Obama's presidency beset by fits, starts in year 5

FILE - This Feb. 12, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, giving his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington.  It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. 'I want to take a look, one more time,' Obama said quietly. 'I'm not going to see this again.'There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda.  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File-Pool)

FILE - This Feb. 12, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, giving his State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. "I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File-Pool)

WASHINGTON — It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor.

His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term.

"I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."

There was so much Obama could not — or did not — see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda.

He'd never heard of Edward Snowden, who would lay bare the government's massive surveillance program. Large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria was only a threat. A government shutdown and second debt crisis seemed improbable. His health care law, the signature achievement of his presidency, seemed poised to make the leap from theory to reality.

Obama had campaigned for re-election on the hope that a second term would bring with it a new spirit of compromise after years of partisan rancor on Capitol Hill.

FILE - This Jan. 20, 2013 file-pool photo shows President Barack Obama officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts, not pictured, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, as first lady Michelle Obama, holds the Robinson Family Bible. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. 'I want to take a look, one more time,' Obama said quietly. 'I'm not going to see this again.'There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, File-Pool)

FILE - This Jan. 20, 2013 file-pool photo shows President Barack Obama officially sworn-in by Chief Justice John Roberts, not pictured, in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, as first lady Michelle Obama, holds the Robinson Family Bible. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. "I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, File-Pool)

"My expectation is that there will be some popping of the blister after this election, because it will have been such a stark choice," he'd said.

Instead, great expectations disappeared in fumbles and failures.

Obama's critics doubled down. Fractured Republicans, tugged to the right by the tea party, swore off compromise. The president's outreach to Congress was somewhere between lacking and non-existent. Obama's team dropped the ball — calamitously — on his health care law. Snowden's revelations had Democrats and Republicans alike calling for tighter surveillance rules. Foreign leaders were in a huff — Brazil's president snubbing the offer of a White House state dinner, Germany's Angela Merkel incensed that her cell phone calls had been intercepted. The president's misplaced pledge that people who liked their health plans would be able to keep them ran into a harsh reality as millions saw their coverage canceled.

The year ended with a small-bore budget deal that was welcomed as breath of fresh air, a telling sign of how wildly things had veered off course in 2013.

White House communications director Jennifer Palmieri called it a year of "fits and starts" for the president — and predicted better days ahead.

"We'll probably come out of 2013 in better shape in terms of Congress and the White House being able to function together," she said.

Yet Obama's agenda of gun control, immigration reform, a grand budget bargain and more sits unfulfilled. Obama's job approval and personal favorability ratings are near the lowest point of his presidency, with increasing numbers of Americans saying they no longer consider him to be honest or trustworthy. Abroad, too, positive views of Obama have slipped, with confidence in him doing the right thing in world affairs dropping.

___

The mantra for the Obama White House has always been to take the long view. Officials scoff at the "who's up, who's down" churn of Washington's chattering class and recall with glee Obama's ability to rebound from moments in his first term when his presidency was declared in peril.

But as Obama embarked on his second term, some of his closest outside advisers warned him that the next four years would have to be different: He was operating on a shorter leash, and might have just 18 months, perhaps as little as a year, to accomplish big domestic priorities.

All Obama needed to do was look to his predecessors to see how quickly trouble can consume a second term. Richard Nixon resigned. Ronald Reagan got ensnarled in the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his dalliances with Monica Lewinsky. And George W. Bush lost the public's trust through his botched handling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath and the unpopular Iraq War.

Obama's team thought it had a strategy for overcoming the second-term curse. They would make a quick play for stricter gun control measures, then capitalize on the GOP's post-election anxiety by pressing for an immigration overhaul and floating the possibility of a big budget deal.

Each of those efforts failed and Obama quickly found himself consumed by an unending series of distractions.

FILE - This May 15, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama walking toward the podium to make a statement on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.  It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. 'I want to take a look, one more time,' Obama said quietly. 'I'm not going to see this again.'There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

FILE - This May 15, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama walking toward the podium to make a statement on the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups for extra tax scrutiny, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. "I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Some were fleeting, like the revelations that the Internal Revenue Service was applying extra scrutiny to conservative groups. But others threatened long-term damage to his presidency: the National Security Agency disclosures and the disastrous rollout of the "Obamacare" health law.

Some events were beyond Obama's control and his frustration with them was evident when he fumed in September, during the crisis over Syria: "I would much rather spend my time talking about how to make sure every 3- and 4-year-old gets a good education than I would spending time thinking about how I can prevent 3- and 4-year-olds from being subjected to chemical weapons and nerve gas."

But presidents don't get to pick their crises. And plenty of Obama's woes were of his own making, raising questions about his competence and management of the White House.

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama walks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to the group photo at the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia.  It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. 'I want to take a look, one more time,' Obama said quietly. 'I'm not going to see this again.'There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama walks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel prior to the group photo at the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. "I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

How could he not have known that his government was spying on the private communications of friendly world leaders? Why didn't he know his health care website wouldn't work? How could he have promised over and over again that Americans could keep their health insurance if they liked it when his own advisers knew it wasn't that simple?

As a result, the president is ending his fifth year in office in a "defensive crouch," says presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, and may have to be content with simply protecting his health care law and other Democratic-backed programs that Republicans are eager to repeal.

At this point, says Brinkley, "it's really a firewall presidency."

___

The 2014 midterm elections give Obama his best opportunity to rebound. But Democrats, who just weeks ago saw an opportunity to retake the House after Republicans got blamed for the government shutdown, now fret about the health care law's ongoing problems and may be content to just keep control of the Senate.

There's a certain irony in Obama's success depending on Congress, a body with whom he has had a lukewarm partnership.

Lawmakers from both parties say Obama doesn't talk to them much, nor do his aides. Letters go unanswered. Policies come out of the blue. Social interactions are few.

Both sides wistfully recall the voluble Clinton, who figured out how to craft deals with Republicans on welfare reform and other agenda items after the GOP took control of the House and made big gains in the Senate two years into his presidency.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who worked with Obama when he was a senator and still considers the president a friend, says flatly: "He's flunked in terms of relations with Congress."

"If you know him personally, he's a very likable person," says Coburn. "But it's different than with most other presidents in terms of having relationships with Congress. ... There's a lack of a personal touch."

Of course, the president's tepid relationship with Congress is hardly his fault alone. The tea party forces that pulled House Republicans to the right in recent years made it difficult for the GOP to reach agreement with Democrats on much of anything, and produced the showdown over the president's health care law that spawned the government shutdown.

Obama did attempt to improve relations with Republicans earlier this year, holding a few dinners with GOP lawmakers. His chief of staff, Denis McDonough, has been widely praised by Republicans for being a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill.

But some lawmakers say that's as far as the outreach goes. Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran against Obama in 2008 but has since tried to work with him on immigration and the budget, said no one from the White House legislative affairs staff has ever called him or come to his office just to chat.

___

What does it matter if Obama doesn't buddy up to his former colleagues?

He needs those relationships to advance his agenda in Congress. And the strained ties with legislators are emblematic of a broader problem for Obama rooted in his tendency to keep a tight inner circle.

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, stops his speech and turns around in response to an unidentified man, right, who heckled him about anti-deportation policies, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama stopped his speech about immigration reform to let this man, who was located directly behind Obama, speak and would respond to his questions.  It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. 'I want to take a look, one more time,' Obama said quietly. 'I'm not going to see this again.'There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2013 file photo, President Barack Obama, left, stops his speech and turns around in response to an unidentified man, right, who heckled him about anti-deportation policies, at the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center in San Francisco. Obama stopped his speech about immigration reform to let this man, who was located directly behind Obama, speak and would respond to his questions. It was a moment for Barack Obama to savor. His second inaugural address over, Obama paused as he strode from the podium last January, turning back for one last glance across the expanse of the National Mall, where a supportive throng stood in the winter chill to witness the launch of his new term. "I want to take a look, one more time," Obama said quietly. "I'm not going to see this again."There was so much Obama could not _ or did not _ see then, as he opened his second term with a confident call to arms and an expansive liberal agenda. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

"Instead of going out and talking to his enemies, making friends and schmoozing, or banging heads together with them or whatever, you can see that the man is diffident — deeply, deeply diffident about the kinds of politicking that are necessary to build consensus," says Nigel Nicholson, a professor at the London Business School who has written a book about leadership in which Obama is a frequent topic.

The president has been getting plenty of that kind of advice in recent weeks. Critics called for a sweeping shakeup of his White House inner circle. Even his allies called for someone — anyone — to be fired for the health care failures.

Obama has responded in his typically restrained fashion. No one has lost a job over the massive health care screw-up, though the White House hasn't ruled that out. And while the president is doing some minor shuffling in the West Wing, he's largely bringing in people he already knows.

To critics, the limited staff changes smack of a White House that doesn't fully understand the depths of its problems. But presidential friend Ron Kirk said they are indicative of Obama's "fairly dispassionate temperament," which allows him to hold steady in the face of adversity.

"He understands that overreacting to any one development in the moment is not the best way to achieve a long-term and stable objective," said Kirk, who served as U.S. trade representative in Obama's first term.

___

The president's agenda for his sixth year in office is a stark reminder of how little he accomplished in 2013.

Obama plans to make another run at immigration reform. He'll seek to increase the minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education, proposals he first outlined in his 2013 State of the Union address. And he'll look to implement key elements of the climate change speech he delivered earlier this year, many of which are stagnant.

Foreign policy could be an oasis for the struggling second-term president. With Russia's help, he turned his public indecision over attacking Syria into an unexpected agreement to strip President Bashar Assad of his chemical weapons, though the success of the effort won't be known for some time and the civil war in Syria rages on. Obama also authorized daring secret negotiations with Iran, resulting in an interim nuclear agreement. But even the president says the prospects of getting a final deal are only 50-50.

In a year-end news conference, the president optimistically predicted that 2014 would be "a breakthrough year for America."

But Obama's dismal standings in the polls suggest he can't count on a public groundswell to propel his agenda. The heady days of 2009 when aides boasted of Obama as "the best brand on earth" are long gone.

"We all wear thin with the American people after a while," says McCain, though he warns against counting out any president with three years left to govern — particularly this one.

"To count a man of that talent out at this point in time in his administration would be a huge mistake," he says.

_

Follow Nancy Benac at http://twitter.com/nbenac and Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Comments » 7

Konfuzius writes:

He will be better and better!

Konfuzius writes:

History will show that great President Barack Obama was the best President America lead ever.
With a steady hand, he calmly steered his monetary policy on a successful course on the basis of the ratio and skills, building up confidence without being swayed by short-term populism, opportunism and carping.

A great President.

MIOCENE1 writes:

Konfuzius isn't really far off the mark.

Most of the criticism attributed to Obama is nothing short of gossip over things which won't even make the history books.

As far as "leadership" goes: First his critics claim Obama shows no leadership; then when he DOES show leadership; his critics tell him to 'get out of the way'.

In the 60's we had recession, assassinations, riots in our cities and shootings on college campuses.
In the 70's Viet nam was plucking kids out of American neighborhoods to die in the Far East.
In the 80's Interest rates were at a record high and the Stock Market crashed twenty-five percent and took two years to recover.
In the 90's we invaded Iraq, upset the 'balance of power' in the Middle East which is leading to a nuclear Iran.
Not to mention the bodies and mutilations; both physical and mental; coming home from from Bush's "war on evil".

In the face of all that; this present doesn't seem so bad; regardless of all the GOSSIP.

The Obama Presidency may go down as one of the most docile in half a century.

-And Benghazi? Nothing new here.
Since 1958 American Embassies worldwide have been attacked with casualties almost forty times.

MIOCENE (PAREIDOLIA)

Konfuzius writes:

in response to MIOCENE1:

Konfuzius isn't really far off the mark.

Most of the criticism attributed to Obama is nothing short of gossip over things which won't even make the history books.

As far as "leadership" goes: First his critics claim Obama shows no leadership; then when he DOES show leadership; his critics tell him to 'get out of the way'.

In the 60's we had recession, assassinations, riots in our cities and shootings on college campuses.
In the 70's Viet nam was plucking kids out of American neighborhoods to die in the Far East.
In the 80's Interest rates were at a record high and the Stock Market crashed twenty-five percent and took two years to recover.
In the 90's we invaded Iraq, upset the 'balance of power' in the Middle East which is leading to a nuclear Iran.
Not to mention the bodies and mutilations; both physical and mental; coming home from from Bush's "war on evil".

In the face of all that; this present doesn't seem so bad; regardless of all the GOSSIP.

The Obama Presidency may go down as one of the most docile in half a century.

-And Benghazi? Nothing new here.
Since 1958 American Embassies worldwide have been attacked with casualties almost forty times.

MIOCENE (PAREIDOLIA)

Maybe I am right! Your are full of wisdom!

RayPray writes:

in response to MIOCENE1:

Konfuzius isn't really far off the mark.

Most of the criticism attributed to Obama is nothing short of gossip over things which won't even make the history books.

As far as "leadership" goes: First his critics claim Obama shows no leadership; then when he DOES show leadership; his critics tell him to 'get out of the way'.

In the 60's we had recession, assassinations, riots in our cities and shootings on college campuses.
In the 70's Viet nam was plucking kids out of American neighborhoods to die in the Far East.
In the 80's Interest rates were at a record high and the Stock Market crashed twenty-five percent and took two years to recover.
In the 90's we invaded Iraq, upset the 'balance of power' in the Middle East which is leading to a nuclear Iran.
Not to mention the bodies and mutilations; both physical and mental; coming home from from Bush's "war on evil".

In the face of all that; this present doesn't seem so bad; regardless of all the GOSSIP.

The Obama Presidency may go down as one of the most docile in half a century.

-And Benghazi? Nothing new here.
Since 1958 American Embassies worldwide have been attacked with casualties almost forty times.

MIOCENE (PAREIDOLIA)

Other posts highlight your problem with ancient history.

Here you display obliviousness to recent events, as well.

"In the 60's we had recession, assassinations, riots in our cities and shootings on college campuses."

>>> No recession till oil crisis in '73. Only a handful a campus shootings, e.g., Kent State, compared with recently.

"In the 70's Viet nam was plucking kids out of American neighborhoods to die in the Far East."

>>> This was from 1965. Vietnam was plucking nothing. That was the US Selective Service war machine maw

"In the 80's the Stock Market crashed twenty-five percent and took two years to recover."

>>> We should be so lucky now

"In the 90's we invaded Iraq, upset the 'balance of power' in the Middle East which is leading to a nuclear Iran. Not to mention the bodies and mutilations; both physical and mental; coming home from from Bush's "war on evil"."

>>> In the 90s we rescued Kuwait's golden thrown by NOT invading IRAQ, the Powell Doctrine. Bodies & mutilations mostly of Saddam's Guard on 'Road of Death' ~ "Go to Allah, Baby"

Konfuzius writes:

">>> In the 90s we rescued Kuwait's golden thrown by NOT invading IRAQ, the Powell Doctrine. Bodies & mutilations mostly of Saddam's Guard on 'Road of Death' ~ "Go to Allah, Baby"

Inschallah! That's correct. If Bush Sr has more guts the war of Bush W. Jr. will be never happened.

MIOCENE1 writes:

RAYPRAY:
My dates were approximates. I lived through it. The Democratic Convention of 1968+-. Student take-over of Columbia U, the U-2 incident, The Iran Hostage Crises, The Pueblo, the Cuban Blockade, and all the other stuff which went on including Watergate.

My point is that even with Benghazi, and the I.R.S. thing; along with Obamacare; things are really not out of the ordinary with this administration.

"THEY" say that the present administration lacks leadership. This is usually a GOOD thing; because every time we get LEADERSHIP AND UNITY; we find ourselves in war.

Do you really want another Reagen or Bush in office? Do you really want to send your kids off to fight some "moral" war against "evil" in Egypt or Syria as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan?

And think about this:
Last Century about this time, the world was getting ready to burn Europe to the ground.
Regardless of the rantings of Hannity, Limbaugh, Levin and Savage over the small crap of Obama's vacations, his golf and socialistic leanings; the world is a lot better off now then it has ever been.

MIOCENE (PAREIDOLIA)

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