Should We Feel Sorry for Obama?

Whenever a Democratic president gets into trouble, the predictable chorus starts up: The job of President of the United States is just too difficult for anyone to master.

Today’s winner is Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, who phones in the following:

It’s Virtually Impossible to Be a Successful Modern President

Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail. . .

. . . it’s hard to see how Obama could be considered “successful” even if he hadn’t made the various mistakes — in governance and the politics of politics — that he did.  His presidency began at a time not only of unprecedented polarization in Congress and the country but also at a moment in which a president’s ability to bend the country to his will had reached a low ebb.

The complete article gets no better, and dwells on excessive partisanship, modern 24/7 media and social media, etc.

This is hardly a new theme, but as I say it always seems to arise when Democratic presidents get in trouble, and because it is a basic rule that no facts can be inconvenient for liberalism, it is necessary to recur to the old standby that the American presidency is just gosh darn too hard for anyone to perform adequately.  This is usually followed by suggestions that what the president needs is—wait for it!—more power.  How convenient.

Harken back to 1980, and an excerpt from my Age of Reagan:

The popular historian Barbara Tuchman expressed the thinking of the intellectual elite: “The job of President is too difficult for any single person because of the complexity of the problems and the size of government.  Maybe some form of plural executive is needed, such as they have in Switzerland.” U.S. News and World Report wondered: “Perhaps the burdens have become so great that, over time, no President will be judged adequate in the eyes of most voters.” Columnist Joseph Kraft wrote on election eve: “As the country goes to the polls in the 47th national election, the Presidency as an institution is in trouble.  It has become, as Vice President Mondale said in a recent interview, the ‘fire hydrant of the nation.’”  Newsweek echoed this sentiment: “The Presidency has in some measure defeated the last five men who have held it—and has persuaded some of the people who served them that it is in danger of becoming a game nobody can win. . . the job as now constituted is or is becoming impossible, no matter who holds it.”

Political scientist Theodore Lowi concurred: “The presidency has become an impossible job. . . because the presidency has become too big, even for the likes of FDR.” Elsewhere Lowi wrote that “The probability of [presidential] failure is always tending toward 100 percent.”  James MacGregor Burns, author of The Deadlock of Democracy, wrote: “The greatest problem of America in modern times is the despair and disillusion of thoughtful people with the apparent incapacity to solve our problems under and antiquated governmental system, booby-trapped with vetoes, and a purposely designed self-limiting division of power.” Everett Carll Ladd wrote in Fortune magazine that “The experience of recent years strongly suggests that personal ability and character, while vitally important, are insufficient to assure success to a contemporary presidency.  For the institutional setting quite simply has become adverse.  A kind of ‘vicious circle’ of declining performance has been initiated.”  The big question, for Ladd, was: “Can anybody do it?”  Surveying the field of candidates who wanted to succeed Jimmy Carter, Ladd thought not, and worried about the implications: “The consequences of yet one more failure in this unique office would impose appalling stress on the whole political system.” Like Tuchman, Ladd thought the office was no longer equal to the times.  “The institutional resources available to the President, relative to what he is expected to do, remain seriously deficient.”

People stopped saying this about halfway through Reagan’s presidency.  Maybe there’s a substantive reason for that.  Notice how all the elite complaints about the problems of the presidency always abstract from the substantive views and actions of the occupant.  The possibility that maybe we have a crappy president never seems to enter into consideration.

And remember this operating rule: Pay no attention to elite liberals when they trot out their complaints about the inadequacy of our constitutional republic, and their suggestions for reform that always, by some strange coincidence, would increase their influence in the corridors of power.

UPDATE: Brit Hume made a nice shout out for this post on the Kelly File on Fox News tonight.  Watch the segment here.

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