I’m short on time today, so I’m going to share with you this opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal by Daniel Henninger. In “The Obama M.O.:Barack Obama’s modus operandi is: I think, therefore you do,” you will find one of the best analysis of Barack Obama’s presidency:
We should admit the obvious: Barack Obama is the most anti-political president the United States has had in the post-war era. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter (even), Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush. All practiced politics inside the tensions between Congress and the presidency that were designed into the system by the Founding Fathers. Not Barack Obama. He told us he was different. He is.
Mr. Obama doesn’t do Washington’s politics. Disappointed acolytes say it is because he is “passive.” That underestimates him. For Mr. Obama, the affairs of state are wholly a function of whatever is inside his mind.
Some things remain in his mind, like the economic benefits of public infrastructure spending, which appeared one more time in Monday’s post-Navy Yard speech on the lessons of the financial crisis and Congress’s obligations to agree with him. Some things enter his mind and then depart, like red lines in the Syrian sand.
From where he sits, it is the job of the political world outside to adjust and conform to the course of the president’s mental orbit. Those who won’t adjust are dealt with by the president himself. They are attacked publicly until they are too weak politically to oppose what is on his mind.
This is the unique Obama M.O. For historians of the Obama presidency, this September has been a case study in the 44th president’s modus operandi.
Early in September, President Obama surprised Washington by announcing he would seek a congressional vote of support for taking action against Bashar Assad in Syria. This came after the red line went. In an account of that decision, The Wall Street Journal reported that after taking a 45-minute walk with his chief of staff, Mr. Obama told his staff, “I have a big idea I want to run by you guys.”
After meeting with the president, two significant political figures in Washington expressed public support for his announced plans to act against Assad—House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The president’s decision to intervene wasn’t popular with the American public or with members of Congress, so the Boehner-Cantor commitment was a big deal. It was a public expression of political support at the moment the president needed all the political support he could get.
A week and a half later, Mr. Obama reversed course. He would not seek congressional approval. Instead it occurred to him that he could negotiate a Syrian chemical-arms reduction agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The merits of that decision aside, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported that neither Mr. Boehner nor Mr. Cantor got a heads up from the White House on the U-turn toward Russia.
Throw a dart at the names of the other 11 post-war U.S. presidents. Would any of them have hung a Speaker of the House out to dry just before heading into negotiations with that speaker on funding the government, extending the debt ceiling or the future of your legacy achievement—ObamaCare? Barack Obama did. No problem.
On Monday, Mr. Obama delivered what the White House called “Remarks by the President at the Five-Year Anniversary of the Financial Crisis.” After waving in the direction of the Navy Yard shooting and then the 2008 financial crisis, Mr. Obama spent most of the speech’s nearly 4,000 words ripping into the congressional Republicans.
You have to read it to get the flavor. This passage should stand as a classic of the Obama politics of anti-politics: “The problem is at the moment, Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on how to grow the economy and build the middle class. I say ‘at the moment’ because I’m still hoping that a light bulb goes off here.” (Laughter from the invited props.)
Gridlock? He’s sucking the political oxygen out of the city.
There’s plenty more. “The last time the same crew threatened this course of action . . . .” The same crew? As a bonus, we’re getting a post-modern presidential vocabulary.
“. . . they’re willing to tank the entire economy.”
“Are they really willing to hurt people just to score political points?”
The GOP leaders “haven’t put forward serious ideas” on entitlement reform. And: “I put forward ideas for tax reform—haven’t heard back from them yet.” As with much else here, everyone in Washington knows that statement about taxes is false. But in the Obama post-politics apocalypse, what difference does it make?
Twice he announces, “I will not negotiate.” But he is negotiating with Vladimir Putin something infinitely more difficult than a debt deal with John Boehner.
Trace elements of normal politics are inevitable in any presidency. But this one over five years has floated beyond the American political tradition. The Obama modus operandi is reducible to this: I think, therefore you do. Everyone else who still does real politics—from one side to the other—is left to gape.
I just love the statement “Everyone…is left to gape.”
I can’t remember a President that continually leaves me staring at the television with my mouth wide open in utter astonishment.