A Rudderless Presidency
Less than nine months after winning a solid reelection, Barack Obama’s second term is as dead as a doornail. And he and his political team have no one else but themselves to blame. The best evidence of this was the questionable decision to have an impromptu appearance yesterday in front of the White House media to comment on race and the Trayvon Martin verdict.
It’s not that I am unsympathetic to the outrage over this verdict, which could be the subject of another post entirely. Rather, the Obama administration’s dead-man-walking approach to governance in this second term is so terribly discouraging on several levels, not the least of which is that we still have over three years left in this rudderless presidency.
Here is a short list of what bothers me. If race relations in America bothers Obama, and it should, then why was the White House virtually silent in the aftermath of the 5-4 SCOTUS decision eviscerating the Voting Rights Act? Far more damage was done to race relations and equality in America by John Roberts’ disgraceful leadership on that Supreme Court case than was done by the verdict in the Zimmerman case. Yet with the Supreme Court’s approval near an all-time low, did you hear the president launch a broadside attack in an address to the nation or even a special press conference against the five conservatives on the high court for a decision that will disenfranchise millions of Americans over the next decade? No. All we got was a perfunctory statement from the Press Office while the president was on his African trip, and nothing since. Pathetic, simply pathetic.
If you asked a cross-section of Americans what this president stands for, I’m willing to bet that the majority of those polled couldn’t tell you, again less than a year after he was re-elected with a top-notch campaign effort that unfortunately has never translated into a top-notch effort at governing. For example, the House Republicans did a despicable thing with the Farm Bill last week, gutting the food stamp program for alleged waste while spending billions on corporate welfare for large agribusinesses. A president with a clear vision for right and wrong, and the guts to destroy his craven political opponents would have immediately called out the House GOP and laid down a marker in a prime time event that such a bill would be DOA if it ever reaches his desk. Yet from this White House: silence.
Moreover, while the president has a political advantage yet is willing to let the Senate immigration bill go die a slow death in the House, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t call out the House GOP for ignoring the problem and aiming to kill a comprehensive reform bill. Nor does the president seem interested in calling out the House GOP for ignoring the lack of jobs in the country and our quickly-declining infrastructure, two issues that are closely intertwined, while the GOP focuses on undoing health care reform and attacking women’s rights.
By not talking about jobs and these moral value distinctions between Democrats and Republicans (such as gun safety), Obama seems content to meander his way until we get closer to the 2014 midterms, and hope the public will be enraged enough and motivated enough by his late-arriving rhetoric and OFA effort to turn out enough votes to swing the House closer to the Democrats. But governing is not about waiting for the next election, it’s about staking out an agenda and showing the country that you are willing to fight for what you think is right. And there has been virtually none of that from this president so far in his second term, even after a big win at the ballot box less than a year ago. Between Obama’s lack of ability to weave politics with governing and the GOP’s successful effort to derail him at the start of his second term, the electorate can’t help but feel that the country is in a stall for the next three years.