‘My rival in this race,” President Obama announced early in 2007, “is not other candidates. It’s cynicism.”
It’s now clear that what he meant by this was other people’s cynicism — not his own.
As you may recall, Obama came into office a very inexperienced politician, spouting a lot of hopeful and idealistic rhetoric. He had made a name for himself by refusing to demonize conservatives and Republicans.
For instance, during a Nevada Democratic debate, then-senator Obama told the late Tim Russert that, “My greatest strength, I think, is the ability to bring people together from different perspectives to get them to recognize what they have in common and to move people in a different direction.”
Whether that was a lie at the time or simply unwarranted self-confidence is unknowable. What is plainly knowable is that it was untrue.
Among modern presidents going back to Eisenhower, Obama has proven uniquely incapable of working with his political opponents. Even Jimmy Carter got his signature airline-deregulation bill passed with whopping bipartisan majorities. Bill Clinton got NAFTA, welfare reform, and some balanced budgets with Republican help. George W. Bush got Democrats on board for No Child Left Behind and the Iraq War. (Obama’s vice president and his secretary of state both voted for it as senators.)
There have been some bipartisan victories on Obama’s watch, but he’s often been the partisan loser in such fights. For instance, Congress extended the Bush-era tax cuts, much to Obama’s dismay. And even on more clear-cut bipartisan victories — say, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or the trade deals Obama delayed unnecessarily — there’s little evidence that Obama brought any opponents around to his position. The man just isn’t very persuasive.
Now Obama’s defenders, starting with the man himself, insist this isn’t his fault. He’s actually super persuasive and bipartisan, he just suffers from the fact that the Republicans are the most unreasonable politicians ever, so he can’t be blamed for utterly failing to work with them. It’s like the guy who insists that he’s a real ladies’ man but can’t get a phone number because all of the hot women in the bar just happen to be gay.