Obama's isolation leads to skewed decisions

White House/Pete Souza

Barack Obama

Article Highlights

  • As in Chicago, President Obama seems to live in a cocoon in which Republicans are largely absent.

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  • Obama’s personal interactions are limited to his liberal Democratic staff and to the rich liberals at fundraising events.

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  • Obama fundraising is lagging behind its $1 billion goal, and Democrats fear Republicans are closing the fundraising gap.

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It's unusual when a reporter sympathetic to a politician writes a story that makes his subject look bad. But Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker has now done this twice.

The first time was in an article last April on Obama's foreign policy in which he quoted a "top aide" (national security adviser Tom Donilon? It sounds like him) saying that the president was "leading from behind" on Libya. Not what most Americans expect their presidents to do.

Now, in an article based on leaked White House memos marked up by Obama, Lizza has done it again.

Contrarian liberal blogger Mickey Kaus sums it up: "The president's decision-making method--at least as described in this piece--seems to consist of mainly checking boxes on memos his aides have written for him."

"As in Chicago, Obama seems to live in a cocoon in which Republicans are largely absent, offscreen actors that no one pays any attention to." -- Michael Barone

A $60 billion cut in the stimulus package? "OK." Use the reconciliation process to pass the health care bill? A check mark in the box labeled "yes."

Include medical malpractice reform in the health care bill? The man who as an Illinois legislator often voted "present" writes, "We should explore it."

According to Lizza, Obama prefers getting information and making decisions by staying up late and reading memos rather than meeting with people -- a temperament that's a liability because face time with the president is one of his major sources of political capital.

Lizza's reporting undercuts the stated thesis of his article: that Obama sought to bring bipartisan governance to Washington but was foiled by Republicans' partisan intransigence.

Evidence that Obama ever seriously considered Republican approaches is minimal in the New Yorker article. The alternatives Lizza describes Obama as considering are for even more spending and government control, such as a much bigger stimulus package.

He mentions just in passing that "Obama "had decided to pursue health-care reform" as well as the stimulus package -- a choice that inevitably made bipartisanship harder to achieve.

At one point Lizza does quote Obama writing on a memo, "Have we looked at any of the other GOP recommendations (e.g. Paul Ryan's) to see if they make any sense?" Another president might have looked at Ryan's proposals himself or might even have called him on the phone.

George W. Bush, in contrast, worked with Democrats -- and sometimes even talked with them -- on his education plan, his tax cuts and the Iraq war resolution. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with them on Social Security.

And on Obama's failure to reach a "go big" budget agreement with House Speaker John Boehner last summer, Lizza presents only the White House talking point: "conservative colleagues rebelled, and Boehner withdrew." He doesn't mention Republican claims that Obama upped the ante, demanding more tax increases.

Lizza's White House sources apparently didn't leak any memos about some of Obama's more recent actions, but his article provides a jumping-off place for understanding them.

As in Chicago, Obama seems to live in a cocoon in which Republicans are largely absent, offscreen actors that no one pays any attention to.

His personal interactions are limited to his liberal Democratic staff -- and to the rich liberals he meets at his frequent fundraising events. He has held more of these than George W. Bush, who in turn held more than Bill Clinton.

Two decisions in particular seem tilted toward rich liberals. One was the disapproval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, even after it survived two environmental impact statements.

Obama says he wants more jobs and to reduce American dependence on oil from unfriendly foreign sources. The pipeline would do both, and is endorsed by labor unions. But Robert Redford doesn't like Canadian tar sands oil. Case closed.

The other astonishing decision was the decree requiring Catholic hospitals and charities' health insurance policies to include coverage for abortion and birth control. Here Obama was spitting in the eyes of millions of Americans and threatening the existence of charitable programs that help millions of people of all faiths.

Catholic bishops responded predictably by requiring priests to read letters opposing the policy. Who's on the other side? The designer-clad ladies Obama encounters at every fundraiser. They want to impose their views on abortion on everyone else.

Obama fundraising seems to be lagging behind its $1 billion goal, and Democrats fear Republicans are closing the fundraising gap. So Obama seems to be concentrating on meeting the demands of rich liberals he spends so much time with.

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Michael
Barone
  • Michael Barone, a political analyst and journalist, studies politics, American government, and campaigns and elections. The principal coauthor of the annual Almanac of American Politics (National Journal Group), he has written many books on American politics and history. Barone is also a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner.

    Follow Michael Barone on Twitter.


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