After observing President Obama for the last three years, it has become obvious to me that the president might prefer to be a university professor rather than do the job he holds today. While he might not realize that he feels this way, the evidence is very clear to those who work with or watch him closely.
Let me be clear — I’m not trying to disparage professors. But anyone who wonders why the president is not crushing the weak Republican field only needs to examine how President Obama has behaved more like Professor Obama:
In the president’s first year in office, his administration suffered from what I call “idea disease.” Every week, and sometimes almost every day, the administration rolled out a new program for the country. There was no obvious prioritization and, after the rollout, very little effort to actually pass the latest idea/imperative/plan/edict. Instead, the new programs just kept coming, with the new proposals constantly stepping on the previous day’s message. This rampant “idea disease” squandered the tremendous goodwill generated by the Obama campaign’s message of “hope,” tainting the president’s personal appeal. As Democrats in Congress, we often felt like we were drinking water out of a fire hose, trying to simultaneously deal with past failures of the Bush administration and the avalanche of new initiatives from Obama. This lack of focus also made it easy for congressional Republicans to stall and foil many of President Obama’s best initiatives — which they did with relish!
‘I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG’
Early in his administration, President/Professor Obama repeatedly referred to “teaching moments.” He would admonish staff, members of Congress and the public, in speeches and in private, about what they could learn from him. Rather than the ideological or corrupt “I’m above the law” attitudes of some past administrations, President Obama projected an arrogant “I’m right, you’re wrong” demeanor that alienated many potential allies. Furthermore, the president concentrated power within the White House, leaving Cabinet members with no other option but to dutifully carry out policies with which they had limited input in crafting and might very well disagree. From my experience, this was especially true in the environmental, resources, housing and employment areas. Not by coincidence, these areas have also been responsible for much of the president’s harshest critiques.
LECTURES vs. LISTENING
One former administration official told me directly that the people in the White House “NEVER TALK TO REAL PEOPLE.” Another former Obama staffer confided to me that it was clear to him that the president didn’t mind giving speeches (lectures), but really avoided personal contact with members of Congress and folks outside the Beltway. “He doesn’t seem to derive energy from spending time with regular people the way Clinton did. He rallies to give speeches for the big crowds, but avoids individual contact,” the former staffer recalled. This “arms-length” attitude extends to top decision-makers in the president’s administration. A senior housing official recently told me that, despite the fact that he was responsible for crafting policies to stem the foreclosure crisis, he had personally never met with a homeowner who had been foreclosed on.
The president’s disinterest in input from those outside his inner circle is costing him many wasted opportunities. Recently, a senator told me Obama went to his/her state, but issued an invitation for the senator to attend the event only the day before. “I represent a must-win state and lead the president in approval ratings by nearly 20 points. He was totally off-message for what my people wanted to hear. Doesn’t the White House get it? I don’t need him, he needs ME!”
Many on the Democratic side wish Hillary Clinton, Gov. Jerry Brown (Calif.), Gov. Martin O’Malley (Md.) or Gov. Andrew Cuomo (N.Y.) were running instead, but the president still has time to learn a thing or two from these skilled politicians. I’ll still take Professor Obama over the “goat rodeo clowns” the Republican field offers, but I fear the overall student body — American voters — will give him a failing grade next November if he doesn’t improve his performance