The Incredible Shrinking President

March 15, 2011

Obama Shirks Leadership on Budget to Focus on Kicking Off His Re-election Campaign


On Monday afternoon the White House conceded what critics have been saying for weeks: Obama is failing to lead.


The White House, however, tried to put a positive spin on the president’s absence of leadership, attempting to claim that Obama’s silence on the nation’s pressing issues is part of a deliberate “above the fray” strategy to position Obama for his re-election campaign:


“Call it an above-the-fray strategyfrom spending reductions to state labor disputes — President Barack Obama is keeping a low profile


“‘There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story,’ said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

“Pfeiffer said Obama has enough issues on his agenda and said the White House doesn’t believe the public wants the president weighing in on an array of subjects.

‘They want him leading the country; they don’t want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day,’ he said.” (Jim Kuhnhenn, “On High-Profile Issues, Obama Keeps Low Profile,” Associated Press, 3/14/2011)


But Obama has kept a low profile on more than just “issue[s] of the day.” For one, the President has been conspicuously absent from offering leadership in the ongoing budget and spending debate; this failure to offer direction has drawn wide criticism from Democrats of all stripes:


WILL THE WHITE HOUSE FINALLY LEAD ON THE BUDGET? ALL SIGNS POINT TO NO: “Senate Democrats wonder if or when the White House will take the reins in a budget fight that has several of their vulnerable colleagues in a vise.”(Shane D’Aprile, “Parting Ways: President’s Path Is Diverging from Senate Democrats,” The Hill, 3/14/2011)


FRUSTRATION WITH OBAMA’S LACK OF LEADERSHIP IS A BIPARTISAN ISSUE:“When President Barack Obama opened the first meeting of his fiscal commission last April, he promised to be ‘standing with them’ as they produced recommendations for curbing the nation’s escalating debt.

“Republicans and Democrats say they are still waiting…


Obama’s reluctance to join the debate in a sustained way has provoked rising frustration among lawmakers from both parties, who are speaking more forcefully about what they view as his absenteeism on one of the most pressing issues before them.” (Carrie Budoff Brown, “Obama Ducking Deficit Debate,”Politico, 3/14/2011)


THE WASHINGTON POST’S RUTH MARCUS: OBAMA’S “WHERE’S WALDO PRESIDENCY”: “For a man who won office talking about change we can believe in, Barack Obama can be a strangely passive president. There are a startling number of occasions in which the president has been missing in action – unwilling, reluctant or late to weigh in on the issue of the moment. He is, too often, more reactive than inspirational, more cautious than forceful…


“Yet the dots connect to form an unsettling portrait of a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ presidency: You frequently have to squint to find the White House amid the larger landscape.” (Ruth Marcus, “Obama’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ Presidency,” The Washington Post, 3/2/2011)


MORE MARCUS: “They don’t call him the ‘mediator’ of the free world, they call him the ‘leader’ of the free world for a reason.” (Remarks from Ruth Marcus, The Daily Rundown on MSNBC, 3/3/2011)

Indeed, during the Senate debate on the House-passed CR to make meaningful spending cuts, a diverse coalition of liberal and moderate Senate Democrats managed to coalesce around one point: Obama’s “fail[ure] to lead”:


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): “Why are we doing all this when the most powerful person in these negotiations – our president – has failed to lead this debate or offer a serious proposal for spending and cuts that he would be willing to fight for?'” (Jennifer Epstein, “Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin: Obama Has ‘Failed to Lead’ On Budget,” Politico, 3/8/2011)


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO): “‘I feel the cuts are not large enough, but there are some cuts, so I don’t know whether I’ll be for it or against it,’ she said. ‘But I know it doesn’t go as far as we need to go.'” (Jennifer Epstein, “Freshman Democrat Joe Manchin: Obama Has ‘Failed to Lead’ On Budget,” Politico, 3/8/2011)


SEN. MARK UDALL (D-NM): “Neil, I am still on mission in my way to get our fiscal house in order here. I do think the President has to join the fray.”(Remarks from Sen. Mark Udall, Fox News’ “Your World With Cavuto”, 3/8/11)


SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D-CA): “The President needs to play a much greater role in these negotiations…The President doesn’t want to engage in this fightbecause it’s really, really hard…” (Susan Crabtree, “Senior Democratic Senators To Obama: Please Engage On Budget Talks,” Talking Points Memo Blog, 3/9/11)


SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D-MI): “I would very much like to see the President engage a little more loudly.” (Susan Crabtree, “Senior Democratic Senators To Obama: Please Engage On Budget Talks,” Talking Points Memo Blog, 3/9/11)


But rather than offering leadership, Obama is gearing up his re-election campaign and preparing for an April campaign announcement. He even held a DNC fundraiser Monday evening, after “clearly shift[ing] into campaign mode”:


OBAMA HELD DNC FUNDRAISER MONDAY NIGHT: “The White House might deny that President Obama is thinking about the 2012 election, but he’s clearly shifted into campaign mode.” (Matt Negrin, “DNC Grabs Obama to Raise Cash,” Politico, 3/14/2011)


OBAMA AIDES SOLICITING FUNDS WHILE PLANNING APRIL REELECT ANNOUNCEMENT: President Barack Obama’s advisors are telling potential donors that he is in a weaker position heading into the 2012 election than he was in 2008 and are detailing potential vulnerabilities of likely opponents, according to people who have seen their presentation.


“The donor meetings and the recent hiring of several senior campaign staff members are among the early moves Obama aides have made before the official launch of the president’s re-election effort, which Democratic officials say will come shortly after April 1…


“Part of Mr. Messina’s presentation is to caution donors that while Mr. Obama has recovered after the trouncing his party took in the 2010 elections and is well-positioned for 2012, he will face a tough re-election fight that will require substantial donor support, according to people familiar with the presentation.”(Carol Lee, “Donors Told Obama Is in a Weaker Position,” The Wall Street Journal, 3/14/2011)

DEMOCRATIC AIDES SAY OBAMA FOCUSING ON RE-ELECTION AT EXPENSE OF BUDGET LEADERSHIP: “ ‘I imagine the president doesn’t want to really get his hands dirty with this until he can walk away with an agreement, which isn’t helping the leadership at the moment,’ said one Democratic strategist. ‘Now, does that have something to do with 2012? Sure it does.’

“The short-term result, say several Capitol Hill staffers, is that the “every man for himself” attitude of an election year has arrived even sooner than expected.”(Shane D’Aprile, “Parting Ways: President’s Path Is Diverging from Senate Democrats,” The Hill, 3/14/2011)


Wide majorities of Americans believe Obama should do the job he was elected to and offer leadership on cutting spending, but Obama seems more interested in ignoring his responsibilities until he’s past the next election:


53 PERCENT OF AMERICANS SAY CUTTING SPENDING WILL CREATE JOBS: “[T]he results indicate the public embraces the Republican argument that spending cuts will improve the economy and create jobs and doesn’t agree with Obama’s plan to invest in such areas as infrastructure to jumpstart a recovery.


Fifty-three percent say the drive to cut spending and taxes would improve the economy…” (Julie Hirschfield Davis and Heidi Przybyla, “Government Shutdown Opposed by Americans in Poll Faulting Cuts,” Bloomberg, 3/9/2011)


AMERICANS OVERWHELMING AGREE GOVERNMENT SHOULD “MAKE THE DIFFICULT BUT NECESSARY DECISIONS TO GET SPENDING UNDER CONTROL”:“Voters overall agreed that we should ‘make the difficult but necessary decisions to get spending under control’ by 64 to 29 percent. Republicans and Independents agree by the overwhelming margins of 81 to 18 percent and 63 to 33 percent respectively. But even a majority of Democratic voters agrees that the deficit is a result of too much spending, 52 to 35 percent.” (“Voters to Congress: Cut Federal Spending Now,” Resurgent Republic, 3/9/2011)