Part of the problem is that Obama, by his own words and those of people who worked most closely with him, doesn’t devote much energy to congressional outreach. I’m not talking about mindless encounters at a White House picnic or Christmas party or a photo-op golf game with Boehner. (My CBS News colleague Mark Knoller informs me that in his 114 rounds of golf as president, Obama has played with just two members of Congress: once with Boehner and twice with Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina).
The harder work is for a president to deal with lawmakers as they often are—petulant, small-minded, paranoid, needy, hyper-excitable about their ideas, and notoriously unaware of considerations outside their committees and prospects for reelection. Disliking these characteristics doesn’t make them go away.
The art of a deal in politics is not to win so much that you remain popular, but to win enough so that you remain popular while your opponent wins enough so that he or she remains popular, too. This isn’t always possible; sometimes such deals muddy philosophical divisions worth fighting over. And yet, this is how the system works when there is a common understanding of—or, at minimum, a grudging appreciation for—each other’s motives, philosophies, and base political needs.
This insight appears to elude Obama.