In 2010, at least Barack Obama admitted to taking a “shellacking” in a historic midterm loss — or to be more accurate, his advisers did. After being the first modern President to suffer two massive midterm defeats, the New York Times reports that Obama denies that the results reflect on him at all. Instead, Obama offered up another basketball analogy that moved from the “jayvees” to the injured reserve, or something:
Two things were clear long before the votes were counted on Tuesday night: President Obama would face a Congress with more Republicans for his final two years in office, and the results would be seen as a repudiation of his leadership.
But that was not the way Mr. Obama saw it. The electoral map was stacked against him, he argued, making Democrats underdogs from the start. And his own party kept him off the trail, meaning he never really got the chance to make his case. “You’re in the Final Four,” as one aide put it, “and you’re on the bench with a walking boot and you don’t get to play.”
The Republican capture of the Senate culminated a season of discontent for the president — and may yet open a period of even deeper frustration. Sagging in the polls and unwelcome in most competitive races across the country, Mr. Obama bristled as the last campaign that would influence his presidency played out while he sat largely on the sidelines. He privately complained that it should not be a judgment on him. “He doesn’t feel repudiated,” the aide said Tuesday night.
But the Republican tide was stronger than projected, sweeping away Democrats even in some of those few blue states where the president did campaign. Mr. Obama now faces a daunting challenge in reasserting his relevance in a capital where he will be perceived as a lame duck. If the hope-and-change phase of his presidency is long over, he wants at least to produce a period of progress and consolidation to complete his time in the White House.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with this argument. The President of the United States has such a powerful platform that Teddy Roosevelt called it “the bully pulpit” — and that was long before the mass-media age. First Obama compares ISIS to basketball “jayvees,” and now he’s describing himself and his office as the walking wounded. That may be true today, after the midterm election results have stripped Democrats of standing at the state and federal legislative levels and in gubernatorial reach as well, but it certainly wasn’t true for the rest of this year.
Obama had plenty of opportunity to engage in the process and make his case. Instead, he spent the summer playing golf while Iraq and Syria burned. Now he wants us to believe it’s because he was on injured reserve and couldn’t play in the big game. That’s not exactly the mark of a leader.
And actually, he did play in the big game. He campaigned for Democrats, mainly in what were thought to be safe places like Maryland (!), but with the full intent of garnering national attention and coverage. Obama made it clear that his policies and agenda were on the line in this election. “Make no mistake,” Obama told a Northwestern University audience on October 2nd. “These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them.”
Northwestern University is in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Illinois has a new Republican governor today. But, er, this isn’t a repudiation, right?
In last night’s Schadentinglen at MSNBC, Howard Fineman had a better grasp of reality (via the Right Scoop):
Obama has a press conference scheduled for 2:50 ET this afternoon, and he’s expected to discuss the election results. Perhaps he’ll also give us an idea of whether he can come off the sidelines for the rest of his season, or whether he’ll just retire in all but name now. At the very least, he should give Americans some indication that he’s paying enough attention to know the score in the game, even if he does have to play as a lame duck for the next two years.
Something tells me this won’t be the theme song for the White House for the next couple of years:
Keep me out, coach … I don’t want to play …