Barack Obama, the Lamest Duck in Washington

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Earlier today Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about our suddenly lame-duck president. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Ramesh: President Barack Obama's job-approval numbers have been dropping all year. His preferred nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, Lawrence Summers, had to withdraw because Senate Democrats opposed him -- an intra-party revolt reminiscent of the one that killed Harriet Miers's nomination to the Supreme Court in 2005. He was clearly headed for a defeat on the Syria resolution and essentially had to withdraw it too -- even though presidents usually don't lose congressional votes on war authorizations. Is the president now a lame duck, Margaret?

Margaret: If not a lame duck, he certainly isn't roaring like a lion. On Larry Summers (and earlier Susan Rice), I'm so happy not to be Obama's friend and a non-nominee for a big job in his White House. Imagine the pain an ambitious and already accomplished person must feel to voluntarily pull out of the running for a job that you got the Big Mention for from the Biggest Mentioner of All. Imagine you were left twisting in the wind without so much as a phone call from Obama to a few friendly senators. If Obama wanted Larry Summers, why didn't he work the Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee? The hurdle was large but not insurmountable. Some people want a genius for the Fed even if he doesn't play nice or tuck in his shirt. On Syria, he dithered his way into a way out. Now Vladimir Putin, who before the gassing in Damascus looked like he was only interested in riding shirtless in the countryside, is the statesmen we're all counting on. Then Obama proceeds to tack on a partisan speech to his expression of grief over the mass shooting at the Navy Yard. Our baseball team did a better job by putting a sign on its website cancelling the day's game "Postponed: Tragedy." What keeps Obama from lame-duckness is the Republican Party with its cockamamie idea to link defunding Obamacare to a government shutdown. Are they crazy?

Ramesh: Almost all House Republicans would like to fund the government without funding Obamacare. Only a minority of them think that they would win a confrontation over the issue centered on a government shutdown. That minority may yet get its way though. Obama has got to be hoping it does, because he needs to make a comeback.

Margaret: Speaker John Boehner is so resilient. He walks into his caucus thinking he can speak reality to his right-wing members to keep the government open two weeks from now. He hoped to reason with his 40 or so Armageddonist conservatives by separating the defunding from the continuing resolution. No dice. And it's only a CR Boehner's trying to get through, just funding for two months. Think of a morbidly obese child. The dad is not putting him on a 1,000 calorie-a-day diet. He's just asking the kid to pass up one hot-fudge sundae. But Boehner can't talk them out of it. He and Obama should have a beer (or Merlot) summit, maybe sneak a cigarette and comfort each other as shepherds whose flocks don't want to follow them.

Ramesh: Boehner might not feel like commiserating with Obama right now. After Boehner and Eric Cantor stuck their necks out for the president's Syria policy -- against the sentiment in their party and the country -- the president didn't bother to call them, or even have someone call them, when he dropped the Syria resolution. That seems to me like Politics 101, and even Paul Begala has criticized Obama for it. Maybe Boehner should get that drink with Summers instead.

Margaret: They'll need a bigger bar if it contains all those who've been hurt by Obama's remarkable resistance to picking up the phone. A Democratic senator explained Obama's aloof behavior as the result of not having to climb the slippery pole of politics but arriving at the top without slapping a back or twisting an arm. It's all dirty to him. I'm alarmed by the lack of movement on the part of gun-control advocates -- with the Newtown families swarming the Hill -- to take up the Manchin-Toomey bill again. The only movement I've seen is that Starbucks won't be serving up concealed weapons with its iced-grande-half-caf-soy-pumpkin-spice-lattes. Prior to Monday's shooting, in those states which had open and concealed-carry laws, you could pack heat while downing your overpriced coffee. That's progress, one cup at a time.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net
Ramesh Ponnuru at rponnuru@bloomberg.net