Damned if he does; damned if he doesn’t

Damned if he does; damned if he doesn't
Damned if he does; damned if he doesn't
Associated Press

This New York Times paragraph says quite a bit, doesn’t it?

Members of both parties say Mr. Obama faces a conundrum with his legislative approach to a deeply polarized Congress. In the past, when he has stayed aloof from legislative action, Republicans and others have accused him of a lack of leadership; when he has gotten involved, they have complained that they could not support any bill so closely identified with Mr. Obama without risking the contempt of conservative voters.

Well, yes, that does make things challenging. President Obama has to lead, but not too much, and not in a way that may make his rivals feel uncomfortable. He has to be hands-on and hands-off, preferably at the same time. He should use the so-called “bully pulpit,” but not in a way that connects the presidency to any specific issue Republicans may need to vote on.

And it’s against this backdrop that a few too many pundits wonder aloud why the president doesn’t overcome Republicans’ refusal to compromise by “leading” more. Many more suggested “schmoozing” would alleviate GOP intransigence.

But if Republicans are going to balk whether Obama engages or not, the advice seems misplaced.

Jamelle Bouie added, “In reality, there’s only one thing that can help Obama push his agenda through Congress – a Democratic Congress. As long as Republicans have a grip on the House of Representatives, and as long as the GOP remains unsupportive of compromise and disinterested in policymaking, we should expect gridlock in government. Put another way, it’s no accident the 111th Congress – which began with Obama’s first term – was one of the most productive in recent memory; it was controlled, from top to bottom, by a single party.”

Quite right. Consider a tale of the legislative tape.

The legislative accomplishments of 2009 and 2010 were historic and extraordinary: health care reform, Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, DADT repeal, student loan reform, credit card reform, New START treaty, etc. Then consider the legislative accomplishments since: not a whole lot.

The difference isn’t that Obama forgot how to “lead” after the 2010 midterms, or stopped schmoozing. The difference is Republican gains in Congress and a GOP-led House majority.

Is it any wonder the White House has taken such a keen interest in the 2014 midterms? Second-term presidents invariably start thinking about their legacies, in all likelihood, next year’s congressional elections will be the difference between a series of second-term accomplishments and none.