“The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside,” Barack Obama said in an interview Thursday on the Spanish-language Univision network. “You can only change it from the outside.”
A better way to put it is that Barack Obama has proved he can’t change Washington from the inside.
One case in point is the comprehensive immigration legislation Obama promised to steer to passage in his first term. The Univision interviewers, who asked tougher questions than the president has been getting from David Letterman or various rappers, zeroed in on this issue.
With a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and a solid Democratic majority in the House in 2009 and 2010, Obama could have pushed for an immigration bill. Instead, he acquiesced in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to bring such a measure to the floor. It would require some of her members to cast tough votes.
But, with Obama’s encouragement, she did bring to the floor and pushed through a cap-and-trade bill that also required some of her members to cast tough and in some cases career-ending votes. Cap-and-trade was a favorite of gentry liberals, the kind of people Obama regularly has seen at his 200-plus fundraising events. As for the Hispanics who want immigration legislation, he’s now promising that he’ll push it in his second term. Wait in line.
George W. Bush managed to get congressional votes on comprehensive immigration bills. Obama didn’t bother.
Obama’s inability to change Washington also is on display in Bob Woodward’s latest bestseller, “The Price of Politics.”
He tells how in a meeting of congressional leaders Pelosi muted a speakerphone as Obama droned on lecturing members on the national interest, so the legislators could get some work done.
He shows how Obama blew up the summer 2011 grand bargain negotiations with Speaker John Boehner by suddenly raising his demands. Boehner already had agreed to increased revenues from high earners through tax reform that would eliminate or limit deductions whose benefits go largely to those with high incomes.
That’s the kind of tax reform recommended by Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission, whose report quickly found its way to his round file. But Obama insisted on higher tax rates for high earners – proposals that tend to bring in less revenue than forecast – and raised the ante.
All of which prompts the question: Would the economy be doing better today if the grand bargain had been successful?
We can’t know the answer for sure. But it’s certainly possible. Instead, the economy is in such disarray that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has embarked on a third round of quantitative easing.
Obama has spent about half of his career in public office running for other offices. A couple of years after his election to the state Senate, he ran for Congress. He lost, and a couple of years later ran for the U.S. Senate. Two years after taking office, he started running for president. And he’s spent a lot of time this last two years – all those fundraisers! – running again.
In the meantime, he has skipped more than half of his daily intelligence briefings, including those several days before the attacks on our embassies and consulates that started on Sept. 11, 2012.
Afterward, White House press secretary Jay Carney, Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and Obama himself (on David Letterman) characterized the attacks as spontaneous responses to a video criticizing Islam.
That story line was punctured when the director of the National Counterterrorism Center stated what seemed to be obvious – that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed “in the course of a terrorist attack.” The video was a pretext.
The video alibi was obviously politically motivated. One of the premises of the Obama campaign was that his election would make Muslims love America.
What we see in all this is a president who is much more comfortable campaigning than governing.
What we also see is disarray – an economy that is foundering, a world where America is on the defensive and under attack. A president who can’t change Washington and whose election did not magically change the world.
• Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.