In a little POTUS Possum, President Obama said that he doesn’t see the second term as just playing defense; he intends to do some good, “even if nobody is paying attention”.
In David Remnick’s juicy piece on POTUS at The New Yorker titled “Going the Distance: On and off the road with Barack Obama”, we get a close look at Barack Obama and his intentions for the coming year. Remnick puts it on the line, explaining that 2014 is the President’s final year of relevancy before 2016 captures all of the attention.
And, after a miserable year, Obama’s Presidency is on the clock. Hard as it has been to pass legislation since the Republicans took the House, in 2010, the coming year is a marker, the final interval before the fight for succession becomes politically all-consuming.
Remnick then shares Obama’s thoughts on this conventional wisdom. Naturally, as is the President’s way, he doesn’t follow thought; he has his own thoughts.
“The conventional wisdom is that a President’s second term is a matter of minimizing the damage and playing defense rather than playing offense,” Obama said in one of our conversations on the trip and at the White House. “But, as I’ve reminded my team, the day after I was inaugurated for a second term, we’re in charge of the largest organization on earth, and our capacity to do some good, both domestically and around the world, is unsurpassed, even if nobody is paying attention.”
This seems both a dig at the catastrophe of group think that grips Washington much like Hollywood is slave to the remake/franchise redo, the fear-driven “safe bet”, and a bit of possum. Because while Remnick carries on with the conventional wisdom that Democrats probably won’t win the House and might even lose the Senate (and they might), it’s possible that the President is also considering the huge legislative victories that could occur were the Democrats to grab victory in the House. This notion, while perhaps far-fetched, is not impossible. Surprising things have already happened in the 2014 race, a race in which Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is suddenly looking like he might be in serious trouble.
The President has already signaled that Republican obstruction has reinvigorated him to take to the campaign trail for Democrats in a way he hasn’t done as President. The man who used to aspire to cross the aisle in order to get things done now realizes that in order to get things done, he must do the opposite. He must clean out the Republicans and deal with the only people willing to legislate — the Democrats and Independents.
The man who is so great at campaigning doesn’t actually really enjoy campaigning very much. He seems to enjoy talking to the people, but is said in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down, Game Change 2012 to hate raising money and being told to hang out with the money people. (Note: In 2011, Mark Halperin called President Obama a “dick” on Morning Joe, so his judgment might not be aspirational.) As he is wont to do, Obama seems to have made the mistake of imposing his standards onto others, thinking they ought to just donate to him if they think he’s the best candidate. He is reported to have little patience for massaging the massively delicate egos of the big money guys on Wall Street.
The master at political chess set himself up as the underdog in this statement. If I had to guess based on every single previous time the President has made comments like this, I’d say he is already planning a legislative assault post-hoped for 2014 victory. After all, he is nothing if not prepared (recall, if you will, the pitch perfect, controlled delivery of his April 2011 speech at the Nerd Prom, during which he gutted Donald Trump’s birtherism, after he had just given the top secret order to get Osama). I heard a warning in that statement, couched in what will be read (probably accurately) as resentment of the press’s obsession with narratives.
But Obama isn’t one to wallow Palin style in his resentment of the press. He looks around them to see what can be done, and when he can be bothered to explain things to them on a one-on-one level, he sometimes deigns to give it a shot if the person seems at least willing to think on their own. He refuses, however, to play the Washington cocktail games.
At the very least, this statement reveals a truth about this President — he cares very little for how things look at the moment, because his eye is always on the goal in the long run. But he also seems irked by the stupidity of it all. If he wasn’t exasperated before the press went quite hysterical over a website glitch, he surely was after that embarrassing display of group-“think” and failure to communicate with the average American.
Yes, even if no one is paying attention, Obama will continue on as he did in the stimulus and with ObamaCare, trying to make a difference while he can. Putting results ahead of play by play cable news blows. But ever a political animal, he knows that in order to do what he wants to do, he’s got to install some sanity into the House.
This is going to be a year worth paying close attention.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.