The Self-Marginalization of Barack Obama

(Article first published as The Self-Marginalization of Barack Obama on Blogcritics.) With each passing challenge, Barack Obama gets smaller and smaller. The limited role he’s defined for himself over the past three and one-half years has turned him into the incredible shrinking president. The latest example may be the one that finally makes him disappear altogether. Will history mark John Boehner’s departure from the debt ceiling negotiation table on Friday night as the effective end of the Obama presidency? Historians aren’t always an agreeable bunch, of course, but, in the full context of his performance as commander-in-chief, that verdict isn’t unrealistic.

We’re not talking about Obama’s failures to keep his 2008 campaign promises, although there have been a whole passel of them. Political promises go unfulfilled so often that only the most naïve among us give them much credence. When we do, shame on us. About the most promises can do is set the tenor of things to come especially when, as in Obama’s case, there’s no record to examine.

We’re talking about Obama’s persistent refusal to lead. When times get tough, he fades into the background, preferring to let anyone else take point even if it means leaving an authority vacuum. If he does appear, it’s most often to chastise and harangue, usually Republicans, but, occasionally, his own Party members.

If not steeped in leadership, how does Obama occupy his time? He’s been busy elevating himself above the process of government, demanding that those beneath him offer up solutions that meet with his approval. By now he’s so far above everyone else, he’s practically invisible. Just look at three examples: Obamacare, the Gulf Oil Spill and the Libyan War.

In the case of his healthcare gem, the President hung back so long during negotiations that they turned into a special interest nightmare for Democrats. The Gulf Oil Spill earned Obama the lowest approval rating of his presidency to that point in time.  The knock was, yes, the inability to handle a crisis.

The Libyan War, problematic for the President from the outset, has degenerated into a protracted morass. But, we can always blame our allies since we’ve conveniently taken one step backward in that conflict. If a bad guy refuses to fall, a fall guy isn’t bad.

What motivates Obama’s non-leadership style? He can’t possibly think, after 30 months in the White House, that self-righteous tongue-lashings are effective. Most people believe he’s just bowing to his base on the left. But, if that’s it, it’s not working. Last week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) announced his preference for Obama to run opposed in next year’s presidential primaries. According to Sanders, the President has betrayed his supporters and they deserve an option.

So, why doesn’t Obama lead? There aren’t a lot of choices. Perhaps he doesn’t know how. Or maybe he thinks leadership carries too much political risk. Or, possibly, he sees it as a clever way to throw mud without being hit by any. In a tally sheet somewhere, the answer probably matters, but for those of us on terra firma it doesn’t really. Ignorance and cowardice in this context yield the same result.

Take, for example, his refusal to deal with the walloping national debt in a meaningful way. Since the report issued in December 2010, Obama has failed to endorse any of his own debt commission’s recommendations on how to reduce it.

In February of this year, the President proposed trimming the $14 trillion red monster by a miniscule $400 billion over 10 years. The offering was so ridiculous that the Democrat controlled Senate rejected it by a vote of 97 – 0. His much-ballyhooed budget framework speech in April was so lacking in specifics that the independent Congressional Budget Office couldn’t rate it. Perched precariously on the eve of destruction, his latest plan is to attack those put forth by Republicans.

When the bombastic, self-serving rhetoric is stripped away, only the blinding arrogance of Obama’s dogmatic ideology remains. And that’s just not enough to keep him visible, let alone viable. He’s put himself out of sight, out of mind and, hopefully, out of a job.

See you in the mirror.