We trust that Hugo Chávez is now at an endless Politburo meeting.
In a press conference on sequestration, President Obama said this about alleged Republican intransigence: “I am not a dictator, I’m the president. Ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner” doesn’t want to deal, “I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway.” Obama is not a dictator: Well, yes, but why say so? Let us dismiss the crazy explanation: The would-be tyrant has tipped his hand! That leaves three others. First, Obama suffers from Thomas Friedmanism: By gum, those dictators do get things done. What they get done is misallocation of resources and oppression, but this is a common wistful delusion among those inclined toward economic planning. Second, McConnell and Boehner really get under Obama’s skin. Wouldn’t it be nice to call the Secret Service and [fill in the fantasy]? Let us stipulate that every president has thought such a thing. Yet every other president (certainly, since Nixon) has known not to say it, even to himself. Third, more than four years after Bush left office, Obama is having to find a new explanation for the world’s stubborn refusal to meet his expectations. The nominees are Naïveté, Pique, and Excuse-Making. The envelope, please.
Speaking of which: Should Michelle Obama have opened the envelope for Best Picture during the Academy Awards ceremony? Presidents and their families engage in a variety of apolitical ceremonies: FDR (via radio) and Laura Bush appeared at earlier Oscar nights, and presidents since Taft have thrown out Opening Day pitches. The fitness of doing so is probably in inverse proportion to the cheesy glitz of the occasion (could someone deep-six the White House Correspondents’ Dinner?). But there is a second question here: Are the Obamas too much with us? The demands of a fragmented media market, and the Obamas’ own appetite for exposure, have made them a 24/7 presence. Benjamin Rush said that any European king would look like a valet de chambre alongside George Washington. Washington’s successors must take care not to look like reality-show guests.
When Bob Woodward criticized the White House’s handling of the sequestration showdown, he got a 30-minute phone call from the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, plus an e-mail from Sperling saying he would “regret” his reporting — a line Woodward characterized as “a veiled threat.” Then it got nasty, as reporters took to Twitter to assail Woodward (“lost it” and “senile” were among the endearments thrown his way). Once the dinosaur fight from Fantasia ended, it became clear that there was a lot of blame to go around: The administration had been thin-skinned, Woodward had not actually been threatened, Woodward’s critics were trigger-happy. Not to be lost in the shuffle: the clumsiness of Obama’s sequestration-standoff tactics. Because of defense cuts, the president has to withdraw a carrier from the Persian Gulf? That is, as Woodward correctly said, “a kind of madness.”
It seems like only yesterday that President Obama was condemning “the corrosive influence of money on politics” and admonishing Supreme Court justices seated at his feet for “opening the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit” in American elections. The president’s conversion of his reelection machinery into Organizing for America, a “grassroots” fundraising juggernaut newly unencumbered by campaign law and designed to rally support to the president’s policies in his second term and in perpetuity, would serve as a perverse counterpoint to this self-righteous rhetoric under any circumstances. But it is especially grotesque in light of reports, by the New York Times no less, of a quid pro quo by which high-rolling donors are rewarded with quarterly meetings of the group’s “national advisory board” — at the White House. This “disturbing” practice, the Times’ editors conclude, “is nothing more than a fancy way of setting a price for access to Mr. Obama.” Confronted with the reports, White House press secretary Jay Carney fumbled through long and lawyerly answers but never outright disputed the truth of the story. He might just as well have used the opportunity for free advertising: White House access, $500,000 a pop. Enter through the floodgates.