From the beginning of the week to the end, the president made crystal-clear to anyone who paid attention that he was over his head in this position and that he was startlingly disengaged in all but the most trivial of ceremonial matters.
Obama's agents hammered out a proposed tax deal in which he seemed to play no significant role and which totally undercut his promise to end tax cuts for the rich. That redistributive, economically ridiculous position is one of the few things on which he has not heretofore been a slippery, tilting-at-straw-men con man. It is perfectly consistent with some 1930s view of capitalism in which there are starving, dispossessed Okies at one end of the economic spectrum and top-hatted, morning-coated fat plutocrats on the other.
Still, since all of Obama's other tricks to jolt the economy and cease its free-fall have failed, someone (possibly Larry Summers) apparently caught his ear and suggested to this economic illiterate that ending the Bush tax cuts would only force a quicker death spiral.
His ambiguous efforts to sell the deal to the equally radical economic illiterates in this party naturally didn't go well in either the Senate, where his party will soon hold a slimmer majority, or the House, where the Republicans won 63 seats and virtually the entire moderate wing of the party was wiped out of office. Revealing that he hasn't the slightest clue about negotiating, Obama made a laughable claim comparing his political opponents to hostage takers: "It's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed," President Obama said at his Tuesday press conference."
Here's the thing: the dynamics of hostage-taking always involve the threat of harm to the hostage, Mr. President. This means that you would always cave in to their demands if you cared enough for the hostage.
Worse, the comment ignores the fact that until Ted Kennedy died, Obama's party controlled Congress with a filibuster-proof majority, and the White House could have steamrolled through any tax provision it wanted. The decision to let the tax issue ride suddenly put them in an unfavorable bargaining position -- though certainly it didn't rise to "hostage taking." It's called losing the hearts and minds of the voters.
Obama's petulant comments all week were directed, however, at more than the Republicans. He was also hostile to the far left in his party, the very folks who brought him into power.
Someone in the White House must not be drinking what Obama and Reid and Pelosi have imbibed. Someone must recognize that the power dynamics have in fact shifted, that Obama's attacks are not helpful to the administration or to the passage of any tax bill before the lame duck session ends and Democrats' leverage diminishes even further. For by Friday, Obama handed Bill Clinton the baton in an absolutely stunning press conference in which Obama left minutes after it began, saying:
Here's what I'll say, is I've been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour, so I'm going to take off. [...] You're in good hands.
If the picture of Michelle barefoot and walking on hot bricks while her husband and the Indonesian dignitary walked on the carpet told us a great deal about how carelessly organized the presidential visit to Indonesia was, this picture speaks to us about how unserious and unqualified Obama is for the highest office in the land.
Obama called the former president in to make the case he was unable to make himself and then left to party.
James Taranto noted that Bill Clinton was an odd endorser of the proposed tax rates: I was at the 2004 Democratic Convention, where I watched Bill Clinton deliver a very effective, though completely wrongheaded, attack on the Bush tax rates. Today I turn on the TV to see Bill Clinton holding a White House news conference to endorse those same tax rates. It's great to see him come around, even if his return to the presidential podium runs counter to the spirit of the 22nd Amendment. [h/t: Daily Caller]
It's as if it shocks Obama that his promise to stop the rising of the waters and to heal the sick and feed the poor doesn't seem enough. People want to see results, and the only results they are seeing is the destruction of centuries' worth of sound legal doctrine (the bailouts) and economic structures (our health care system) and national wealth (trillions wasted to no end except to pay off Obama's friends).
Or is it that having stepped out of the chattering classes into a position of responsibility, Obama is being forced -- too late -- to realize that all his beliefs and those of the left are just so much unicorn scat -- unworkable, unrealistic nonsense? If that's so, no wonder he seems disquieted. He surely isn't able to see where to go since being exiled from wonderland, where he was the one we were waiting for, to reality, where he seems unable to carry out his responsibilities and retain his allies and support.
In fact, Obama's spokesman Gibbs did point his finger at Congress and said they should have taken up the issue before November, as Obama urged them to, but the truth is that,having rammed through the unpopular ObamaCare law, both the congressional leadership and the administration caved to the Blue Dogs' pleas that the tax issue be put in order for them to have any hope of reelection. The left-wingers who lost that battle are now in no mood to cede to the White House's begging for more "compromise." And when all is said and done, the White House failure to communicate the deal with the congressional Democrats before announcing it publicly revealed a striking ignorance of Washington protocol and rubbed salt in their wounds.
Whether the proposal is good or bad remains murky as new provisions are added, and the numbers remain unclear. Here are the latest legislative documents I can find, in case you care to make up your own mind.
Legislative Documents for the Obama Tax Compromise Bill
The economy is not all that Obama and his administration are demonstrably failing at. WikiLeaks is severely undercutting our diplomatic service, and yet our response is weak. Eric Holder still hasn't made any moves to get Assange extradited from the U.K., where extradition is easier than it will be from Sweden, and he's had since July, when the document dump began, to think up something. Instead, the president had him fly overseas in a failed attempt to get the World Cup held in the U.S. This mirrors the great expense and effort Obama put in his failed attempt to get Chicago named the venue for the Olympics.
What's the theme here? No bread and no circuses?
Like Max Boot, I recognize that there are problems with the antique and really unworkable espionage act, but like him, I wonder ... if those barriers are insuperable, why hasn't the administration proposed legislation to Congress that would allow the prosecution of cyber-vandals like Assange? Given the diplomatic damage that WikiLeaks continues to cause, the administration's inaction so far signals a dangerous ineffectuality that will come back to haunt the U.S. We can't rely on the Swedish courts to lock up Assange for rape - not when the apparent facts of the case appear to be as bizarre as they are. (For a rundown, see this Daily Mail article.)
When you elect to the office of chief executive someone with not one minute's worth of executive experience, this is what you get. He can't do his job, and the people he appointed to work with him are just as ill-suited for their positions.