President Obama took to the podium today to inform the nation that he will change exactly nothing about how he does his job after a historic drubbing in the midterm elections. He will tout the same policies in the same ways, with no particular plan for how to get any of them passed, with no particular nevermind paid to how the politics have shifted tectonically beneath his feet, armed with nothing but his assertions of his rightness. Again.
Many of you will note that the president does pivot, often, back to the economy. As the economy—by his own admission today—has limped along without conferring upon the middle class any of the progress the president claims abounds, the president periodically announces that he’s pivoting. He wants to communicate he is concerned with the country’s top concern. So, he pivots— 19 times as of 2013, and I’m sure there are more since then. Again and again. But he doesn’t really pivot, does he? He says he’s pivoting. There’s no particular plan for how to get anything passed, no particular nevermind paid to what the political dynamic might allow him to do. There’s nothing but an assertion. That’s he’s pivoting.
And, today there wasn’t even that. Nor will there be. Dana Milbank, of all people, zeroes in on the disinterested nothingness Obama offered today and his constant avoidance of responsibility, as the message the American people sent went “in one presidential ear and out the other.” The whole thing is worth a read:
About the closest Obama got to a concession was offering to have some Kentucky bourbon with McConnell (he had once joked about how unpleasant a drink with McConnell would be) and “letting John Boehner beat me again at golf.”
President George W. Bush was rarely one to admit error, but on the day after the midterm “thumpin’ ” Republicans received eight years ago, he responded dramatically. Bush announced the ouster of defense chief Donald Rumsfeld and set in motion a new Iraq policy. He also offered a frank acknowledgment that everything had changed: “The election’s over and the Democrats won, and now we’re going to work together for two years to accomplish big objectives for the country.”
Obama was blase by comparison. “Obviously, Republicans had a good night,” he said, but “beyond that, I’ll leave it to all of you and the professional pundits to pick through yesterday’s results.” The message that Obama took from the election, he said, was that Americans “want us to get the job done. All of us in both parties have a responsibility to address that sentiment.”
It’s true that voters are disgusted with both parties, but they were particularly unhappy with Obama. In exit polls, 33 percent said their votes were to show disapproval of him (19 percent said they were showing support). In The Post, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff all but blamed Obama for the loss.
But Obama wasn’t about to acknowledge fault, or the need for change. He allowed that, as president, he has “a unique responsibility to try and make this town work.” But his solution was to defer responsibility: “I look forward to Republicans putting forward their governing agenda.”
It might be a change that more people in the press are noticing it, but this isn’t a change for Obama. Yes, he was once more inspiring and has now descended to earth, his decidedly clay feet clomping through the drudgery of the briefings that oh-so-occasionally punctuate his golf schedule. But even when he was at the height of his inspirational game, there was no plan beyond him being him. He didn’t know how to change Washington. He knew how to say he wanted to change Washington. He didn’t know how to reform health care or even how to pass a crappy bill attempting it. He knew how to assert that those were things he’d do. He didn’t know how to help his party in the 2010 midterms. His literal plan, upon being asked by worried Congressional Democrats, was “me.” “You’ve got me,” he told them was the difference between ’94 or ’06, and ’10. But just being Obama wasn’t enough. In fact, just being Obama became part of the problem long ago. All he knows how to offer is himself and his words. He has always assumed that is enough. He could almost be forgiven his assumption after he won election and reelection on those thin merits. But winning election and reelection are about selling himself. That he can do. For selling anything that’s not him, there is no plan.
There was no plan before the election. And, there’s no, ahem, change of plan now. There’s not even an understanding that adjustments might be in order. He says he’ll do what works. He says he knows what works, never stopping to think that the historic repudiation of his agenda and the stagnant recovery and economy it created suggest perhaps he doesn’t know.
So, he’ll keep saying the same things he’s always said. He’ll assert he knows what works, and we should do it. He’ll assume that’s enough to convince a country that’s trying desperately to tell him it’s not. When none of that works, he’ll blame anyone but him. And, then he’ll use as much executive power as he can conjure out of thin air and the delusions of an erstwhile Constitutional visiting lecturer, relying on the only mechanism of American government in which he’s ever truly had confidence—himself.