10 November 2014

Notes From Norm: Bourbon by the Barrel

Barack Obama, since Election Day, has assured us that he understands that elections have consequences.

But his words, once again, bely his actions.

It began with a press conference in which he refused to accept any responsibility for the voter onslaught against his party on Election Day.

Then, in the course of the press conference, and in meeting with congressional leaders after the election, the President has made it clear he has no interest in respecting the wishes of voters. 

In fact, when it comes to matters like immigration he intends to move forward with widely assumed efforts to essentially pardon millions of people who are in America illegally.

Following a playbook that is reserved for politicians with little clout or influence, the President just announced – with no notice to incoming congressional leaders – his choice to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Without commenting on whether or not his nominee is qualified to assume the role of Attorney General, the President seems intent on ignoring the outcome of the November Elections.

Worse yet, he may be under the illusion that he is in a better bargaining position today than he was on November 3rd.

Lacking the political skills of Bill Clinton in recovering from scandal, or the humility of George W. Bush in defeat, Barack Obama is left with nothing more than his genuine dislike and disdain for the political process.

Which is an awkward reality given that he is in the political process business.

While most political reporters seized on the President’s musings that he might like to have a “Kentucky Bourbon” with incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, I was more struck by the comments he made after that: “ I don't know what his preferred drink is..” when it came to a potential adult refreshment moment with the Majority Leader.

It may seem like a silly notion.  Knowing what one of the four most important political leaders in Congress might like to have for a cocktail after a long day of legislating.

But, it goes to the core of what has bedeviled this President since his election in 2008.  He doesn’t care to get to know anything about those who he is supposed to work with to move the country forward.

Lyndon Johnson was a brilliant Senate Majority Leader because he knew everything about every single member of the United States Senate – those in his party and those on the other side of the aisle.

Say what you want about his Presidency but Johnson knew how Congress worked.  What motivated individual members.  And, he understood it enough to know that sometimes the simple, most basic human things were most important to getting the support and vote of a Member of Congress.

Bill Clinton understood it and it is what not only saved his presidency, but allowed him his most successful legislative accomplishments when his party was out of power.

Ronald Reagan knew that human interaction was at the core of getting things done.  His interaction with Tip O’Neill wasn’t about being best friends.  It was about a mutual understanding that both needed one another if either hoped to advance any aspect of their personal political agenda.

George W. Bush, faced with a massive defeat at the polls, didn’t descend into bitterness and a wall of inflexibility.  In fact, it may have been those defeats that allowed Bush to become his most successful when the country needed his leadership the most during the financial crisis that came at the end of his term.

The President has few options available to him in the 4th quarter of his Presidency.

Yet, the most powerful option he has available to him is one that he seems bound and determined to avoid:  Finding common ground with a GOP controlled Congress.

Common ground isn’t a middle ground.  The fact is, the President has firm beliefs he chooses to advance – as do those who will soon control Congress. 

It is unreasonable to suggest the President should simply accede to the demands of the GOP Majority in Congress.

The President may have a vision, he may have ideas, but he certainly has not earned the respect of his allies or adversaries. 

He is the President, duly elected to serve in that capacity.

He is not endowed with the power of a dictator. 

He can choose to believe he is and the remaining two years of his term will be more dismal than the past two years of his current term.

If that is the case he will be wishing for more than just a drink of Kentucky Bourbon – he may be ordering his drinks by the barrel.