Obama’s Best (And Worst) Of Times
As the Barack Obama presidency dwindles down to the last day, there’s no silent amen.
Donald Trump people are swarming the streets around Union Station. These Republicans seem to have come from the country to claim the country, what’s theirs. They are mad that it’s meant to rain on Inauguration Day.
As I make my way through the barricades and bollards to the beloved Capitol, the place looks like a police state. The citadel of democracy looks captured.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Obama can do no wrong. On his way out, praise for his cool dignity and brilliant speaking has been generous. I am one of many Washingtonians who admire him. We will miss him dearly.
However, there were times when the president fell short on the legislative and appointments fronts. Obama would tell you that losing a simple gun control bill in the spring after the Newtown school mass murder in Connecticut was a grave disappointment. He shed tears at the tragedy and seemed to put his political capital on the line.
The narrow loss in the Senate involved a handful of centrist Democrats in rural states switching sides. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, popular in his state, might have been prevailed upon to vote with his party and president.
As president, you have to insist sometimes. Pick up the phone and see if there’s a deal, a trade to work out. Obama’s too sleek to play the heavy to win the wavering votes. That’s for Southern old school pols like Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton.
Almost three years ago, I watched that vote unfurl on the floor. Here’s the thing: Nobody was afraid of Obama, neither friends nor foes in Congress.
In turn, this emboldened those who truly oppose him at every turn for a living. Chief among them is Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a formidable adversary.
During his brief pass as a young star senator, Obama could not wait to get out of there. In the clubby Senate, elders like to be cultivated and chatted up about its rules and customs.
A lot of McConnell’s hostility to Obama was personal. So when the Kentucky Republican blocked the path of Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, it was bold, crafty and rude.
Obama never healed the breach. If he tried over 10 months, we don’t know about it. The public eye only saw that the Senate didn’t hold hearings as a constitutional duty to “advise and consent” on Supreme Court nominees.
McConnell’s brazen move never led to a standoff, because the president didn’t engage on his challenge to the balance of power. That means it can be done again and again. There is now a “precedent” that a president passively accepted a deep insult to his role.
Now we come to Obama’s best and worst appointment. Simple. John Kerry, secretary of state for the last four years, was Obama’s best pick by far. He speaks French fluently; he knows foreign policy from chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs committee; and he knows the price of war as a naval officer in the Vietnam War. He’s worldly, in a word.
Kerry has three major accomplishments to his name: the Iran nuclear deal, opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba and the global climate change accord. He invested each with tremendous knowledge and energy. He also tried to get Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table, and if anything, he tried too hard.
Hillary Clinton paid house calls and mended fences as Obama’s first secretary of state. She was fine, but Kerry was out of this world.
The kicker is that Obama wanted to appoint his national security advisor, Susan Rice, but John McCain, R-Ariz., opposed her. Thanks to McCain, the nation got Kerry.
Comes now James Comey, the FBI director with a lead touch. He forgot to tell the Democratic National Committee the Russians were hacking them. Then he made a harmful hash of Clinton’s emails before the election. Much ado about nothing may have cost her a close election.
You tell me why Obama appointed Comey, a Republican, to act as a Shakespearean dagger in a tragedy. This was the unkindest cut.
A tragedy that starts now: high noon.
IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House during his departure for Canada, in Washington, U.S. June 29, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria