Far from the days of grand ambitions and plans to reshape America, the President has lately taken to shows of executive power and thoughts of his legacy. Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein wrote an insightful report in Politico entitled “The Obama Paradox,” showing a President who is already worried how history will see him while he still has two and a half years left in office.
As Brown and Epstein write, President Obama has settled for “a presidency built on finding ways to elude Congress.” And it’s not just Republicans the President is avoiding. “When Democratic lawmakers gather in private, their complaints about Obama’s perennial lack of outreach to them are frequent and sustained,” they say.
There is little lasting that a President can accomplish on his own and without Congress, so when President Obama can’t even warm up to those of his own party it’s no wonder his “year of action” feels more inactive as the year goes on.
In around 6,000 words, Brown and Epstein write often of the President’s preoccupation, but surprisingly little of his time is spent managing his bureaucracy, fighting for jobs, reaching across the aisle, or even reaching out on his own side of the aisle. He is more concerned, it seems, with the perks of the presidency and the shape of his legacy than with governing.
“Now settled into the second term,” Brown and Epstein say, “the Obamas are less concerned with the optics of mingling with boldfaced names, and seem to want to take advantage of the presidential perch.”
The first couple meets with Bono and Warren Buffet. The President speaks with his chief of staff for up to an hour every weeknight “engaging in philosophical discussions about the presidency.” He golfs more and more and spends evenings discussing life, ideas, and art with people of note until after midnight. While the President was being prepped for an interview on 60 Minutes about Ukraine and health care, one aide paraphrase the president’s sentiments: “just last night I was talking about life and art, big interesting things, and now we’re back to the miniscule things on politics.”
While the American people are searching for jobs, the President has already begun drifting toward retirement.
He wants to end the war in Afghanistan by a set day, regardless of what may or may not be the case on the ground a year from now, simply so he can be the President who ended the war. His EPA is attempting to impose onerous carbon caps that will harm the economy simply so he can say he fought climate change. His foreign policy has been reduced to the phrase, actually said in the West Wing, “don’t do stupid s***,” because he is less concerned with improving America’s standing abroad than with avoiding a mistake that might further stain his foreign policy record.
As the title of the report says, the President faces a paradox—the paradox of remaining relevant while he ignores Congress. Perhaps that is something he can ponder over drinks with Bono.