In a wide-ranging interview with the NY Times Magazine, President Obama reflects on what he’s done wrong in the White House and what he hopes to accomplish after the November midterm elections.
He’s critical of the “mythology” that his campaign created and the “tactical mistakes” he’s made:
–Letting himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend Democrat”
–Realizing too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects”
–Perhaps he should’ve “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” in the stimulus
Obama says he and his team took “a perverse pride” in focusing on policy while ignoring the need to sell it to the country and that he realizes now that “you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P-R and public opinion.”
Now, he hopes to finish the rest of his term by focusing on implementing the sweeping legislation passed since he took office, rather than trying to pass more. Those accomplishments include health care and financial reform, and ending the war in Iraq.
The president also expects Republicans will be more willing to work with him after the midterm elections, regardless of the outcome because, if they lose, they’ll realize their strategy of saying no to the president’s entire agenda didn’t work, and if they win, they’ll have to offer the serious proposals that come with a congressional majority and then be held accountable for their success of failure.
The magazine also spoke with two dozen White House officials, one of whom says, “We were overconfident,” referring to the “mythology.” “We’re all a lot more cynical now.”
The piece also includes behind-the-scenes White House photos by acclaimed war photographer Ashley Gilbertson. (see slide show)
Baker’s own impression is instructive. In sum, he observes that since Election Day 2008, Obama has been schooled by a tougher-than-expected opposition, a demanding base, and a dissatisfied public, all part of the uncomfortable realities of American political life.
The lessons? Politics is as important as policy, and you can’t change Washington without it changing you back. Baker notes that “Four of the five presidents previous to Obama were governors who came to Washington vowing to fix it, only to realize that Washington defies the easy, and often hollow, rhetoric of change.
“Obama,” says Baker, “made the same pledges and has encountered the same reality.” According to the president’s allies, his “biggest miscalculation” was “the assumption that he could bridge a polarized capital and forge genuinely bipartisan coalitions.”
The difficulty he has encountered in doing that has even loyalists questioning whether it’s possible for Obama to succeed. “Some White House aides who were ready to carve a new spot on Mount Rushmore for their boss two years ago privately concede now that he cannot be another Abraham Lincoln after all,” Baker says. “In this environment, they have increasingly concluded, it may be that every modern president is going to be, at best, average.”
So now we have two lessons that presidents (and politicians have yet to learn): 1) The cover-up is always worse than the crime, and: 2) The campaign message always sounds good when you say it fast, but it’s never as easy as it looks and you never get quite what’s promised, a lesson this year’s version of “hope and change,” the Tea Partiers, would do well to learn.