Politics & Policy

The Obama Albatross

The Hustler: President Obama and Colorado governor Hickenlooper (WhiteHouse.gov)
Playing pool in Colorado rather than visiting the Texas border is not very presidential.

With less than four months to go until Election Day, Democrats increasingly have no confidence in the Obama White House’s political instincts. As a result, more and more Democratic candidates are avoiding the president when he comes to their neighborhood. Senator Mark Udall famously avoided showing up with Obama at a fundraiser in the senator’s honor in Colorado last week. John Foust, the Democratic congressional candidate in a suburban Virginia district just outside Washington, D.C., snubbed the president this week by failing to show up for a presidential event in his area.

Representative Henry Cuellar of Texas was flabbergasted by Obama’s petulant refusal to visit the Texas border last week, calling him “aloof” and “detached” and his decision “bizarre.”

The Virginia Progress PAC, a Democratic committee supporting Senator Mark Warner, issued a list of talking points for potential donors that laid out the challenge the Obama albatross represents for Democrats this fall: “The 2014 midterm elections are shaping up to be similar to the wave elections of 1994 and 2010, particularly with an unpopular President and an unpopular piece of major legislation that will serve as a referendum on the sitting President. . . . A difficult political climate coupled with the rising unpopularity of President Obama could affect the Democratic brand as a whole and hurt Senator Warner.”

Bob Beckel, a former Democratic campaign consultant, said on Fox News this week that he spoke with a Democrat “intimately involved in [Obama’s] campaigns, both of them.” The message was sobering: “He said you have to know what it’s like to get through [presidential counselor] Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama, and I think that’s a tough deal for anybody on a staff to do. . . . [Obama] lives in a zone that nobody else goes to.”

Indeed, Democrats are becoming increasingly vocal about their concern that their president is isolated and not connecting with the political reality around him. “The Democratic party is like a wedding party with the common goal of getting to the ceremony on time,” a former Democratic congressman told me. “There is a caravan of cars, but the lead car is driven by a guy who is weaving in and out of traffic and is dangerous to the other cars behind him. Do you follow the guy you agreed to follow, or do you make your own way to the wedding? More and more people are leaving the caravan.”

All of Washington is talking about our detached president — one who would go to two fundraisers in New York last night after a plane carrying 23 Americans was shot down over Ukraine. In 2012, Obama famously flew off to fundraisers in Las Vegas the day after the Benghazi attack killed our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

“Obama does not appear to relish being chief executive,” writes liberal journalist Edward Luce in the Financial Times. Luce notes that Obama has headlined 393 fundraisers since he took office, double the number that George W. Bush had attended at this point in his presidency. Veteran journalist Patrick Smith writes, “I can think of two names for this. One is outmoded arrogance. The other is asleep at the wheel. Whatever the moniker, some measure of incompetence lies behind it.”

Democrats are happy for the president to raise money, which he can still do by appealing to the fat cats in the party’s environmental, gay, and feminist bases. But they increasingly don’t want to appear with him in front of ordinary voters or follow his lead on policy. For example, more and more Democrats in swing districts or states are looking for a way to separate themselves from the Obama White House’s chaotic border policy. Much of the grumbling is private for now, but it is increasingly seeping into public discourse.

And the grumbling goes beyond politics. A disengaged, petulant president who gives the impression that someone else is minding the White House store isn’t good for the country.

One presidential historian says that if the president’s bizarre behavior deepens, people will start making jokes comparing Obama to President Woodrow Wilson, who was debilitated by illness during his last two years in office, with decisions increasingly made by his aides and his wife, Edith. “The comparisons of course wouldn’t be fair, but they don’t have to be to have elements of truth to them.”

— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for National Review Online.

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