Where Obama Has Failed, and Why It Is Not Too Late for Him to Succeed

This piece appeared in Thursday’s edition of the Roanoke Times. While the piece is framed, for strategic reasons, as a critique of President Obama — a valid critique in my view — the true main points of the argument are 1) the abominable conduct of the Republicans (which I continue to believe is, and has been over the past decade and more, one of the major stories in all of American history), and 2) the opportunity their conduct presents — to President Obama and to all Democrats — to attack and, it is hoped, to defeat them.


Five years into his presidency, we can say that in many respects Barack Obama has been a good president. He has addressed genuine national problems. The solutions he has proposed have been constructive. And his communications to the American people have mostly been sensible and honest.

But President Obama has failed in one important area (and it is not in the highly embarrassing, but essentially temporary, botch of the roll-out of the Obamacare website). Where Obama has failed is in not fighting harder against an opposition party whose obstructiveness – and destructiveness – have been extraordinary by the standards of the American political tradition.

It’s easy to demonstrate Obama’s failure. He wanted the politics of his era to be, “The Republicans and I together can get good things done.” The Republicans have striven for a politics of, “We’re going to keep you from accomplishing anything.” Which side would you say has prevailed?

Some say that no one can force cooperation from politicians. I say, “Nonsense.” Only the president has the bully pulpit, and great presidents have used it to dominate the politics of their times. President Obama has been in a position, all along, to compel the Republicans to clean up their act or be driven into oblivion.

All it takes is focusing the public’s attention on the ugly things the Republicans have been up to. Take the one time President Obama took a strong position and stood his ground — the crisis in late September and early October over the government shutdown and the GOP threat to push the nation into default. The Republicans sunk so low in public esteem during that destructive display that they were compelled to give in.

President Obama could have prevailed in previous showdowns – using each crisis the Republicans created to show how they were abusing our democracy — but instead he chose to cave. Again and again, Obama misread the true nature of his opposition, and so he failed at what has been Job One for him since his first inauguration: to expose the Republicans’ destructiveness so that they would either play a constructive role or be rejected by the people.

In this fall’s showdown, it was the Republicans who insisted on the spotlight. But these same Republicans consistently provide a target-rich selection of political misconduct on which the President can focus national attention.

On many important issues, the polls show that strong majorities of Americans – sometimes even a majority of Republican voters — want action.

For example:

• Universal background checks for gun purchases (even a majority of NRA members favor this)
• A program to create jobs for Americans
• Immigration reform
• Raising the minimum wage
• Even on climate change, the latest polls show the American people want their government to act, but nothing can get through this Republican House.

On all these issues, clear majorities of the American people want something done — and President Obama wants something done – but on all of them this least-accomplished Congress in American history has been immobilized by the Republicans who control the House of Representatives.

President Obama has one more chance to move this country forward: the 2014 congressional elections.


Every day between now and election day the President can hammer the Republicans on how they are frustrating the public’s will.

Hammer them on background checks. Hammer them on immigration reform. Hammer them on their disgraceful climate change denial, done in service of the energy companies at the expense of our children’s and grandchildren’s future. Hammer them on the whole broad pattern of indifference to what the country needs and wants.

Just as with the government shutdown and the debt-ceiling blackmail, the President can use the bully pulpit to help the American people see how un-American, unpatriotic, and downright un-conservative today’s Republican Party has become.

When the path of destructiveness gets separated from the path of political survival in the coming elections, the Republicans will have to choose between them. It’s not entirely clear which path the GOP would choose, so far has much of that party strayed from political normality. But either way, America wins.

It’s Obama’s most important job to make those paths diverge. Until the recent showdown, the President has failed at that job. But it is not too late for him to succeed.

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20 Responses to “Where Obama Has Failed, and Why It Is Not Too Late for Him to Succeed”

  1. Richard H. Randall Says:

    I agree fully.

  2. David R Says:

    Huh ! 2014 presents a crucial election in the course of American politics, especially as ‘Conservatives’ it seems do not really have a party.

    However this piece sparks a response just on general principles-apart from liberal vs ‘conservative’ politics.

    To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction that the recent action of some Republicans seems to have aroused.

    Now if Mr. Obama will only begin to hammer away as per the advice above, he will probably begin to experience some real hammering looking into the toto of his policies and where America has come (or gone) in just six years.

    I no longer have a party so am an observer of all this; just remarking on a principle that seems operative almost always. If he will only begin to take up your hammer the real fun will begin !

  3. Hugh Says:

    While I agree–and have been ever increasingly frustrated over these 5 years–I cannot clearly see how even the “bully pulpit” counters the modern media schema. The dysfunction lies within the individual who parrots the illogical vitriol that passes as information on some “news” channels and doubles down on ad hominem arguments instead of voting for the change they voice an interest in in polls. Further, if the average American is desirous of change, he or she is dwarfed by the tsunami of money and media attention that advances splinter issues and left with unclear options for action. NRA sponsored recall elections, splinter groups representing 4% of a population forcing laws on the books (MI rape insurance), constant smears of misinformation–these are not acts of deliberation and thoughtful action by citizens. There is a disconnect between the citizenry and their government, and into that disconnect have swarmed media outlets pursuing viewers at all costs, special interest groups exploiting complex social issues with blunt emotional messages, and money. Can the president cut through all of that? In some respects, his job is harder having had 5 years to be portrayed by others. If he used his calm demeanor to lead into the heart of the problem, maybe. The problem may lie in making a message that can cut through the disinformation of media portrayal and the confusion of the citizen in exactly how to behave as a citizen in today’s world.

  4. Herbert Dyer, Jr. Says:

    Sorry, but just suppose Obama won vetoe-proof majorities in both houses next year. Guess what? He’ll revert back to the same tack he took when he actually did have those majorities in 2008 — he’ll seek “bipartisanship” all over again.

    We have to face it. He has said himself that he is really a “moderate Republican.” And it shows.

    Progressives, “liberals,” and especially black people have been subjected to the biggest and slickest political con job in the history of this nation-state.

  5. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Whatever the merits of your analysis, it nonetheless seems to be true that Obama wants these measures passed. So it would be in his interest to conduct himself so alas to achieve his purposes.


    Anyone who suggests that Obama will not cave to the demands of Israel is living in a bubble. The world has long been “a casino” owned and operated by Jewish banking interests. The advanced nations of the world get to play at the tables of the high stakes rollers, Second World Nations, play the $1.00 slots, the double zero 00 roulette table and the Wheel of Fortune. Third World Nations are the panhandlers and whores plying their “trades”and dumpster diving in the alley behind “the casino” harvesting what the can to survive. Occasionally a “player” appears to win and “The House” makes a “payout”. But keep in mind that the payout represents the losses of current and past players.The odds ALWAYS FAVOR THE HOUSE. It’s the only casino and it owns everything and everybody in town overtly or covertly. Seriously, does anyone thing a punk ass Obama is going to be a threat to the dominance of international banking. Nobody could have been so successful at being such an abysmal failure than a stooge following a script. The script would have had some parenthetical cues such as;
    Feel free to do a little two step shuffle about here bemused lest they begin to suspect they being taken for a ride)

    Shiat, he’s a part and parcel of the whole crooked scheme. How else would this nobody (about whom 99.9% of the world know next to nothing and what’s more it is virtually impossible to discover anything of significance) has gotten to the position he holds. He does and says only what he is allowed to do and say. Any deviation or even the intimation of a deviation will be dealt with quicker than one can say Jack Kennedy…or Dealy Plaza…or Grassy Knoll…or Dallas, Texas…or Mafia… or CIA… or LBJ… or “H.L.”Hunt or Mauser 7.65 mm in which all of these combined in the Nicely Worked Operation (Oh, look, its initials are NWO, what an amazing bit of synchronicity.

  7. Enoch Says:

    Next year will be a Dem bloodbath.

  8. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    I’m surprised, Shafar, that you didn’t bring in that classic, THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION.

  9. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    A question for you, Enoch. A year before the 2012 election, what were your predictions then about how that was going to go for the two parties?

  10. Enoch Says:

    I knew that the free stuff being gifted to the low info voters would make Obama hard to beat.

    I didn’t know about the IRS voter suppression, however.

    If the election were being held tomorrow, with the lies re the ACA known, he’d lose.

  11. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Your “free stuff” remark gives me a pretty good indication of your grasp of reality and your vulnerability to propaganda.

    So, how 2014 will turn out is an open question. But if we had someone who could hold our bets in escrow, I expect I could pick up some pretty easy money making a bet against your expectations, on odds reflecting your confidence in your judgment, based upon your picture of what’s real.

  12. Enoch Says:

    The pendulum is swinging back… the “progressive” run is done.

  13. Enoch Says:

    You should read some of Charlie Cook’s musings.

    Once tens of millions more lose their insurance because of the ACA, the Dems won’t be able to elect a dogcatcher.

    Should be fun.

  14. Enoch Says:

    Good to know you’re still censoring the inconvenient.

    Sad, though…

  15. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    I invite everyone to note that between “Enoch’s” two most recent comments, culminating in this accusation of censorship, that 15 minutes transpired. It apparently never occurred to “Enoch” that I might be engaged in some other activity for a little while. It so fit what he wanted to be true, thus making himself a victim of censorship and making me something less than the truth-seeker I claim to be, that he immediately jumped to the conclusion that pleased him.

    I suspect this believing what one wants to be true is a basic pattern in “Enoch’s” way of arriving at beliefs in general.

    But there’s more in his “you’re still censoring the inconvenient” accusation. It gives “Enoch” away. We have here, I suspect, a return of a fellow many of us spent much time on, several years ago– a fellow whose lack of basic intellectual integrity made him such a waste of time that he became one of I believe only three or four people who got banned from the discussion on NoneSoBlind, since its founding more than eight years ago. “Still censoring” speaks of previous experience he’s had here.

    So yes, Mr. “Enoch.” You are now again going to be censored. Life’s too short to be spent discussing important matters with the likes of you. You used up a very big budget here some time back. That kind of “inconvenient” I do indeed choose to censor.

  16. Leonidas Says:

    Cowards do what cowards do…

  17. Leonidas Says:

    You’re losing the battle for your “fundamental transformation”.

    Facts are stubborn things…

  18. Leonidas Says:

    Merry CHRISTmas – Censor So Blind…

    On PBS’s “NewsHour” Friday, New York Times columnist David Brooks explained that the clock is ticking on ObamaCare. He said if it continues to be politically untenable Senate Democrats, the individual mandate will be weakened and ultimately the law will go away.

    Transcript as follows:

    “Yes. On health care, it’s going to be political,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be, let’s say, the confluence of the politics and the messy implementation. So, what happened last night was, they announced this delay — or this delay in some of the — really wiping away some of the internal mandate, the individual mandates for people who have hardship exemptions. And that came about as a bit because of political pressure from Democrats.”

    “And the thing to look forward to in the — really the months and years ahead — or especially the months ahead, as the midterms approach, is, are more Democrats pressing the president to sort of weaken the individual mandate further, further, further?” he continued. “And if it becomes politically unsustainable, for a lot of Senate Democrats in particular, then the individual mandate begins to look weaker, possibly goes away. And if that goes away, then the health care law goes away. So, they don’t have a long time to implement the health care, because the political pressure may interrupt their effect to really implement the change and reform to make the thing work.”

  19. Andrew Bard Schmookler Says:

    Obama does not have the strengths necessary to deal with the kind of opposition he faces. Without that, there is really little chance of transformative leadership.

    A tragedy for America with so much that needs transformative action in America in our times.

  20. Robin Pettit Says:

    I agree Obama doesn’t appear to have the strengths to lead a transformative Presidency. Too bad. I discovered this at the end of year 1 of his administration and it has been reinforced every year since. I console myself that he is much better than the alternatives so far presented, John McCain and Sarah Palin and then Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Both sets would have been disastrous for this country.

    I do seem to recall there was a poster who was certain that the Republicans would win big time and sweep both houses of Congress in 2008. The name was Welder. He also participated on another board that I went to that he challenged posters on NoneSoBlind to participate in and I took him up on it. I found a discussion of a paper that they thought threw doubt on the effect of CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere and it’s effect on Global Warming. I actually read the abstract and had to let them know that it did not support their arguments. They then said the paper was a fraud. Typical behavior by that poster. That board went belly up. They company supporting it went out of business.

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