That’s the meme du jour, right? Now that he’s suffered the worst midterm drubbings of any two-term President, Barack Obama is now free to be “the president he’s always wanted to be.” Politico reported that Obama spent the past year “nudging Americans to judge him less on legislative accomplishments and more on his executive actions,” and in the next breath noted that he’s coming back in the new year to a Republican Congress as if that year had nothing to do with it:
He’s spent a year nudging Americans to judge him less on legislative accomplishments and more on his executive actions. And now he’s got a fully Republican Congress that he can alternate between butting up against and making deals with — but really not thinking about much at all.
“We were trapped in this debate of: ‘Is Obama helping or hurting?,’ ‘Was it a mistake to say his policies were on the ballot, or was it the right thing to do?’” a senior Obama aide said this week as the final details of American Alan Gross’s release from a Cuban prison — enabling the deal with the island country — were being worked out. “We are more the masters of our own destiny than we were before.”
Actually, no he’s not, and everyone knows it. Without Harry Reid to run interference, Obama now will either have to deal with Republican leadership on Capitol Hill or fill his days with celebrity visits. The next two years will either have Obama trying to find some common ground with the GOP on the latter’s terms, or it will look like a very drawn out version of the last episode of The Colbert Report.
The Hill poses five questions it would like to see Obama answer during his presser, which is scheduled to start at 1:30 ET:
1) Will the new Cuba policy embolden the Castro regime and worsen human rights abuses in the country? And how will the White House defeat congressional efforts to roll back his policy changes?
2) Was North Korea responsible for the cyber attack against Sony Pictures? And should the studio have pulled “The Interview” from theaters?
3) How will the White House navigate the relationship with Capitol Hill as Republicans take control?
4) What is the president’s biggest accomplishment or regret in 2014?
5) Why didn’t the president end up going to Ferguson, Mo.? And can we expect the president to address race more specifically in the future?
The final question is almost humorous in its quaint ignorance of reality. If Obama was ever going to get involved in such a dispute, it would have either been in Ferguson or in New York. The former would have been a mistake, and the evidence showed the wisdom of keeping that controversy at arms’ length. Obama could have visited New York to emphasize his solidarity on the much-more-questionable outcome of the Eric Garner case, but again chose not to do so. If Obama stayed away from those disputes, under what circumstances would he actually choose to become personally involved?
Questions 3 and 4 are softballs, but 1 and 2 are definitely topics that will dominate the presser. Perhaps the media might ask why the most sensitive diplomatic mission in decades was left in charge of a speechwriter? Naaah — that would make it a real press conference, rather than an opportunity to showcase Obama’s liberation. In that vein, expect Obama to go “off script,” as Jim Acosta predicts for CNN. Obama called into a radio show yesterday to joke around with outgoing Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and might be tempted to do a lame-duck waddle today:
The unbridled Obama even took the time to call in to a Massachusetts radio show to needle his friend, outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. The President could go off script even further during his year-end press conference scheduled for Friday afternoon.
The “fourth quarter” policy blitz that is underway at the West Wing is similar in some respects to the “bear is loose” image strategy the White House employed last summer. The looser and more active Obama appears, the more the public likes him, aides thought at the time.
Asked how he felt about being a “lame duck” at his post-midterm news conference, Obama said he planned to squeeze as much as he could into his final years in office.
“You know, if you look at the history of almost every President, those last two years, all kinds of stuff happens. In some cases, stuff that we couldn’t predict,” the President said.
Regardless of what happens, the media will probably push that narrative for the next two weeks, until Republicans take their place in the House and Senate and the “pen and phone” meet hard reality. After that, let the Colbert-esque finale begin. Just don’t invite Bill Clinton to the White House today, though.
Addendum: Guy Benson has better questions to ask, and probably wouldn’t mind if some White House correspondents cribbed off of his paper.
Here’s the live video stream for those who wish to follow along: