Obama’s Unfulfilled Promise of Change
The president can’t change Washington from the inside, but he sure can campaign.

President Obama and David Letterman on The Late Show with David Letterman, September 18, 2012.


Michael Barone

‘The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside,” Barack Obama said in an interview Thursday on the Spanish-language Univision network. “You can only change it from the outside.”

A better way to put it is that Barack Obama has proved he can’t change Washington from the inside.

One case in point is the comprehensive immigration legislation Obama promised to steer to passage in his first term. The Univision interviewers, who asked tougher questions than the president has been getting from David Letterman or various rappers, zeroed in on this issue.

With a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate and a solid Democratic majority in the House in 2009 and 2010, Obama could have pushed for an immigration bill. Instead, he acquiesced in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to bring such a measure to the floor. It would have required some of her members to cast tough votes.

But, with Obama’s encouragement, she did bring to the floor and pushed through a cap-and-trade bill that also required some of her members to cast tough and, in some cases, career-ending votes. Cap-and-trade was a favorite of gentry liberals, the kind of people Obama has wooed often at his 200-plus fundraising events.

As for the Hispanics who want immigration legislation, he’s now promising that he’ll push it in his second term. Wait in line.

George W. Bush managed to get congressional votes on comprehensive immigration bills. Obama didn’t bother.

Obama’s inability to change Washington from the inside is also on display in Bob Woodward’s latest bestseller, The Price of Politics.

In the book, Woodward tells how Pelosi, in a meeting of congressional leaders, muted a speakerphone as Obama droned on, lecturing members on the national interest, so the legislators could get some work done.

Woodward also shows how Obama blew up the summer 2011 grand-bargain negotiations with Speaker John Boehner by suddenly raising his demands. Boehner had already agreed to increased revenues from high earners through tax reform that would eliminate or limit deductions whose benefits go largely to those with high incomes. That’s the kind of tax reform recommended by Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission, whose report quickly found its way to his round file. It had the support of congressional Republicans such as vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Republicans on the supercommittee. But, late in the negotiations, Obama insisted on higher tax rates for high earners — proposals that tend to bring in less revenue than forecast — and raised the ante on Boehner.

All of which prompts the question: Would the economy be doing better today if the grand bargain had been successful, and if we were not headed toward the fiscal cliff resulting from the sequestration process congressional leaders improvised after Obama spiked the negotiations?

We can’t know the answer for sure. But it’s certainly possible. Instead, the economy is in such disarray that Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has embarked on a third round of quantitative easing.

Obama has spent about half of his career in public office running for other offices. A couple of years after his election to the state senate, he ran for Congress. He lost, and a couple of years later, he ran for the U.S. Senate. Two years after taking office as a senator, he started running for president. And he’s spent a lot of time in this last two years — all those fundraisers! — running again.

In the meantime, he has skipped more than half of his daily intelligence briefings, including those several days before the attacks on our embassies and consulates that started on September 11, 2012.

After the eruption of violence in the Mideast, White House press secretary Jay Carney, ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, and Obama himself (on the Late Show with David Letterman) characterized the attacks as spontaneous responses to a video criticizing Islam.

That storyline was punctured when the director of the National Counterterrorism Center stated what seemed to be obvious — that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed “in the course of a terrorist attack.” The video was a pretext, and the video alibi was obviously politically motivated. One of the premises of the Obama campaign was that his election would make Muslims love America.

What we see in all this is a president who is much more comfortable campaigning than governing.

What we also see is disarray — an economy that is foundering and a world where America is on the defensive and under attack. We see a president who can’t change Washington and whose election did not magically change the world.

— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2012 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by