmare.”

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