Why did the Democratic Party, and especially Barack Obama lose so badly in the last elections?
David Brooks has one theory:
President Obama has racked up some impressive foreign-policy accomplishments, but, domestically and politically, things are off the rails.
Perhaps Brooks was attempting humor, but which foreign policy accomplishments was he referring to?
George Friedman of Stratfor offers a more plausible analysis:
However, looking at the timing of his [Obama’s] decline, the only intruding event that might have had that impact was the rise of the Islamic State and a sense, even in his own party, that he did not have an effective response to it. … Obama appears to me to have fallen into the political abyss because after eight years he owned the war and appeared to have no grip on it.
Is there really any doubt that the picture of a floundering president stumbling across the world stage did great damage to him and to his party?
A pusillanimous president, in retreat around the world demoralizes the nation.
Looking at Obama’s failed presidency through the lens of foreign policy, Friedman suggests that Obama will bumble along, thus paving the way for a Republican successor:
Therefore, if we follow historical patterns, Obama will now proceed slowly and ineffectively to increase military operations in Syria and Iraq, while raising non-military pressure on Russia, or potentially initiating some low-level military activities in Ukraine. The actions will be designed to achieve a rapid negotiating process that will not happen. The presidency will shift to the other party, as it did with Truman, Johnson and George W. Bush. Thus, if patterns hold true, the Republicans will retake the presidency.
From the standpoint of domestic politics, Brooks arrives at a similar conclusion.
Brooks is now in despair over Obama’s reaction to defeat. In many ways he is right to be discouraged by Obama’s dysfunctional presidency… one that Brooks himself had, in the time, supported.
Instead of reaching out to Republicans and trying to get things done, Obama seems to want a direct confrontation, a dialectical conflict between opposing forces. Perhaps he learned, while studying liberation theology, that a conflict between thesis and antithesis would naturally produce a synthesis.
Brooks believes him to be wrong. I agree.
In Brooks’s words:
Usually presidents with a new Congressional majority try to figure out if there is anything that the two branches can do together. The governing Republicans have a strong incentive to pass legislation. The obvious thing is to start out with the easiest things, if only to show that Washington can function on some elemental level.
But the White House has not privately engaged with Congress on the legislative areas where there could be agreement. Instead, the president has been superaggressive on the one topic sure to blow everything up: the executive order to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws.
Obviously, the move would produce more heat than light. Brooks continues:
Republicans would rightly take it as a calculated insult and yet more political ineptitude. Everybody would go into warfare mode. We’ll get two more years of dysfunction that will further arouse public disgust and antigovernment fervor (making a Republican presidency more likely).
Brooks tries to explain why a politically inept administration, an administration that does not know how to govern, continues to be inept. For all I know Obama is doing what he knows how to do, neither more nor less.
Maybe various people in the White House are angry in defeat and want to show that they can be as obstructionist as anyone. Maybe, in moments of stress, they are only really sensitive to criticism from the left flank. Maybe it’s Gruberism: the belief that everybody else is slightly dumber and less well-motivated than oneself and, therefore, politics is more about manipulation than conversation.
I vote for Gruberism, a felicitous coinage.
After all, this is why Obama has not been able to govern. He has believed, as an article of faith that he and his academics know better than everyone else and that they are right to impose their will on the rest of the populace, beginning with the Republican Party.
Foreign leaders have long known that it was a bluff. Now the American public seems to have caught on.
It’s less about conversation and negotiation, and more about manipulation.