Chris “Mad Bitch Beer” Sleaza at WaPo:
Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail.
Why? For lots of reasons up to and including:
* The decline of the bully pulpit as a persuasion mechanism
* The deep partisanship present not only in Congress but also in the electorate more broadly
* The splintering of the mainstream media/the rise of social media.
Take the last 96 hours (or so) of the Obama presidency as illustrative of the broader impossibility of being president.
On Thursday, in the immediate aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines plane being shot down over Ukraine, President Obama delivered a cautious statement mourning the tragedy and promising he would get to the bottom of the situation. Conservatives immediately criticized that statement as insufficiently strong, comparing it unfavorably to how President Reagan handled a similar situation in 1983. (As The Fix’s Philip Bump explains, the Obama critique is not entirely fair.) Seeking to counter that narrative, Obama delivered another statement on Friday — and took questions from the press. He was far more aggressive in his tone about the possibility of Russian involvement. Over the weekend, the story of Secretary of State John Kerry’s on mic but off camera comments before a Fox News Channel interview drove much of the chatter. On Monday, Obama was back on TV with an even more aggressive stance on Russia — “What exactly are they trying to hide?” he asked about Russian separatists reportedly limiting access to the crash site — while also juggling an executive order banning discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation among federal contractors, hosting a town hall aimed at pushing his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative and trying to cajole Congress into helping him deal with the ongoing crisis of undocumented children at the country’s southern border. Oh, and he also was trying to walk a fine line between defending Israel’s right to defend itself with somewhat critical comments about the number of Palestinian civilian deaths occasioned by the military operation in Gaza. And, double oh, he and his staff will have to continue to fend off Republican criticism of a three day fundraising tour he leaves on tomorrow — a cash-collection trip that GOPers believe looks unseemly amid the various domestic and international crises happening at the moment.
It’s exhausting to write that paragraph — much less live it. And, it speaks to the impossibility of convincing partisans pre-disposed not to like you or your intentions/methods, the need to be ever-present on every issue and the difficulty of trying to drive home your preferred message of the day, week or year.
All of that is not to excuse President Obama. He has struggled to contain self-inflicted wounds — particularly in his second term — ranging from the IRS scandal to the problems of vets receiving adequate and timely care. His relations with Congress — Democrats included — have never been warm and, as a result, his ability to ask for the benefit of the doubt is non-existent. His underestimation of just how polarized the country and the Congress have become was entirely avoidable; senior members of his inner circle — many of whom came directly from the campaign(s) — were all too aware of that reality. His belief in his own powers of persuasion — to the Congress and the country — were also heavily overrated.
But, it’s hard to see how Obama could be considered “successful” even if he hadn’t made the various mistakes — in governance and the politics of politics — that he did. His presidency began at a time not only of unprecedented polarization in Congress and the country but also at a moment in which a president’s ability to bend the country to his will had reached a low ebb.
There are a number of ways I could respond to this. the first and most obvious is to say “WE TOLD YOU SO!” again. Because we did. The only thing we got wrong about Obama is that he turned out even worse than we predicted. His presidency has truly been epic and historic, but not in a good way.
I could also point to the media’s role in selling a heavily overrated candidate to the American people. If the media had given Obama half the scrutiny that they gave Sarah Palin, Obama would never have been awarded the Democratic nomination. He might not have even made it past Iowa.
On the other hand, Powerline has a pretty good reaction:
Whenever a Democratic president gets into trouble, the predictable chorus starts up: The job of President of the United States is just too difficult for anyone to master.
People stopped saying this about halfway through Reagan’s presidency. Maybe there’s a substantive reason for that. Notice how all the elite complaints about the problems of the presidency always abstract from the substantive views and actions of the occupant. The possibility that maybe we have a crappy president never seems to enter into consideration.
And remember this operating rule: Pay no attention to elite liberals when they trot out their complaints about the inadequacy of our constitutional republic, and their suggestions for reform that always, by some strange coincidence, would increase their influence in the corridors of power.
Modern liberalism’s remedy for any failure of government is always MORE government.
That brings us to the point that I really wanted to make, which is that POTUS has become Too Big To Fail®.
Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, and he was right. But we also have Big Brother (aka the “national security state”) and Big Sister (aka the “nanny state”) to worry about, along with the regulatory state and the bureaucratic state that is filled with civil service grandees.
But in reality they are one entity known as the Executive Branch. Worst of all, the Executive Branch is run by a single person: POTUS. Very few people are both capable and trustworthy enough to wield that much power and Obama is not one of them.
The American people are partly (if not mostly) to blame for the current situation. We expect POTUS to do way too much. Unfortunately we have also given him too much power. We need to take some of that power away from POTUS and give it back to Congress and the states. Some of it we should take back from government entirely.
We need to return to the concept of divided government, federalism and limited powers. The problem is that long ago we allowed the camel to stick its nose in our tent. Now we have a big smelly camel in the middle of our tent and he doesn’t want to leave.