Gave up, or simply couldn’t be bothered in the first place? Former press secretary and key Barack Obama adviser Robert Gibbs glibly blows off the notion of changing Washington as part of Morning Joe‘s preview of the State of the Union speech. Willie Geist asks Gibbs where the “hope and change” went, and while Gibbs doesn’t have an answer, he at least confirms its long-noted dissipation:
“Well, I think, you know, the ability to change Washington, I think, is something that long ago the White House sort of stopped trying to do and whether or not that’s a good thing, we will look back on history,” Gibbs replied.
I linked Ron Fournier yesterday, but his column hits this point directly. Obama never actually bothered to change Washington, except perhaps to think that it would change for him by the sheer dint of his personality:
The assessment concluded that Obama and his communications team allowed his fifth year to be judged too much by his dealings with Congress, which were poor.
A conservative Republican faction killed his gun-control proposals— joined by some Democratic senators — and eventually shut down the government for 16 days. “We still didn’t know enough about the Republicans,” said one senior administration official, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal assessments.
Didn’t know enough? After five years in office? This official, like so many others in the West Wing, apparently is not sufficiently self-aware to realize that he confirmed an Obama critique – that the president is too removed and disinterested from the political process to affect it, that he doesn’t value congressional relations enough to give them anything more than lip service, and that, for his enormous intellectual gifts, Obama is handicapped by a lack of political curiosity. He chose not to know enough about the Republicans.
The story raises several other questions. First, why did it take this long for the White House to discover the power of executive orders and rule-making? (Republicans are warning of “tyrannical executive orders,” ignoring the fact that GOP presidents issue them, too.) For instance, Obama has refused to use the power of clemency in a broad way to correct injustice in crack-cocaine sentencing. He punted to Congress the most important questions about NSA overreach rather than taking executive action. And now we’re supposed to be impressed by his pen and phone?
Obama got elected in 2008 on the promise that he would rise above partisanship and heal a broken political process. Instead, he’s so disinterested in working across the aisle that he’d rather mope at not controlling Congress and fall back to using EOs. Gibbs senses the irony and hypocrisy of this, and offers the “let history judge” dodge, when the utter failure to engage in the White House is apparent right now.