1. Voter disillusionment is not caused by pundits who (quoting Klein again) “falsely promise that the glowing briefcase of president leadership can fix what ails us.” The greatest guilt lies with presidential candidates who overpromise. Obama explicitly vowed to change the culture of Washington. For two consecutive elections, he toted his glowing briefcase and waved his green lantern to give voters the audacity to hope. He knew the limits of his powers when he ran for the job. When his broken promises feed disillusionment, the president can’t shirk responsibility.
2. The extreme sorting-out of the two parties in Congress is nothing new. It was mostly complete after the 1994 midterms, and posed challenges for both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. Despite polarization, Obama’s two predecessors managed to find common ground with their obstinate opposing parties. Yes, politics is hard today—but no harder than, say, during the Civil War era or the turbulent 1960s.
3. The outsize attention given to the president gives him unparalleled advantages. Obama can make better use of it. He could talk to the media and the public more often with a more compelling and sustained message. He could build enduring relationships in Washington rather than being so blatantly transactional with his time. He could work harder, and with more empathy, on Capitol Hill to find “win-win” opportunities with Republicans. He could make better use of his Cabinet to message and enact policies. In private, he could talk less and listen more. In public, he could set reasonable expectations and meet them. He could pick his fights better. In hindsight, Obama should have gotten much more out of Congress when Democrats controlled both chambers.
In March, a reporter asked Obama why he didn’t lock congressional leaders in a room until they agreed on a budget deal. Obama’s answer was based on two assumptions. First, that his opinion is supreme. Second, he can’t break the logjam. What a remarkable combination of arrogance and impotence.