Is it just me, or did the presidency of Barack Obama end this week?
It’s unofficial, of course. He still gets to live in the White House another couple of years. There will be plenty of ribbons to cut and speeches to deliver as he fades in stature and takes on the mayor of America role.
He’ll be able to use his office to express his heartfelt concern for Americans still struggling during the economic recovery — even if he can’t point to many programs that helped them in a timely manner.
He still has plenty of opportunity to wax eloquent about the rights of oppressed people in far-off lands, too. Maybe he’ll even take a few months to firm up his foreign policy. You know, so that the rest of us can understand it.
But whatever heavy lifting the president hoped to accomplish in a gridlocked Congress in his second term appears to be lost. At least, that’s what I read between the lines of a front-page article in the Tuesday edition of The New York Times under the headline “Aloof Obama Is Frustrating His Own Party.”
The multi-sourced story should send even Obama’s most die-hard supporters to the medicine cabinet for a fistful of Excedrin. The piece starts with a scene in June, which found Obama meeting with personal pit bull Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his opposite number, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, on the subject of the president’s foundering nominees for several ambassador positions. McConnell’s crowd has taken wicked delight in blocking the process, and Reid was fighting for Obama’s selections. Instead of engaging and backing Reid’s argument, Obama is quoted effectively brushing aside the issue and saying, “You and Mitch work it out.”
They were Obama’s nominees, but from the sound of things, he was unwilling to joust for them.
From the Times: “Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the morning, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed.”
Maybe it was just Reid being cranky and mercurial, but the last thing Obama should want to do is alienate his fiercely loyal Luca Brasi.
We’re not talking about the hurt feelings of just any Democrat. We’re talking about brawling Harry Reid of Nevada, the man without whom Obama’s presidency would be so small scientists couldn’t identify it with an electron microscope. Reid has not only carried Obama’s water, he’s drawn it from dry wells and conjured it from cloudless skies. He’s twisted arms and brokered deals and become the favorite target of GOP snipers for years in an effort to move Obama’s agenda and his own.
Love or loathe the Affordable Care Act, without Reid’s pugilistic political poker, it probably doesn’t exist. If Reid is finished fighting for Obama, then Obama is as good as finished.
Reid, whose office didn’t respond to a request for comment before deadline, isn’t alone in feeling that the fire has gone out of Obama, according to the Times. Interviews with Democratic lawmakers and top staff indicate a prevailing theme: Obama is increasingly disengaged from members of his own party.
Of course, that can’t come as entirely bad news to many Democrats, who know polls indicate the president is a midterm millstone. Obama is only slightly more popular than Ebola.
But what does it say about the remaining two years of his presidency?
There’s still time for Obama to accomplish something weighty, or at least productive and memorable, in the remainder of his term. But he can’t accomplish anything without Reid softening up the opposition and other key Democrats attempting to assist a most unpopular president.
Without Luca Brasi to guard his back, Obama’s presidency sleeps with the fishes.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 702-383-0295.