President Obama was supposed to be the Democrats’ savior, the man who would guide the nation out of a recession and lead the party to a permanent majority. It didn’t take long to figure out that he simply didn’t have it in him.
The problems were myriad: He hated retail politics, he got distracted by legacy-building, he surrounded himself with abrasive staff, he refused to maintain focus on the economy, and he had a penchant for over-selling and under-delivering. But his chief flaw was that he refused to invest any time in building relationships with Congress.
The result is a party in disarray. His bone-headed, tin-eared political instincts guided Democrats to some of the worst midterm losses in recent history, losing majorities in the House and Senate in successive midterms. His presence was so radioactive that endangered Democrats had to do their best to steer clear, some even going so far as to publicly denounce the president’s leadership and promising to thwart his agenda. But the president wouldn’t let them get too far, declaring in the most recent midterm that although he was not on the ballot, “make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.”
The bold statement enraged Democrats and seemed to ensure that the president’s frosty relationship with Congress would be put on ice for good. Last week, with President Obama’s last key legislative priority on the line, it was.
Just hours after President Obama made the trek to Capitol Hill in order to make an impassioned, personal appeal for support of his trade agenda, Democrats bucked their party’s leader and voted against his wishes. The moved stunned long-time political watchers because Democrats voted against their own interest solely to send the president a message. The Washington Post editorial board explains:
[W]hat we have here is a desperate, and somewhat cynical, maneuver by the opponents of fast-track authority, and it goes like this. Trade Adjustment Assistance is an aid program for workers displaced by imports; Democrats and their allies in organized labor have backed it for decades. It runs out in September, but in order to reassure Hill Democrats and attract votes for fast-track authority, Mr. Obama insisted on linking its passage to a bill reauthorizing (and expanding) the assistance program for six years. The Republicans agreed. However, once organized labor realized that it was not going to be able to deny the president a majority for fast-track authority, it began trying to stop that measure by pressuring House Democrats to kill the assistance program — and labor leaders succeeded, because a majority of Democrats, including, crucially, minority leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), went along.
In short, the forces opposing fast-track authority turned a long-standing Democratic Party policy priority into a short-term political hostage. . . Apparently opponents despise free trade even more than they like helping its purported victims.
“They have taken their own child hostage,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) said. “Does it hurt the president? Of course it hurts the president, but it hurts America more.”
And that’s the most troubling thing. The cynicism inherent in Democrats’ actions is astounding, but it speaks volumes of their disdain for the president and the way he has treated them. As George Condon, Jr. writes for National Journal:
At the heart of the discontent is the belief by many members of the House and the Senate that the president is unmindful of the most basic rule of executive-congressional relations: “Don’t wait to call members until you need them.” Nothing aggravates senators and House members more than being taken for granted by a president whom they never hear from except when there is a tough vote facing them. In their view, that is how Obama too often operates. So when the president tried a late flurry of personal activity, it looked both panicky and ineffective. Attending one inning of a congressional baseball game, as he did Thursday night, and trekking to Capitol Hill for a one-hour meeting, as he did on Friday, were too little and too late.
Of course, President Obama’s messaging men attempted to explain the situation away, calling it a “procedural snafu,” but it’s not possible to spin this into a positive. No, the Obama presidency is over and as of now the Democratic Party is leaderless. Sure, President Obama still has 18 months to rebuild his relationship with Congress and resurrect his presidency, but at this point, “too little and too late” seems to be the operative words.