WASHINGTON – Two minutes after the start of an event he was scheduled to headline, President Barack Obama stepped into his limo for the 13-minute ride to the Four Seasons Hotel here.
Inside the five-star hotel, 150 Wall Street CEOs waited.
The crowd expected the president to deliver a speech filled with reassurances about the problems associated with ObamaCare. Instead, he offered biting partisan rhetoric that tried to blame Republicans for the failures of his signature health-care bill.
In politics there is always an exit door. But policy is a much different room: Exits are hard to find because you can’t escape law, especially a law on which you have based your entire legacy.
Obama’s staff also appears in need of a fire escape.
That same day was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, which the president chose not to honor by attending a ceremony marking it. White House senior aide Dan Pfeiffer gave a prickly response to National Journal columnist Ron Fournier’s Twitter question about what on the president’s schedule was more important than the Gettysburg anniversary.
"Oh, I don’t know, there’s this whole website thing that someone suggested might destroy the Dem Party," Pfeiffer tweeted from his official White House account.
Pfeiffer unwittingly revealed what everything is about with this administration: salvaging Obama’s political legacy and his relationship to Democrats.
In short, politics.
Here the president stood in the nation’s capital, the center of the country’s power and wealth, speaking to the very segment of society that has reaped the most from his administration — and he tried to escape responsibility for the crumbling of his presidency’s centerpiece policy.
Sixty-five miles away on a battlefield, the sitting president was absent when other Americans honored one of his predecessors, a man who said that the blood spilled there was not in vain but part of a "new birth of freedom."
The president apparently was absent because he is immobilized by a divisional political calculus that he created to win two elections.
Eventually, karma catches up with you, even if you are the president of the United States.
Obama cannot move (nor can his advisers successfully advise) because, so far, he has never convincingly projected himself as a president for everyone, because he is at odds with half of the country’s values and traditions.
As a president, his governing style always has required a bad guy, someone who is "against" him.
It is a way of operating that his staff has adopted. That is why, when senior staffers such as Pfeiffer are questioned by reporters, their default answers aren’t thoughtful or mindful of the office they represent.
Instead, the answers are laced with bitterness toward the questioners and with disdain for the people who might care about an inconvenient issue.
Any Main Street mom would pull out the soap to give those staffers’ mouths a good scrubbing.
How unfortunate for American history that President Obama allowed the politics of ObamaCare to keep him from attending the short ceremony honoring President Lincoln. Certainly, a 90-minute visit to the Pennsylvania battlefield would not have taken away his ability to "fix" a website and a political party — as if that was really what he was doing last Tuesday.
But, then, everything President Obama does is political. In fact, he is trapped by his politics.
Telling Americans that you cannot honor Lincoln’s words 150 years later because you have to fix a website that you botched and a Democratic Party that you unraveled — but you can honor the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech — is disturbing.
First, without the former, you would not have had the latter. And, second, what you are telling Americans with such a decision is that politics is everything to your presidency.
Class warfare was Barack Obama’s signature achievement as a campaigner; pitting one part of the country against the other is who he is. That’s politics, and it is something he could always exit if he so chose.
But once he infused that into his policies — and his policies to date have been a disaster — he found there are no exit doors in sight.
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at [email protected]