The pro forma presidency

And that’s what is amazing about Obama’s presidency right now. It is almost entirely pro forma. Save for a few marginal exceptions (like an overly sympathetic media and the loyalty of Senate Democrats), his place in American politics rests entirely with what the job brings to him and not what he brings to it.

Obama seems incapable of moving public opinion, at least among people who don’t already agree with him. You can tell his handlers have noticed because his talking points have become top-heavy with jargon freshly minted from focus groups: corporate jet owners, “winning the future,” raising revenue instead of raising taxes, etc…

The most telling sign that Obama’s presidency has been shorn of its pretensions to greatness is not rhetorical but substantive. Obama began his presidency using his deficit reduction commission as an excuse not to worry about the deficit, as he racked up trillions of dollars more. When the commission released its recommendations, he politely ignored them…

But even as Obama has been forced to put aside his understanding of what governing means, Clinton’s point is still valid. When it comes to getting the deal done, it’s very difficult to go around the presidency, and it’s very easy for the president to declare victory even after a failure. Obama may not be bringing much to the table, but it remains his table — because it came with the office.