What Will Obama’s Legacy Be?
March 7, 2013 3 Comments
Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker has an interesting piece about the powerless President Obama. The President last week complained that he doesn’t have a secret formula to force Boehner and the Republicans to see he’s right. This despite the fact that Obama is convinced all reasonable people see things his way. Lizza notes that Obama is one of the few President’s to publicly whine about their power limits. Lizza’s thesis is that in order for a President to be truly successful, he needs to have his party in control of Congress. Otherwise the government is divided and divided government leads to a weak President.
In some respects Lizza is right. Obama has become increasingly powerless against a united Republican opposition. He couldn’t work out a sequestration deal and odds are he’s going to have a hard time getting much of anything passed in the next couple years. The administration has so much as admitted they’re campaigning for 2014, hoping to win back a Democrat House majority. What we’re likely to see in 2013 and 2014 is an administration talking about building bridges with the GOP while refusing to actually sit down and negotiate any deals. When negotiation does take place, Obama will refuse a deal and try to paint the GOP as extreme. It’s all a rouse, he wants no deal because no deal aids the Democrats midterm election arguments.
Lizza’s argument fails because there are two President’s in recent memory who worked with opposition Congress’s and got part of their agenda passed. Reagan worked with a full Democrat Congress for six years and a Democrat House for eight. He negotiated with Congress. He won tax cuts and military spending increases, he gave up cuts to social programs in exchange. Clinton worked with a Republican majority for six years, he won a welfare reform battle where he co-opted the issue winning the reform plan he wanted. In both cases the President worked with and negotiated with Congress. They didn’t get everything they wanted but they got something done.
Obama was elected in 2008 claiming to be post-partisan. In his first week in office he declared that he had won and refused to listen to Republicans concerning the Stimulus bill. He set the tone for his Presidency, he likely had no clue the GOP would win the House in 2010. It’s very en vogue to blame gridlock in Washington on extreme partisanship.The reality is that Democrats and Republicans have been at each others throats in DC for 150 years. There was plenty of partisan rancor when Reagan and Clinton were in the White House. Recall Clinton was impeached while Reagan was subjected to Iran-Contra hearings.
Yet Reagan and Clinton were able to work with an opposition Congress and Obama has not been able to. The media won’t ever put the blame on Obama, they wonder why he can’t just lock them in a room and force Congress to negotiate. However blame certainly can be laid at the steps of the White House. This is a President who spent two years shutting the GOP out, now he wants something from them. That isn’t how it works in politics. You never shut out the opposition, you never get so arrogant as to think you or your party will never lose. A good President understand that he never knows what the future will bring and it’s best to keep as many political doors open as possible.
Obama expects everyone to cater to him because he’s the President. From day one he’s had a very elementary school view of the Presidency. He won’t work with Republicans because Republicans won’t give in to his every demand. When he gets Republicans to agree to something, he suddenly wants more like he did during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiation that gave us sequestration. Obama wants it all, he is unwilling to seriously negotiate. That’s on him, it isn’t on a suddenly united GOP front. When and if the Democrats fail to retake the House next year, the majority of Obama’s Presidency will have been spent on minor squabbles with the House. That will this President’s legacy. If that comes true, it will be on the President alone. The buck stops at the Oval Office.