Norm Ornstein looks to dispel the notion that Obama’s agenda is stifled because the president lacks some certain, special, nameless something that forces enemies in Congress to do his bidding. For example, on the myth that arm-twisting is some kind of chief executive panacea:
On the gun-control vote in the Senate, the press has focused on the four apostate Democrats who voted against the Manchin-Toomey plan, and the unwillingness of the White House to play hardball with Democrat Mark Begich of Alaska. But even if Obama had bludgeoned Begich and his three colleagues to vote for the plan, the Democrats would still have fallen short of the 60 votes that are now the routine hurdle in the Senate—because 41 of 45 Republicans voted no. And as Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has said, several did so just to deny Obama a victory.
Indeed, the theme of presidential arm-twisting again ignores history. Clinton once taught Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama a lesson, cutting out jobs in Huntsville, Ala. That worked well enough that Shelby switched parties, joined the Republicans, and became a reliable vote against Clinton. George W. Bush and Karl Rove decided to teach Sen. Jim Jeffords a lesson, punishing dairy interests in Vermont. That worked even better—he switched to independent status and cost the Republicans their Senate majority. Myths are so much easier than reality.
Ornstein doesn’t absolve Obama of all failures, but does a service by throwing cold water on the idea that there is a magic spell, unique to denizens of the Oval Office, that Obama has neglected to cast.
Indeed, if you want to see an example of where Obama has really blown something, big time, take a look at Ryan Lizza’s piece on the failure of climate legislation from 2010. That initiative didn’t fall apart because Obama didn’t sufficiently schmooze or bully, but in large part because the president and the White House essentially stumbled all over themselves with wretchedly timed communication and inadvertent sabotaging of the efforts of John Kerry and others. But that’s nuanced, and requires reading something longer than a Buzzfeed post to get. And so we are where we are.