Barack Obama isn't very good at being president. Bill Clinton wasn't during his first 12-18 months either. They have one asset in common: high levels of intelligence. This suggests that they should be smart enough to learn from their mistakes and adapt their behavior in response to obvious and repetitive opposition tactics. Most analysts argue that Clinton learned his lesson and had a modestly productive six years following the two disastrous ones at the beginning of his first term. Personally I think he "accomplished" things only inasmuch as he caved in, pushed Reagan Lite legislation, and declared victory. But given the fanatically hostile Republican Congress he face, I can buy the argument that he adapted.
Obama, on the other hand, just doesn't seem to be getting it. And this shocks me. It really, really does. Not because I considered him a neo-FDR or some kind of progressive liberal poster boy – in fact, I'm on record months before his election pointing out that there isn't a lick of difference between him and Hillary Clinton's Diet Republican ideology – but because I thought he would put his hand on the glowing stove a few times, get 3rd degree burns, and then be smart enough to stop touching it. But he isn't. He just keeps putting his hand into the fire again and again under the assumption that this time it will not burn him.
We all recall that Peanuts gag from our childhood. Sad-sack Charlie…one of these days he was going to kick that football, darn it. Even as kids we knew he would never actually get it, but that was part of his appeal. He was so earnest, and it was intended to be heartwarming to see how he trusted his friend even though we knew Lucy was going to screw him (figuratively, thanks to the FCC) every single time. What was lovable, or at least intended to be lovable, about Charlie Brown is quickly starting to look pathetic in the elected leader of the nation.
Take the recent Wall Street reform legislation. The administration catered exclusively to three Republicans – Snowe and Collins from Maine as well as Scott Brown from Massachusetts – from the get-go. In fact, they practically wrote the legislation. The White House pulled no punches in catering to their every whim. They agreed to open a Krakatoa sized hole in the Volcker Rule, at Brown's insistence, to help protect prominent asset management firms in Boston. They agreed to make the bill "deficit neutral." But when Brown realized that deficit neutrality meant a $19 billion tax on hedge funds and investment banks – and $19 billion is couch change to that industry, especially given how deeply they've partaken of the public till lately – he balked.
It is the same story over and over. Kiss the GOP's ass, give in on every issue, promise them everything they demand…and then they refuse to support it anyway. Obama does not get this. It is not sinking in. For some reason he thinks that if he is "bipartisan" enough with people like Brown and Snowe they will start working with him. And then they yank the football away and he ends up on his ass. Every time.
He is not figuring out that the opposition party, including the ones he believes are Reasonable and Moderate, has no interest in working with him and no intent to do so. He immediately yields all of his leverage in negotiations, kissing their asses from the very beginning, and then he is shocked at the end when they mug him for the last few concessions at the end. Why wouldn't Brown do this? It's painfully obvious that they can get whatever they want from Obama. Very early in his presidency I noted a disturbing tendency for Obama to immediately pull back when attacked. He proposes something, the right starts howling, and in the blink of an eye he's taking it off the table and making concessions by the dozen. It weakened his position to the point that he is practically a joke in the Senate. "We can get anything we want out of this guy. All you have to do is hit 'em hard. We've got 41 Senators and we're taking this asshole to the cleaners! Ha ha!"
Eighteen months isn't enough time to cement a legacy but it's long enough to be past the growing pains. It is starting to look like this guy just can't cut it, unless you count delivering slightly prettied-up versions of Republican legislation or massively watered down versions of Democratic legislation as success. But stick with it, Mr. President. We'll hold the football for you next time. We promise.