If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you’d probably think, “What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you’re important. Sheesh.” In Washington, however, these “brag walls” can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one.
Maybe some offices do it just because that’s what everyone else does, but you’d think that if you’re a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you’re an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn’t be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you’ve been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that’s an understandable marketing effort. But when it comes to individuals, the only other place I can think of that I’ve seen that sort of thing outside of Washington is on MTV Cribs, in the homes of athletes, actors, and musicians, who often have displays of them with other celebrities. And they, I imagine, are also desperately insecure about their importance, forever fearful that it could evaporate at any moment and they’ll wind up the next Corey Feldman. So they put up the pictures of them hanging out with Tom Brady or Usher to assure themselves that they really are as big a deal as the people around them are contractually obligated to tell them.
I raise this because of an absolutely pathetic article in Politico today, detailing how Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t feeling enough love from President Obama:
The topic of Obama’s relationship with his own party in Congress invariably draws raised eyebrows and did-you-hear-this-one stories.
One of the most well-connected Democrats in the capital said he came away from a recent meeting with Hill Democrats “astonished at the contempt they have for our president.” The members made clear that, after largely backing Obama in his first term, they would oppose him if he tried to make cuts to entitlements in the name of deficit reduction.
Obama and his top aides generally get along well with the Senate’s Democratic leadership — though there were real tensions over the fiscal cliff compromise – but while the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer are in frequent contact with the White House, rank-and-file Democratic senators rarely hear from the president.
To bring up the topic of Obama and his old colleagues with members of Congress themselves, not a class of people lacking in pride, is often to get stared back with daggers. Hemming and hawing often take place, good-sport recollections of always hearing back from staff are brought up and occasionally come requests to go off the record. But, among some Democratic senators, there’s a willingness to put their names with their statements.
“I think they might have done more,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) when asked about the president’s outreach to the Hill in the first term. “I think they might have learned more by doing more.”
Now, I understand that building personal relationships with members of Congress is important, but it’s not important as an end in itself, it’s important because it helps the president accomplish his policy goals. To paraphrase the line spoken by a thousand reality show contestatnts, the president isn’t in Washington to make friends. Are there policy implications to Obama’s alleged indifference to congressional Democrats? Was there a critical bill that failed because some senators felt they weren’t being massaged enough? Provisions in big bills that Obama didn’t get because he couldn’t fend off a fit of pique from a member of his party over the lack of invitation to a late-night poker game up in the residence? You won’t find the answer in the story, because this is Politico, and they find policy questions like that to be dullsville.
In fact, a better question for a piece like this might be, if Obama does so little to massage the fragile egos on Capitol Hill, how was it that he got so much legislation passed? He did more legislatively in his first term, even with an unusually intransigent opposition, than any president since Johnson. Could it be that the non-personal factors end up being much more important than how many members of Congress get to utter the phrase, “As I told the president when I was at the White House the other day…” on a regular basis?
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 4, 2013
“More Resolute, More Seasoned”: President Obama’s Inaugural Address Was A Modern Speech Steeped In History
President Obama gave a truly American speech yesterday. It resonated from the opening reference to “all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights,” to his constant refrain of “we, the people.”
It was in many ways a stronger speech than four years ago, more resolute, more seasoned, more ready to ensure that America lives up to the words expressed in the Declaration of Independence. It was a speech for a modern era, acknowledging the rapid change of the 21st century.
The strong thread of his speech was the strong history of America, from the war for independence to the emancipation proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago. “From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” the President highlighted the guiding value that all are created equal. The age-old creed was made modern and relevant to all Americans — of any color, any natural origin, any gender, any sexual orientation.
The notion that an inaugural address would mention gay marriage and highlight the start of the gay revolution at Stonewall would have been unthinkable a decade or two ago. What an amazing transformation.
The melding of traditional aspirational values and the struggle to solve modern American problems was inspiring. He was forward looking and pragmatic when it came to tackling the issues of immigration reform, climate change, equal economic opportunity, helping the most vulnerable. And he was equally pragmatic when he recognized that “outworn programs are inadequate to our times” and that government is not the answer to all our problems.
But his was a defense of government as “we, the people” to achieve what our framers designed. He did not deride government or Washington but set out a positive, progressive, future for us to pursue together. This was a change from what we have heard over the past thirty years.
It was, in many ways, a very modern speech clothed in the best of our history to act as a call to Americans. This is a president now comfortable with the bully pulpit and a leader committed to using it in the years ahead. You will see a Barack Obama ready to inspire and organize people for the cause. My guess is that this speech was just the beginning.
By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, January 22, 2013
Peggy Noonan is, without doubt, America’s most hilariously ridiculous opinion columnist, someone forever pleading that we ignore piffle like “facts” and focus instead on the collective emotions that are bubbling just out of our awareness until she identifies them. But in her column today, she does something that we ought to take note of, because I suspect it will become a common Republican talking point. Noonan asks why Obama is so darn mean to Republicans, and answers the question thusly:
Here’s my conjecture: In part it’s because he seems to like the tension. He likes cliffs, which is why it’s always a cliff with him and never a deal. He likes the high-stakes, tottering air of crisis. Maybe it makes him feel his mastery and reminds him how cool he is, unrattled while he rattles others. He can take it. Can they?
He is a uniquely polarizing figure. A moderate U.S. senator said the other day: “One thing not said enough is he is the most divisive president in modern history. He doesn’t just divide the Congress, he divides the country.” The senator thinks Mr. Obama has “two whisperers in his head.” “The political whisperer says ‘Don’t compromise a bit, make Republicans look weak and bad.’ Another whisperer is not political, it’s, ‘Let’s do the right thing, work together and begin to right the ship.’” The president doesn’t listen much to the second whisperer.
Ah yes, we keep having these fiscal crises because Obama “likes cliffs.” Don’t you remember when he convinced conservative Republicans to hold the national economy hostage over the debt ceiling in 2011? And you do know that he’s forcing them to do the same thing in a couple of months, right? They don’t want to, but he’s making them. Those congressional Republicans are desperate to compromise with him, but he just won’t accept all their generous offers! And he sure is “polarizing.” After all, if a majority of Republicans have consistently believed that Obama is lying about being born in Hawaii and is a foreigner, and if his opponents regularly charge that when he adopts Republican ideas on things like health care it’s because he is a socialist motivated by a hatred of America, then there’s really only one person to blame. And when a member of the Republican Senate leadership writes, “It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well being of our country,” that just shows how much Obama loves creating these crises! And what do you know, in that op-ed, Senator John Cornyn makes the same argument, that in all of the crises of the last couple of years, “the White House has purposefully slow-walked the process in a shameless attempt to score cheap political points.”
Mark my words, over the next couple of months we’re going to be hearing this a lot: Republicans will argue that these crises are all Obama’s fault not so much because his ideas are substantively wrong (they’ll mention that too, of course), but because he just wants it that way. And because he’s so mean.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 4, 2013
“Lighting Darkness, Healing Heartbreak, Finding Meaning”: Obama’s Newtown Shooting Speech Was Best Of His Presidency
In an hour of crisis and grief, the president has to tell the country some hard truths about itself. As he does that, he must also explain what it’s all about, this country called America, all over again. President Obama did just that, at about the halfway mark of the two terms he was elected to serve. He looked as if he had aged a few years in a day.
In his words, depth, and demeanor, Obama gave the best speech of his presidency by a country mile in a New England town Sunday evening. They say there are “no words” when you are swimming in salt tears over the loss of a child. But when a town’s children are killed in cold blood, along with six women working at a school, well, there must be words for the blood. There must be words that try to tell the tragedy we have seen, for words are all we have.
The president is the only one who can do that—speak to the shattered people of Newtown, Conn., and to us, the American people, to make us one. We are all implicated; our society’s fingerprints were all over that crime scene. So the truth is, we really need a talking-to about gun violence, a truth that few can speak and be heard. Thankfully, the president uttered words that went beyond the usual suspects at another mass shooting.
Speaking in sad cadences, Obama asked: “Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough, and we will have to change….We can’t tolerate this anymore.”
Here he shows how hard it is to ask and answer fundamental questions. Why were women and children brutally robbed of life and liberty Friday? Isn’t the pursuit of happiness part of the meaning of this nation, formulated in a fine 1776 declaration?
Obama didn’t spell out the broken promises, but there was no need. We’re all in this together, a sense that we failed and there-but-for-the-grace-of-God. If we fail to protect our precious cargo of children, he was saying, nothing else matters very much. That struck a note of truth which resonated far beyond the boundaries of a place called Newtown, which they started building in 1780—four years following that fine declaration.
David Maraniss, the distinguished biographer of Obama and a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, believes the Newtown speech will live long in memory. “He [the president] defined a grave moment with simple and powerful thoughts that worked on several levels at once, both particular and universal,” he said.
President Lincoln gave a stark speech about national loss at the midway of his four years as the Civil War president. He gave it in the autumnal light of November, consecrating a battlefield where the fury of cannons sounded and bloody bodies stained the farm soil for the first three days of July 1863.
Nobody knew better than he, the deaths and suffering were so great he had to heal with words as best he could, to infuse the event and sacrifice with solemn meaning. Theatrically, he set the time and scene: “Fourscore and seven years ago….We are met on a great battlefield of that war.” Then came a short speech that magnificently transcended time and space to give a new fresh explanation for why they were there that day, what they were fighting for, and what it was all about.
For Lincoln, the Civil War had ceased to stand just for keeping the Southern states. As many of us recited in the Gettysburg Address as schoolchildren, the cause was “a new birth of freedom” in the nation. By a stroke of the pen, Lincoln had earlier emancipated all slaves in the “rebellion” states.
Maraniss said the Newtown address may be Obama’s Gettysburg: “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no.” That simple candor helped me deal with the shared sorrow. Better not to sugarcoat at a time like this.
Lighting darkness, healing heartbreak, finding meaning—it’s a lot to ask of a president and his words. But on Sunday, the man from Illinois answered the call.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 18, 2012