[Posted by Karl]
The first year of the Obama presidency did not go so well, prompting finger-pointing by all involved. Pres. Obama has renewed his effort to blame the GOP for his failures. This is perhaps the least interesting move, given that the tactic has yet to help him or Democrats in polls or at the polls.
More interesting is the sudden, yet predictable, eruption of stories blaming Obama’s staff — particularly those sharing his Chicago ties. Mickey Kaus is on-target — almost hilariously so — in describing these as “save the president” pieces. After all, Obama is the top dog and cannot (barring impeachment) be fired.
However, these pieces are also part of a classic genre of DC journalism: Blaming the Others. Beltway insiders — and the journos who depend on them as sources — rarely miss a chance to assert that they, and only they, can tame the federal leviathan.
In contrast, RCP’s Jay Cost argues that one of Obama’s main problems is that he has deferred too much to the entrenched powers on Capitol Hill:
President Obama has installed Nancy Pelosi as de facto Prime Minister – giving her leave to dominate not only the House, but also the entire domestic policy agenda. The indefatigable Speaker Pelosi has taken advantage of the President’s laissez-faire attitude by governing from the left.
It’s easy to blame the Senate for inactivity – but the problem is the House. It has consistently passed legislation that is too far to the left for the Senate and the country. Ultimate responsibility rests with the President, whose expressed indifference toward policy details has allowed the more vigorous House Democrats, led by an extraordinarily vigorous Speaker, to dominate. That the President consistently praised the House and blamed the Senate in his State of the Union address suggests that he remains unaware of this problem.
I am a Jay Cost fan (follow him on Twitter!), but I respectfully half-disagree with him here. I disagree in part because I think Obama is a leftist ideologue who likely prefers Pelosi’s style and substance; his passive inclinations merely serve those impulses here. But I mostly disagree because it is generally unfair to blame the executive branch for the legislative branch.
Every generation (since WWII, anyway) seems to fall prey to the temptation of electing a hopey-changey Democrat. Yet every one of those presidents ends up having to deal with Congress. JFK fought Congress, and had trouble passing his agenda. Jimmy Carter fought Congress, and had trouble passing his agenda. Bill Clinton caved to Congress, which pursued an agenda that lost Democrats their majorities. Obama let Congress work its will and… well, you get the picture.
From time to time, we hear talk of “the imperial presidency,” but Congress remains the first branch of government. The cliche that “the president proposes, but Congress disposes” is closer to the mark, though Congress also does its share of proposing. Pelosi was not installed as de facto prime minister by Obama; she was elected by her colleagues in the House, who now have to live with that decision as they scramble for survival in the midterm elections. Pres. Obama may shake up his staff — but aside from helping smooth some egos, it will not fundamentally change the real problem on Capitol Hill. That may take a shakeup from voters.