Now that Obama is safely back in office for four more dismal years, some of his fervent well-wishers are coming around to something that I have been pointing out for years: he doesn't know what is job is, or has little interest in doing it, or both. The President's recent press conference can only have left everyone scratching their heads. What exactly was the point of coming out to answer questions to which he obviously had no good answers?
ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked Obama if he was already out of "juice" to pass his agenda, citing the president's inability to get a watered-down gun bill passed in the Senate, Congress swatting away Obama on the sequester cuts, and the recent passage of a cybersecurity bill in the House with 92 Democrats on board, despite a veto threat from the White House…
"But, Jonathan," he lectured Karl, "you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That's their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what's right for their constituencies and for the American people."
Actually, it is his job to get them to behave. The job of the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants them to do. It's called leadership.
Here is no admirer of the Congress nor someone inclined to want Obama to fail. Dowd is disgusted because she wants the President to enact a liberal agenda and because she does know what his job is. It is leadership. One of his key roles is legislative leader, which is to say to stand over both houses and try to marshal them toward a coherent public agenda.
Dana Milbank notes something else that Obama said to Jonathan Karl:
"You know, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated," Obama said. Back in 1995, Bill Clinton assured Americans that he was still relevant; this may be the first time a president asserted that he was still alive.
The question is not, however, whether the President is still alive. It is whether he has ever been alive or at least present and, if he is both, what the Hell he has been doing. The key problem is illustrated by the President's insipid comments on his Syria policy. From the editors of the Washington Post:
THE MUDDLE that is President Obama's policy on Syria has grown still muddier. On Tuesday the president backed away from a "red line" he had drawn on the use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, setting the threshold for proof of a violation in such a way as to virtually exclude the possibility that one could ever be confirmed. Yet that same day his aides leaked to The Post and other news organizations the news that the president might soon reverse his long-standing opposition to providing Syrian rebels with arms. And the administration readied yet another effort to persuade Russia to abandon its support of the Assad regime in favor of a negotiated political transition. Can any coherence be found in this?
Well, that would be no. As the WaPo points out, the President had earlier drawn a "red line" that the Syrian government would cross if it used chemical weapons. Now that the line has been crossed, we discover that it is not red so much as pink or maybe beige. Here are the President's actual words:
We don't know how they were used and when they were used and who used them. We don't have a chain of custody.
President Obama has made a Buddhist parable of himself. The Buddha spoke of a man who was shot by a poisoned arrow and would not allow it to be removed until he knew who shot it, what the man's cast was and how tall he was, how the bow was made and of what it was made, etc. To put it prosaically, that is not an effective policy on poison.
What is striking about these words is not how awful they are but what they demonstrate. He dared the Assad to cross a line and then had no idea what to say or do when the latter crossed it. The only viable conclusion is that no one in the Administration, least of all its head, has been thinking about this in advance. This was the best they could come up with on the fly.
I am not one of those calling for American intervention in Syria. I am not sure that we have any idea of what to do, short of invasion. Here is what I am sure of. You should probably think about what you will do if the other side crosses the line before you publically draw the line. You'd damn well better think about it afterward, while waiting to see if the line holds. Obama seems to have waited until just before he walked out to meet the press, if then.
No one in my lifetime has come to the office of the Presidency so innocent of any experience in leadership. He is likely to leave office with that innocence intact.