It’s Obama’s Fault That There Aren’t Enough Socratic Children Being Born in Washington

On ABC’s This Week, the host offered up the suggestion that the failure to do anything meaningful in Washington was President Obama’s fault:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: …a lot of questions about the president’s leadership as he pushes all of these as well, especially after the failure, during the bombings, of the background checks.

It’s created a whole bunch of comparisons, especially in the “New York Times” I noticed. The president, they say, is not enough like LBJ. Front page story this week. Went on and said, “If he cannot translate the support of 90 percent of the public for background checks into a victory on Capitol Hill, what can he expect to accomplish legislatively for his remaining three and a half years in office? Robert Dallek, historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems ‘inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.’ That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that ‘what you need to do is to back people up against a wall.”

Stephanopoulos did accurately point out that LBJ had “massive majorities” of Democrats “in both the House and Senate,” which, obviously, was much different from Obama’s situation. To which Genius George Will responded:

WILL: …Lyndon Johnson did understand that politics is a transactional business. You give something, you get something. This president has an inordinate faith in the power of his rhetoric. He campaigned against Scott Brown, against Chris Christy, against Bob McDonnell. He campaigned hard for the Democratic candidates in 2010 that got shellacked. He campaigned for Obamacare. It’s still very unpopular. His rhetoric is overrated. It is no basis for government.

Now, if you have followed George Will’s ongoing critique of the President, you know that he often comments on how Obama talks too much, is too visible, and “has an inordinate faith in the power of his rhetoric.” That is pretty much the standard Republican criticism of our first black president: he’s just a little too uppity. Doesn’t quite know his limitations.

But I want to point out once again what has lately become another standard Republican critique of President Obama, expressed by Matthew Dowd, who worked for Bush-Cheney, and who now is a frequent talking head on ABC’s This Week. He added his own analysis to Will’s criticism of Obama’s excessive faith in his rhetorical skills:

MATTHEW DOWD: …I think the president, he’s had a lot of great speeches that he’s given. But I think they’ve made a mistake by not having a relationship, not trying to build one-on-one relationships in Congress and saying we’re going to go out and talk to the country. We’re not going to worry about Washington, D.C.

This president has never built relationships outside of saying, I need your vote tomorrow….it’s all been photo ops with Congress. He hasn’t reached out. He hasn’t consistently said come to Camp David, “sit down with me, let’s talk about this.”

I think if the president had that ability—he’s got a 1 on 10,000 ability—he does not have a 1 on 1 ability.

If you listen to a lot of “expert” talk on cable TV, you hear that same criticism of President Obama a lot. He’s aloof. He’s professorial. He’s not good at one-on-one politics.

And it’s all bullshit.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn is said to be one of President Obama’s good friends in the Senate. They are supposed to be fairly close. Coburn has described Obama as a “good personal friend.” And a lot of good their alleged friendship has done the President, or the country. Coburn recently voted against legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases—something that enjoys nearly universal support among the American people—a vote that was exactly the same as Oklahoma’s other extremist senator, and most definitely not a friend of President Obama, the nutty Jim Inhofe.

One must ask: With friends like Tom Coburn, who needs Jim Inhofe?

What political good does it do for Obama to have a good relationship with Tom Coburn? No political good, that’s what. Yet, some folks blame President Obama for not getting background checks passed in Congress because he just can’t seem to “connect” with the galactic egos of mostly Republican legislators.

When people like Matthew Dowd say things like he said on Sunday, that President Obama “hasn’t reached out” and that reaching out to Republicans would somehow change the dynamics in Washington, they are obligated to explain how that would change the dynamics.

Matthew Dowd and other pundits are obligated to explain how such schmoozing would change one damn thing about what is happening, about what has been happening, in the Republican-controlled Congress—yep, the Republicans essentially control the entire Congress these days.

Matthew Dowd should explain how it would work. If President Obama invited, say, Ted Cruz to Camp David for some croquet and Chablis, would that meant that the Tea Party zealot would vote for immigration reform some day? If Obama invited Paul Ryan to play golf every Sunday on the finest course in Virginia, would that mean that Ryan would stop trying to kill Medicare? Would happy Socratic children, their DNA riddled with reasonableness, be born all over Washington, D.C., if only The Scary Negro would simply talk friendly to these guys, cozy up to his political enemies, and massage their Milky Way-size egos?

Come on, people. The problem isn’t that President Obama hasn’t cultivated political relationships with hyper-partisan, fanatically-ideological legislators. It is that those hyper-partisan fanatics mean to slit his political throat, whether they get invited to dinner or not.



  1. What the world needs, maybe, is a good political shrink, but since we don’t have one that I know of, you are doing just fine, Duane. Now if you could just schedule a few sessions! From the couch, the wishes for a more-chummy Obama relationship by Stephanopoulous, Will and Dowd would likely be seen for what they are, a desire that the oval office were occupied by somebody different, somebody more like, well, them.

    In watching out-takes from the recent Washington correspondents’ dinner I was struck by how pleasing and genial was the president’s personality. He’s a very likable, nice guy. He likes sports, appreciates a good joke and delivers one maybe even better than Conan O’Brian. Enjoys a good cigar. But then there’s that big grin, more prominent and easy than it was in his first term. Yes, I think that’s it – it’s the visual. I can’t think of what else the problem might be. Unless . . . lack of venality. Nah, surely not, not in our Washington!


    • I think you hit upon something, Jim. Obama, not including his pigmentation, is quite unlike anyone that has occupied the Oval Office in a while and Washington types just aren’t used to someone assuming that people ought to act rationally and for the good of the country without all the ass-kissing.

      In any case, clearly Obama knows how to deliver a joke, but I was most impressed with his “we can do better” admonition to all those Washington power brokers in the room. There is an element of embarrassment in that admonition at the state of things, and one senses that the President is somewhat ashamed of what has been happening.



      • King Beauregard

         /  April 29, 2013

        He’s speaking in community organizer tones, trying to inspire a dysfunctional group to remember what they’re there for and to knock off the horseflop and get some work done.


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  April 29, 2013

    Perhaps the word is affability to describe Obama. But it can describe other very popular Presidents as well such as Reagan and even Clinton. All three of them are/were relaxed in front of the podiums (bully pulpits), could tell countless jokes, could easily make fun of themselves, etc. Certainly Obama can do all of those things.

    But the big difference is that both Reagan and Clinton actually got things accomplished while President. Neither were stuck in utter statlemate. They actually moved some pretty big mountains, did Clinton and Reagan. Obama has only moved one, ACA and it is still very unpopular, increasingly so as what is “in the bill” is now becoming apparent to people that will soon have to actually pay for it.

    Who has been probably the most unpopular President in our lifetimes (us “older” folks) Probably Nixon fills that bill. Remember the moniker “Tricky Dick”. Even before Watergate, many people simply did not TRUST Nixon. They believed that just beneath the surface was a man with …… intentions. Watergate certainly proved such suspicions to be correct.

    Obama has many people deeply suspicious of HIS intentions as well. Deny it all you like, but many in America suspect Obama, in his heart, is a socialist and thinks that government can solve almost any problem if it simply throws enough money at the problem(s).

    We have 3 1/2 more years to go now, actually only about 6 more months if the truth be known. Come January, we will be into campaign 2014 and a raging battle to control the two houses of Congress in that election. Then shortly thereafter we will be into campaign 2016 for the White House (and Congress). One theme that you can bet a lot of money on will be the moniker of “tax and spend Democrats”.

    Your side’s success or failure in coming elections will be to demographic your way to victory. Today only a minority, a strong minority, consider that reckless politics and Obama has certainly earned that reputation, tax and spend, based on everything he has TRIED to accomplish. As Nov 2014 approaches, the debate will be tax and spend more from one side and auterism from the other.

    That is a terrible debate in my view. I would much prefer a “tax and spend wisely” debate. I wish American voters would demand that politicians put their money where their mouths are AND SHOW GOOD RESULTS, measurable and effectively RESULTS from such spending and taxation.

    So far we the people in the last 5 years now have spent about $6-$7 TRILLION, MORE than is “made” by government and the only argument you can make in terms of results is “things would be much worse than they are today had we not spent that extra money”.

    CEOs get fired all the time making such arguments before a Board of Directors. RESULTS are what count for such leaders.



  3. Comparing presidents to CEOs and government to business is just one of the egregious mistakes that conservatives routinely make. They (presidents and CEOS, and governments and businesses) are very different, and that comparison is most disingenuous, and serves as rhetoric to make mistaken, but compelling-sounding arguments, in my opinion.

    Conservatives seem to me to be like children who really, really, really want the world to be as they wish it, and are constantly puzzled when it proves to be different. I hear over and over again from my conservative “friends” that they “just don’t understand how the country could vote for Obama” (the country demonstrably did because they preferred sanity and reason over hyperbole and fantasy) and that “if you can’t pay for it, you can’t have it”. A close examination of both points of view in a larger context reveals how self-centered and illogical they are.

    Of course, conservatives tend to be religious types. Perhaps encouraging magical thinking from an early age leads one to think magically about real world problems – all I have to do is “want” something enough and it will be that way (compare to prayer).

    I think that the main reason that Obama has not been more successful consists of determined Republican opposition, an opposition born of their failure to convince a majority of American people of the correctness of their points and positions. As the mature white male (of which I am one) becomes a smaller minority in this country, we will likely see more and more rejection of the rather silly positions the Republican Party currently holds.
    For instance, I foresee an even more intense effort on the republican’s part to disenfranchise voters not agreeing with them. If they actually undertake that effort, I predict an end to the party as it exists today.


    • King Beauregard

       /  April 30, 2013

      “Of course, conservatives tend to be religious types. Perhaps encouraging magical thinking from an early age leads one to think magically about real world problems – all I have to do is “want” something enough and it will be that way (compare to prayer).”

      There is that, but I don’t think it can be pinned on religion exactly. There is a curious facet of American Christianity that probably tracks VERY strongly with what you’re saying: the notion that you don’t need any sort of formal training to understand the Bible, and if you don’t like what your preacher is saying, just find a different preacher, or schism off to form your own church. There is good in that — it allows for walking away from bad doctrine — but it also encourages people to find someone who will reinforce whatever they want to believe. Certainly it lends itself to picking and choosing, so the six lines in the Bible where homosexually is condemned (and even then it’s not clear that homosexuality is what’s being condemned) take precedence over the six hundred that hammer the importance of taking care of the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the foreigners in your land.

      The pendulum’s swinging the other way though. Young folks are turning their back on their elders in the church and the elders don’t know what to do about it. Turns out the Culture Wars are a real turn-off to the young, who love their LGBT friends and won’t abide their being demonized. And once you start noticing how un-Christ-like the church is in that regard, it cannot escape your notice how little interest so many churches have in doing all the stuff that clutters up the Book of Matthew, you know, feeding the hungry and the like.

      So yeah, religion can be used to bolster genuinely constructive, altruistic intentions. Or you can go the route of the Religious Right over the past 30+ years, telling the American people that the problem is those OTHER folks (such as gays, immigrants, and mouthy women who don’t know their place) while quietly working to cut people’s paychecks and benefits. It worked for a long time, and there are an awful lot of Americans who should take a good hard look in the mirror and realize what suckers they’ve been. But even a sucker can wise up.

      Related article on the pure and honorable motives behind the Religious Right:


  4. Troy

     /  April 29, 2013

    You are so right my brotha! The boys and girls on the GOP side are just not comfortable with someone like President Obama. He’s just to cool for their liking. He’s one of us, not like them. The GOP needs to reach out to him . He’s more in touch with the majority of Americans than they are. I’ll take my chances with Big O any day over that lying, overbearing, arrogant bunch on the right .


    • King Beauregard

       /  April 30, 2013

      Never bet against Big O. My favorite moment in the Obama / Romney debate was the final stage moment, when Obama really cut loose:


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  April 30, 2013

    Not a bad discussion in my view, particularly because there is no mud slinging, name calling involved.

    I am old, white and male. But I am NOT religious. So forget, at least in my case any religious underpinnings for my conservative views on fiscal policies. In fact one of the really big mistakes by the GOP is the use of religion in political arguments. Akin and Santorum are simply classic examples and deserve NO opportunity to govern anyone, in my view because they tried to shove their religion down many throats. Not Romney, however, at least in my view.

    Now back to CEOs and Presidents. Sure the ultimate objective of a CEO is profit. For a President profit matters not a wit. BUT to do the things needed for we the people, any President MUST spend money very wisely, producing the desired social results when tons of government money are used. THAT is my “knock” against tax and spend Democrats, the money spent is NOT used wisely to actually correct grave social problems and not just throw money at them.

    Read the Forum in last Sunday’s Globe related to education problems identified 30 years ago. Contained in that old report are quotes that are true today as well. Also in that report it was noted that we DOUBLED government spending on education in the intervening 30 years. Double the money and still have essentially the same or even worse problems.

    That is classic wasteful tax and spend policies that do not resolve problems, merely throw money at them and expect fantasy like results.

    We are marching down that same path for HC as well, for sure. The only significant road block to such wasteful spending was welfare reform signed into law by a Dem under tough conservative pressure, about 20 years ago.

    Want another example? Try the homeless problems. It has become a much bigger problem over the last 30 years, for sure, and gotten a lot of publiciy, like OWS. Tax and spend Dems call for more money to relieve the plight of homeless people but FAIL to acknowledge the ROOT of the homeless problem.

    The root cause of homelessness is CHEMICAL ADDICTION (drugs and alcohol) and mental illnesses, grave mental illnesses a lot of which are compounded by alcohol and drugs.

    NO society will EVER CURE alcoholism or drug addiction. And throwing money at drunks exacerbates the problem as well. Give $5 as a handout to a drunk and a bottle of Ripple shows up in his (or her) hand soon thereafter.

    No I do not have a “cure” for homelessness for sure. But spending $Billions to simply warehouse drunks and addicts does NOTHING to mitigate the fundamental problem associated with that issue as well. No, I don’t call for letting them starve to death either. But I have seen some VERY EFFECTIVE work to enforce sobriety on those folks and THEN allow them to work their way out of the problem of homelessness.

    But it takes a lot of time and extraordinary effort on the part of the former drunks and addicts to achieve the goal of no longer being homeless and in fact learning to join society as a producer, not a taker.



%d bloggers like this: