Last week, Barack Obama told a Hollywood fundraiser that Washington’s politics had grown dysfunctional, and that the Republicans were to blame. As he put it, “We have a Washington that’s not working.” Conveniently, Obama ignored his own role in the national standoff. Memo to Obama, presidents aren’t supposed to be spectators.
But a more glaring omission was the President’s refusal to acknowledge that America’s ongoing scrum reflects the social fissures and fractures that now shape the national landscape. Washington mirrors America. Red and blue, like black and white, are not just colors. The current political stalemate is about real things, contentious issues, conflicting viewpoints, and people. Lives and money are on the line, whether the debate is over jobs, health care, or Social Security.
Given Obama’s overt reliance on the shifts in America’s demographics to capture and keep the White House, the President can’t credibly blame his predicament on “dysfunction” as if he were just another innocent bystander. Having come to be seen as rewarding the Coalition of the Ascendant —minorities, and those on the lower rungs of the income ladder—at the expense of the “haves,” and not just the “1 percent,” Obama cannot be extricate himself from the larger equation, much as he may wish he could. For all of his talk of there being no “black America and white and Latino America and Asian America,” and there being only “the United States of America,” the President’s policies are viewed as benefiting America’s bluest precincts most of all—whether located on Wall Street or 125th Street.
To paraphrase the prophet Hosea, sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. As Obama and the Democrats learned in 2010 when the Democrats lost control of the House, the Democrats’ Upstairs-Downstairs coalition does not make for a failure-free strategy, much as the Republicans’ inability to resonate beyond 50 shades of white has kept them from winning the presidency in recent elections.
Oh, and successful presidents do more than win elections; they actually govern —successfully. As president and the lead player in an era of simultaneous U.S. change, retrenchment, and drift, Obama cannot disclaim his own personal responsibility and expect to be believed. Indeed, the polls say he is not.
The latest Gallup Poll crystalizes Obama’s problem—namely, he is more a divider than a uniter. Like George W. Bush and the Republican Party heading into the 2006 midterm elections, Obama and the Democrats are facing an electorate that wants to punish the president and his party. By a three-to-two margin, voters want to vote against Obama instead of supporting him.
And while midterm electorates are whiter, older, wealthier, and more churchgoing than those in presidential years, whining about the unfairness of it all is a political loser, and misses the mark. Those folks are Americans, although not always Democrats.
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