President Obama is a man who does not respond well to criticism. He can’t even fake it. When Michael Jordan recently observed that Obama is a “shitty golfer,” to take just one small example, Obama responded in a Milwaukee radio interview that he gave to lend his magic touch to Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke the day before the midterm elections: “[T]here is no doubt that Michael is a better golfer than I am.” Obama couldn’t leave it at that: “Of course, if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case. You know, he might want to spend more time thinking about the Bobcats — or the [NBA’s Charlotte] Hornets.” (Jordan is part of the Hornets ownership group and the team if off to a poor start.)
This unfunny gibe wasn’t enough for Obama. He deepened his critique of Jordan: “I love the man, though. He brought [the Chicago Bulls] a lot of championships. He does like talking trash sometimes, even when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Obama’s sympathetic radio interviewer found this hilarious. The New York Daily News has posted the entire interview at the link. I’m embedding it below. You can check it out yourself.
I may be wrong about that example, but I’m not wrong about this one. Obama is seething with anger in response to the repudiation he and his policies received in the midterm elections. It comes through loud and clear in the press conference he held to address the results of the midterm elections (White House video below, White House transcript here, Washington Post transcript here). I can also say with certainty Obama rejected the good advice that Peggy Noonan offered him before the votes were counted. Nooon advised him to be gracious in defeat and gave him a good example. (The example was George W. Bush’s, and it was brilliant.) Sorry, but Obama doesn’t do gracious.
It understates matters considerably to say that Obama was not inclined to construe the results as a reflection on him and his policies. As he had when given the opportunity during the campaign, Obama reiterated the greatness of his record in office. He will generously accept the support of Republicans when they agree to advance his agenda: “I was encouraged that this year Republicans agreed to investments that expanded early childhood education. I think we’ve got a chance to do more on that front.” There’s always a chance to spend more on “early childhood education” and call it “investments.”
And not just “early childhood education,” of course. “We’ve got some common ideas to help more young people afford college and graduate without crippling debt, so that they have the freedom to fill the good jobs of tomorrow and buy their first homes and start a family.” It’s painful.
There won’t be any changes made: “[T]he fact is, I still believe in what I said when I was first elected six years ago last night.” I think he said something about fundamentally transforming the United States.
One form Obama’s anger takes is disparagement of the election results. “[T]o everyone who voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters who chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you, too.” In the radio interview above, Obama describes the nonvoters as those sitting at home on their couches. What does he hear them saying? They aren’t saying, and neither is Obama.
Obama’s reference to voter turnout goes back to an old left-wing theme I recall reading at the time of Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Some pundit observed that Reagan’s rout of Carter was illusory. Reagan had beaten Carter 51-41 in the popular vote and won an electoral college landslide, but only half of the voting age population had voted. Reagan had won half of that half and thus only received the votes of 25 percent of the voting age population. Despite appearances, Reagan had achieved an unimpressive victory that didn’t mean much of anything.
The first question at yesterday’s press conference was a good one: “You said during this election that while your name wasn’t on the ballot, your policies were. And despite the optimism that you’re expressing here, last night was a devastating night for your party. Given that, do you feel any responsibility to recalibrate your agenda for the next two years, and what changes do you need to make in your White House and in your dealings with Republicans in order to address the concerns that voters expressed with your administration?” Obama gave a winding answer that can be summarized as “no.”
In the course of the answer, he observed: “I’m the guy who’s elected by everybody, not just from a particular state or a particular district. And they want me to push hard to close some of these divisions, break through some of the gridlock, and get stuff done. So, the most important thing I can do is just get stuff done and help Congress get some things done.”
it turns out that what Obama “hears” is an echo of his reelection in 2012. When it comes to the historic results of the midterm elections just concluded, however, Obama is actually hard of hearing. The Framers set up the House as the people’s body, and the people have just sent an enhanced Republican majority to Congress based on their opposition to Obama’s leading policies.
Obama reminded his audience that he is president of the United States (we remember!) and reiterated his vow to take unilateral action to regularize the status of millions of illegal aliens. Enormous ingenuity has gone into this formulation: “[W]hat I’m not going to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that I have shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a bipartisan basis as much as possible. And I’m going to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s figure out what we can do lawfully though executive actions to improve the functioning of the existing system.” What he means to do is overcome the legal constraints of current law…but “lawfully,” of course.
In response to the follow-up question, Obama went on at length about his pending executive action to regularize illegal aliens. He’d prefer to do it the old-fashioned, constitutional way, in which Congress enacts a law. But if they won’t, he will. Put to one side the fabricated history here:
On immigration, I know that concerns have been expressed that, well, if you do something through executive actions, even if it’s within your own authorities, that that will make it harder to pass immigration reform. I just have to remind everybody, I’ve heard that argument now for a couple of years. This is an issue I actually wanted to get done in my first term. And we didn’t see legislative action.
And in my second term, I made it my top legislative priority. We got really good work done by a bipartisan group of senators, but it froze up in the House. And, you know, I think that the best way, if folks are serious about getting immigration reform done, is going ahead and passing a bill and getting it to my desk.
And then the executive actions that I take go away. They’re superseded by the law that is passed. And I will engage any member of Congress who’s interested in this in how we can shape legislation that will be a significant improvement over the existing system. But what we can’t do is just keep on waiting. There is a cost to waiting. There’s a cost to our economy. It means that resources are misallocated.
When the issue of unaccompanied children cropped up during this summer, there was a lot of folks who perceived this as a major crisis in our immigration system. Now, the fact is that those numbers have now come down and they’re approximately where they were a year ago or two years ago or a year before that.
But it did identify a real problem in a certain portion of the border where we’ve got to get more resources. But those resources may be misallocated separating families right now that most of us, most Americans would say probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes, pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line, but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal in this country.
So, where I’ve got executive authorities to do that, we should get started on that. But I want to emphasize once again, if in fact Republican leadership wants to see an immigration bill passed, they now have the capacity to pass it and hopefully engaging with me and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, it’s a bill that I can sign because it addresses the real concerns that are out there. And the sooner they do it, from my perspective, the better.
Congress is to provide him the law he wants to take the place of the unilateral executive action he intends to take. Obama claims he will limit his action to those within “executive authorities” (as construed by Eric Holder), but this is window dressing. It’s all very orderly. Except that it’s not the order established by the Constitution of the United States.