Obama: 'Don't think we're not keeping score, brother'

The failure of some presidencies can be encapsulated in a phrase. Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” was one of them. Barack Obama provided us with another when he threatened a Congressman who was reluctant to vote for Obamacare with the taunt, "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother."

And with that phrase Barack Obama laid bare the fundamental problem of his presidency: the idea that loyalty to Barack Obama trumped loyalty to American voters.

Presidents want to enjoy support for their policies and agenda, but Barack Obama has surpassed previous presidents in demanding universal support among members of his own party. Many presidents have lived and worked in the real world where working with others -- including those not considered allies -- is required to perform well. When presidents have listened to the American people and seen their party “shellacked” in elections, they have “triangulated” -- adjusted and moderated their policies. Bill Clinton was compelled to do so when Newt Gingrich led a resurgent Republican Party to widespread victories in 1994.  However, Barack Obama refused to change tack after losses in 2010 and he shows no inclination to do so now.

He had made many mistakes but this was probably the most critical one. And among the victims have been a slew of Democrats who have seen their careers wrecked because they showed obedience and allegiance to Barack Obama and have paid the price for doing so.

When Obama laid down the line about “keeping score” he made clear to one and all that they were expected to do his bidding in Congress: to fall in line and support his agenda to the hilt, come what may.

He may have threatened to reduce or eliminate campaign money or support for their campaigns. There are few labors more dreaded than dialing-for-dollars and attending fundraisers. But raising money was the one talent Barack Obama had in abundance. “Follow the money” was an expression coined in Washington, and it so well describes the mores in our capital city.

That money leverage of Obama may have been implicit or explicit. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chosen by Obama to chair the Democratic National Committee, was one of his enforcers. The control of campaign money and help (including the massive data banks under DNC control) was under her aegis. Perhaps other inducements were offered to compel obedience – say, an Ambassadorship here or there that Obama routinely hands out as rewards for supporting him -- regardless of the impact on America’s relationships with other nations. Max Baucus was rewarded with an Ambassadorship to China for helping secure passage of Barack Obama’s legacy legislation, Obamacare (as well as give the Democratic governor of Montana a chance to appoint another Democrat to the seat to help secure the seat in the next election).

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid was Obama’s other major enforcer -- as Reid used his dictatorial control of the Senate to control what legislation came up for a vote and what amendments would be allowed to be offered by other Senators. The result was total deadlock, as the Republican House passed law after law -- challenges to Obamacare, to Obama’s legislation, to Obama’s overreach, to Obama’s trampling of the Constitution, only to see them die-smothered- at the hands of Harry Reid.

However, he would let Obama-approved legislation and amendments come to a vote. Democrats fell in line to vote for policies that would haunt them in the days to come.

The result -- as we now know from thousands of ads -- was to provide ammunition to the Republicans. The handiwork of Obama and company has harmful to Democrats seeking reelection: as Republicans note the obeisance  shown by Democrats to Obama. As I previously wrote in Voting is the best revenge:

Congressional Quarterly published an annual president position votes report that charts every elected official’s votes in support of Barack Obama. That report is behind a paywall but has been tapped in races across the nation: New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen’s votes match Obama’s 99 percent of the time; North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan hits the 96% level; Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor supported Obama’s stances 91% of the time; Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu comes in at 90 % ; Alaska’s Senator Mark Begich comes in at 97 percent. In other words, to quote John F. Kennedy, there are no profiles in courage in this lot. They are profiles in submission.

Their colors are not blue, but yellow. And these are colors that run and bleed.

They had tried to deny voting for Obama, claimed they would be his worst nightmares if returned to Washington (when they were not busy airbrushing Wikipedia entries and their own websites), tried to distract voters with claims of misogyny and racism. They refused Obama’s visits as if he had Ebola (his money was more than welcome, however).

But, try as they might, they could not hide from their shameful histories and records.

They were sitting ducks before they became lame ducks. They were trapped, as Marc Thiessen wrote in Democrats can’t escape Obama.

They were trapped by Obama and his need for people to bend to his will -- his aspiration to dominate.

Barack Obama’s ego and narcissism -- his most dominant character traits (flaws, that is) would brook no opposition. Democrats had to vote in favor of all his policies or face retribution. This is what happens when a bully is president.

A better president, a man with more foresight and concern for his country as well as members of his own party who staked their futures on him, would have chosen a different path.

There is a practice known as logrolling in Congress. Politicians agree to reciprocate for each other’s votes. If one vote would cause Congressman A problems at home, he might work out a deal with Congressman B to vote for that legislation. Congressmen B would have a chit to call in the future if he needed help to get a bill passed but could not personally vote for it for campaign reasons. Obama, Reid and Pelosi (when she was Speaker of the House) did not see any reason to allow such “trades” when they dominated Congress and when the House was lost, Reid would (as noted above) only allow Obama-approved legislation to come to a vote. And, of course, all Democrats were expected to follow orders.

Lyndon Johnson was called the “Master of the Senate” for myriad reasons but foremost among them was the ability to count votes. That skill was a major reason John F. Kennedy chose him to be his Vice-President. When the Texan had enough votes to pass legislation he would give vulnerable Democrats a pass-they would not be asked to cast votes that could cause them electoral problems at home. He and Kennedy as a team knew how to work Congress to get work done without demanding total allegiance to them, personally. Indeed, Kennedy and Johnson would often give southern Democrats a pass on civil rights legislation because they knew it would cost those Congressmen and Senators votes back home.

But Obama was not that smart or humble or confident. He would not allow other politicians to show their independence from him, to show voters back home they represented them and their concerns. Instead, they acted as tools to fulfill Obama’s agenda. Obama had been quite willing to show flexibility to Vladimir Putin and other adversaries and enemies of America but would not show the same flexibility to members of his own party-even if their careers were at stake.

Democrats were cowed into submission; they could not show their independence –assuming they had any backbone.

Obama has provided us reminders of his political poison.

He showed his pique at Democrats trying to run from their records by noting on Al Sharpton’s radio show that Democrats avoiding him “have supported my agenda” and that his policies were on the ballots across America.

Democrats could run but they could not hide.  Democrats were cowed into submission; they could not show any degree of independence from their boss.

And now many of them have been shown the door by the people they should have obeyed over the years: the American people.

They can blame racism; they can blame women-haters but the ones to blame are the one they see in the mirror or on fading and curling campaign posters.

Americans know to keep score, too, brother.