Obama: Consequential, Not Serious

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

Based only on the White House’s stubborn protestations of President Barack Obama’s attentive stewardship, his surpassing competency and the pro-Obama media’s "blameless" narrative, one might conclude that America is a year and a half into President George W. Bush’s fourth term.

Bush remains the left’s comprehensive excuse for Obama’s inadequacies. The lousy economy? Bush. Joblessness and underemployment? Bush. Debt? Bush. Foreign policy failures? Bush. Immigration crises? Bush. Political polarization? Bush.
Never mind that George W. Bush has avoided the limelight since leaving office more than five years ago.

Many found the administration’s and media’s reflexive blame-Bush litany persuasive during Obama’s first term.

After all, George Bush left office with low approval ratings, and, although successfully prosecuted by America’s military, by 2008 the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were unpopular.

It’s an absurd leap, though, to continue to blame Bush during year six of Obama’s "Hope and Change" presidency.

Accordingly, in order to explain America’s problems while excusing a president they still embrace, prominent sympathetic commentators are shifting the narrative.

For example, in a Washington Post article entitled "It’s virtually impossible to be a successful modern president," writer Chris Cillizza pivoted from the left’s threadbare blame-Bush tactic to blaming the job of president itself. Cillizza leads:

"Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail."

And follows:

"Why? For lots of reasons up to and including:

* The decline of the bully pulpit as a persuasion mechanism

* The deep partisanship present not only in Congress but also in the electorate more broadly

* The splintering of the mainstream media/the rise of social media."

In effect, Cillizza concedes Obama’s failed presidency but tells readers it’s not Obama’s fault. The job is just too big for anyone to master. (Remember when the media made the same excuses for Obama’s predecessor? No? Neither do I.)
The article is a media two-fer. Not only does he absolve Obama, a media creation, Cillizza avoids apologizing for or even explaining the national media’s failure – twice – to properly vet or ask tough questions of a candidate who was clearly unprepared to assume the responsibilities of the presidency.
Cillizza ignores the possibility that, at the media’s urging, perhaps America just elected a lousy president — twice.

Oddly, Obama, supposedly the most intelligent man ever to run for the office and the greatest orator of our or any time, has been unable to employ his intellectual and verbal skills to effectively exercise the president’s "bully pulpit" – even with the assistance of a compliant media. And, of course, there was no partisanship before Obama took office.

Cillizza may be unfamiliar with the work of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the distinguished Harvard historian, multiple-Pulitzer Prize winner and Roosevelt and Kennedy biographer.

Similar arguments to Cillizza’s were made following other presidencies, including Lyndon Johnson’s, Richard Nixon’s and, especially, Jimmy Carter’s..
In his book, "The Imperial Presidency," Schlesinger disagreed.

The problems of the presidency "were far from new; they were indeed recurrent conditions of American politics, and less causes of the presidential dilemma than alibis for it. […] The commentators … argued that these conditions accounted for the supposed failure of the Presidency. On closer examination, perhaps the failure of particular Presidents accounted for the salience of the conditions. The absence of effective presidential leadership created a vacuum in the center of the political system.." [Emphasis mine.]

Schlesinger understood that, following election in America’s constitutional system, strong presidential leadership is essential to political success. An avowed liberal and no fan of President Ronald Reagan, Schlesinger postulated that Reagan’s administration proved that a strong, skillful leader can overcome normal presidential challenges.

Unsurprisingly, Schlesinger never mentioned "leading from behind" at home or abroad as a potentially successful presidential strategy.

Ironically, when progressives air their opinions of the inadequacies of America’s constitutional republic, their "reform" suggestions invariably include increasing the size and powers of government even when weak and/or incompetent people are running it.

The presidency has always been a difficult job, but Obama’s problems are more easily explained:

Because of the office he holds, Barack Obama is a consequential man, but Obama’s pusillanimous foreign policy, his indifferent domestic stewardship and his mismanagement of deficits, debt, regulation, health care and immigration confirm that he is not a capable or serious one.