With the president now in full campaign mode, he appears a little more energetic than he has in his past few months in office. Perhaps, it’s that he prefers campaign mode to governing, more comfortable attending fundraisers with adoring fans than laboring at compromises with principled, political adversaries. But, that craft of compromising happens to be part of his job description, particularly since Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives last fall.
Indeed, except for the speech-giving part of that job, Obama doesn’t seem much to care for his job, but he sure likes the title. At the fundraisers in which he delights, he can more readily speak in broad generalities, offering his amorphous vision of change (while often attacking his ideological adversaries, misrepresenting the nature of their criticism and distorting their policies) and exult in the adoration of his wealthy supporters.
Gardiner is a clueless gardener who is mistaken for a Washington eminence and becomes a presidential adviser. Asked if you can stimulate growth through temporary incentives, Gardiner says, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well and all will be well in the garden.” “First comes the spring and summer,” he explains, “but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.” The president is awed as Gardiner sums up, “There will be growth in the spring.”
As that fictional president was awed by Gardiner’s bromides, so are Obama’s supporters awed by his. But, unlike Gardiner who did not seek to offer his empty rhetoric to powerful people, Obama does seek audiences for his well-delivered, but vague vision of change.
The president doe delight in the opportunities his job affords to give speeches, but otherwise seems put upon when forced to take on the real responsibilities of his job, like put forward a plan to reform Medicare when its trustees warn of the popular program’s coming insolvency or provide an alternative budget, given that not a single Senator voted for his (even though the Senate contains 51 members of his political party and two independents who caucus with said party).
When House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) asked Congressional Budget Office director Doug Elmendorf if he had “estimated the budget impact of” the “new budget framework” the president provided in his April 13 budget speech, the Democratic appointee (Elmendorf) provided a succinct policy analysis of Obama’s manner of governing, “No, Mr. Chairman. We don’t estimate speeches.”
On the budget, the president offers a speech. but not a policy proposal. It seems the story of his political life, give a speech with high-minded rhetoric and noble-sounding generalities about the goals of public policy, yet without accompanying legislation (designed) to achieve those noble goals.
He has left it to Congress to write the budget, while his campaign demonizes Republicans who have made the “tough choices” he touts rhetorically, but never makes himself. Recall that he left it to his Democratic allies in Congress to write the signature initiatives of the first part of his term, the “stimulus,” the health care overhaul and even the Wall Street reform legislation.
In short, it seems, that Obama likes to give speeches, but he pretty much votes present on the other obligations of his office.