Last Friday, President Obama held a rare press conference. Among the president’s long answers and defensive responses, NBC’s Chuck Todd asked a simple question focusing on the very foundation of the 2008 campaign that earned President Obama his title. The question was, “How have you changed Washington?”
President Obama answered the question by saying he had brought health care to families, fair credit card practices to borrowers, clean air and water to all Americans, tax cuts for the middle class and an overall policy for growth that has put us on the path to recovery.
However, that wasn’t really the question Todd asked and, to his credit, the president knew it. He knew Todd wasn’t asking about policy accomplishments.
Obama went on to say he hadn’t created the spirit of cooperation he promised because he came into office under tough circumstances. He said because of those circumstances, Republicans decided to sit on the sidelines and let the Democrats solve the problems. Obama also said when you take on tough issues that special interests have a large stake in, the fights get messy and complex, but he decided to take on the tough issues anyway.
In other words, he hasn’t changed the culture in Washington at all.
That isn’t to say he didn’t try, but he failed to change Washington because it’s hard to do so and he doesn’t have the necessary skills. He can blame the GOP until the end of his term, but the real lesson here is the president should have known how hard it is to change Washington.
He should have known the opposing party was going to act like an opposing party. He should have known special interests wouldn’t roll over and he wouldn’t be able to charm them into doing so. He should have known how complex the process would become.
As many of us on the losing side of the last election said, the president is a novice. You can’t change Washington if you don’t understand Washington. He was a community organizer; while that is a respectable profession, it doesn’t prepare you to for the most powerful office in the country. He knew how to get people to the polls, but not how to effectively govern.
The presidency is not an entry-level position. It is not a place for amateurs. The American people need to hear that message. No matter how much you like someone’s ideas, if they don’t have the necessary skills, he or she won’t be a successful president.
It may have been easy to get caught up in the “Obama-mania” before the last election, but all of the warning signs were there. To any disenchanted Obama supporters, you have yourselves to blame.
This is not just a message to the Democrats, however; it’s a message to the GOP not to make the same mistake when nominating its next challenger. A skillful president is more valuable than one of big ideas or catchy slogans.
Being president of the United States is a hard job. President Obama consistently reminds us of that fact.
Last week he told us we didn’t elect him to do what was easy; we elected him to do what was hard. On that front, he has failed. No matter how many times he tries to explain his shortcomings, we mustn’t let him off the hook. We must not feel sorry for the state in which he found the country. He signed up for this, promised he could solve it and was elected because most people believed him.
As he goes forward, his best course of action is to turn toward Washington. He ought to embrace the tradition and the “business as usual” he spoke out against because it might be the only chance to salvage his sinking ship. The people will forgive him for not changing a city if he changes the country for the better.
That will require a different course inside the Beltway and a different message across the nation. The shots he took from the cheap seats during the campaign are now landing at his front door. He can survive this, but only if he is willing to make a change.