Where Obama Has and Hasn’t Blown It

Norm Ornstein looks to dispel the notion that Obama’s agenda is stifled because the president lacks some certain, special, nameless something that forces enemies in Congress to do his bidding. For example, on the myth that arm-twisting is some kind of chief executive panacea:

On the gun-control vote in the Senate, the press has focused on the four apostate Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey plan, and the unwillingness of the White House to play hardball with Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska. But even if Obama had bludgeoned Begich and his three colleagues to vote for the plan, the Democrats would still have fallen short of the 60 votes that are now the routine hurdle in the Senate—because 41 of 45 Republicans voted no. And as Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has said, several did so just to deny Obama a victory.

Indeed, the theme of presidential arm-twisting again ignores history. Clinton once taught Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama a lesson, cutting out jobs in Huntsville, Ala. That worked well enough that Shelby switched parties, joined the Republicans, and became a reliable vote against Clinton. George W. Bush and Karl Rove decided to teach Sen. Jim Jeffords a lesson, punishing dairy interests in Vermont. That worked even better—he switched to independent status and cost the Republicans their Senate majority. Myths are so much easier than reality.

Ornstein doesn’t absolve Obama of all failures, but does a service by throwing cold water on the idea that there is a magic spell, unique to denizens of the Oval Office, that Obama has neglected to cast.

Indeed, if you want to see an example of where Obama has really blown something, big time, take a look at Ryan Lizza’s piece on the failure of climate legislation from 2010. That initiative didn’t fall apart because Obama didn’t sufficiently schmooze or bully, but in large part because the president and the White House essentially stumbled all over themselves with wretchedly timed communication and inadvertent sabotaging of the efforts of John Kerry and others. But that’s nuanced, and requires reading something longer than a Buzzfeed post to get. And so we are where we are.

2 thoughts on “Where Obama Has and Hasn’t Blown It”

  1. I don’t suppose you have a link that would back up Orstein’s account of the Jim Jeffords story? He doesn’t provide one. The only think I was able to find about this Bush/Rove plot was an alleged threat to do something to that effect which was referred to as one of many factors influencing his decision from a TNR piece: http://www.fmpc.uconn.edu/research/compact/chait.html
    According to Jeffords’ own book, the reason was by his own admission his party’s refusal to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/chatterbox/2001/12/did_the_democrats_sucker_jim_jeffords.html
    It would appear that Orstein is using Occam’s Broom (yes such a thing exists).


  2. Ornstein has for decades served well and faithfully as the poster boy for naïve superficiality (avowing, for example, that those who read Time magazine know what’s going on).
    … the 60 votes that are now the routine hurdle in the Senate …
    Which, typically, Ornstein just takes as given, without a thought as to how the Democratic leadership allowed and allows themselves to be kneecapped by the bad-faith manipulation of rules which they themselves have the power (but not the guts, integrity, or willingness) to revise.


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