LOPEZ: That “hostage takers” accusation was sort of shocking for a president to make about House Republicans in 2010, wasn’t it? Remind us of the context — and wasn’t there some vindication in the Bob Woodward book?
OBENSHAIN: In December 2010, the president held a press conference to talk about the looming end to the Bush-era tax cuts, and Obama was not happy about the Republican refusal to compromise on tax hikes. During what can only be described as a petulant press conference, Obama said, “It’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. . . . In this case, the hostage was the American people.”
It was just as shocking as the president’s alluding to those who disagreed with him on immigration as “the enemy” or to those who disagreed with him on domestic oil drilling as “founding members of the flat-Earth society.” This is just Obama’s way. The man who said to Republicans during his inaugural address, “I want to listen to you especially when we disagree,” shifted within months to say, “I don’t want the folks who created this mess to do a lot of talking. . . . I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”
In Woodward’s book The Price of Politics, he points out that a Democrat was the first “hostage taker.” Senator Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) threatened Obama a year earlier that he would block an increase in the debt ceiling unless there was a clear commitment on the part of the president to address the ballooning fiscal problems.
LOPEZ: Why make an observation like “Ego is Barack Obama’s defining characteristic”?
OBENSHAIN: I make the point not to be snarky, but because his ego drives much of what he does and his disdain for the opinions of others. It is a characteristic that can’t be ignored or glossed over. This is the man who said upon receiving the nomination, “I am absolutely certain that generations from now we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended war . . . ” and so on. That’s a stunning presumption for any human being and goes a long way toward explaining this president’s sense that he, and only he, possesses the wisdom to help us “heal our wounds” and that his vision for our nation — a fundamentally transformed nation — is for our own good.
One of the attributes of a great leader is his willingness to surround himself with experts, and also actually to listen to them. Obama thinks he is always the smartest person in the room — and that can be dangerous. He told David Plouffe when he first interviewed him for a campaign position, “I think I could probably do every job on the campaign better than the people I’ll hire to do it.” Obama once joked that his greatest weakness is that “it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.” Unfortunately, in this case, it’s no joke.
We have seen the consequences of that. When the sheer force of his personality wasn’t enough to win Republicans immediately to his side, he dismissed any effort to meet or work with them, and began immediately to vilify them instead of deigning to debate them on the issues. Instead of trying to compromise and deal honestly with the American people when they didn’t agree with him on the unpopular Obamacare initiative, he rammed it through using deceit, divisive scare tactics, and brute force. And by taking excessive credit over the bin Laden killing — spiking the football, so to speak — he further antagonized the volatile situation in the Middle East.