Obama's Negative Force Field
The bad vibe around ObamaCare's meltdown is the president's own making.
By Daniel Henninger, WSJ Opinion, November 7, 2013
The cruise ship called the USS Obama has hit the rocks. It won't sink, but the captain never expected to be taking on this much water. The insertion of ObamaCare into American life was supposed to be a breezy, second-term victory lap. It isn't.
Gallup has the president's approval rating down to 40%. Ken Cuccinelli almost won Virginia's governorship by pummeling ObamaCare.
The Affordable Care Act is in such disrepair that the heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Dianne Feinstein of California and Mike Rogers of Michigan, said Sunday it should be taken offline so the software techs can safely approach the cooling towers.
The daily TV comedian poll has been brutal, teeing up ObamaCare like a day at the driving range.
All presidencies pass through some crucible. What is striking about the Obama trial by ordeal is how little genuine support Mr. Obama is receiving from his side or the public. The normal operational phrase under these circumstances is "circle the wagons." If so, what does one call the spectacle of New York Senator Chuck Schumer seizing the moment to nominate Hillary Clinton for president? Ouch.
Some would say Mr. Obama's ever-aloof personality was unsuited to creating the hard shell of Washington support needed if the roof starts falling in, which it has. Mr. Obama's famous (and self-admitted) standoffishness is of a piece with what is also now being called the problem of the bystander presidency. While others inside the administration's fort were taking bullets for ObamaCare, Benghazi, the IRS scandal or NSA spying, Mr. Obama was always reported by his aides to be so far from the front lines that he only found out about these problems after the carrier pigeons arrived. Beyond the campaign organization, Team Obama has never looked like a band of brothers.
Leaving loyalists to bleed on the battlefield isn't unique to this presidency or this party. And the Obama inner circle might ask: So what? How much has it hurt them? Unless Mr. Obama's approval numbers submerge completely, Democrats won't leave the ship (though at-risk 2014 Senate Democrats Landrieu, Pryor and Begich have been seen rummaging for life vests).
By tradition, the office of the U.S. presidency is one of the world's most durable political institutions. Bill Clinton survived impeachment and Ronald Reagan weathered Iran-Contra. They emerged and even flourished.
But this hasn't been a traditional presidency. Mr. Obama insisted on a higher bar. He said he would be different, that he wouldn't be part of the "politics as usual" in Washington. From the beginning, Mr. Obama said he was first of all about hope, and then change.
Hope may be the most totally positive, good-vibe idea that exists. But what has been striking about Mr. Obama is how relentlessly negative he has been in selling his notion of hope.
In February 2010, he invited Republicans to a health-care summit at Blair House to hear their ideas on reform, listened—and rejected all of them, passing ObamaCare with no GOP votes. The White House carped in the Washington Post on Sunday that the GOP has been waiting for years to pounce on any ObamaCare glitch. Ah, those shrewd Washington Republicans.
Dodd-Frank passed after the president waged what can only be called a long jihad against bankers, Wall Street and "the wealthiest," defined as people with pre-tax incomes above $250,000.
From the earliest days of the presidency, the dynamic seemed to be that none of the hope he wanted to achieve could happen unless somebody else was taken down.
Instead of the positive, even healing, presence voters expected in 2008, Barack Obama has become a one-man negative force field. He shoots out negative vibes not merely by force of personality, but because that's his default political strategy. The game plan has always been diminish the opposition, and then divide and conquer. Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, because just now it's looking more like divide and founder.
The coverage of the ObamaCare meltdown invokes memories of what happened to Richard Nixon during Watergate. The almost daily front-page bombshells about Watergate turned into an irresistible, bipartisan blood sport. As with Nixon, it's hard to detect any personal sympathy for Mr. Obama's plight. What loyalty he's getting is strictly pro forma.
National politics today operates in an atmosphere of antipathy and mistrust. Mr. Obama has contributed to that mood. It's hard to overstate the intensity of political division in the U.S. now. From Congress to Main Street, the two sides just don't like each other. And that's in no small part because the president, in speech after speech, gave voters reasons to dislike each other. Little wonder that the public mood is that the ObamaCare train wreck is his problem.
Barack Obama may yet survive this ordeal, and he can still roll out his personal enforcement hammers at Justice, EPA and Labor. But it's becoming difficult to see how this American presidency will achieve historic stature in its last three years.