Bob Woodward knows a failed president when he sees one. The man who was instrumental in bringing down Richard Nixon has now covered eight presidents for the Washington Post while writing more than a dozen books about them.
Which is what makes the final verdict he renders on President Obama in his new book, “The Price of Politics,” so damning. Woodward writes, “It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition. But presidents work their will — or should work their will — on the important matters of national business. … Obama has not.”
Over the course of almost 450 pages, Woodward depicts Obama as an arrogant, aloof and hyperpartisan president who manages to either alienate or disappoint everybody he needs to help govern Washington.
One of the first scenes Woodward recounts is a meeting at the White House where Obama invited House Republicans over to talk about the stimulus. After then-Minority Whip Eric Cantor distributed a five-point Republican stimulus plan that differed from Obama’s tax plan, Obama told Cantor, “I can go it alone. … Look at the polls. The polls are pretty good for me right now. Elections have consequences. And Eric, I won. So on that, I think I trump you.”
Later, after the Democrats drafted a stimulus bill that contained zero Republican ideas, Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put Obama’s position on bipartisanship a bit more succinctly, “We have the votes. F–k ‘em.”
Obama’s tone changed, of course, after the “shellacking” the American people gave him during the 2010 elections. But even when he knew he needed Republican votes to govern, Obama could not help but stereotype and lecture the other party. He confidently told his staff he could roll newly minted House Speaker John Boehner because, “He’s a golf-playing, cigarette-smoking, country-club Republican who makes deals. He is very familiar to me.”
Boehner did try — very hard, in fact — to make a deal with Obama on the debt limit. But it was amateur hour at the White House at every turn. At one point in the negotiations, Obama insisted on dragging every congressional leader to the White House for daily meetings until the crisis was solved. The veteran hill staffers thought this was a clear sign that “the president simply didn’t understand how Congress works and didn’t know how to negotiate.”
“Boehner,” Woodward writes, “hated going down to the White House to listen to what amounted to presidential lectures.”
And congressional Republicans weren’t the only ones disappointed in Obama’s leadership. After Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., became so disillusioned with Obama’s handling of the crisis that they eventually cut their own deal with Boehner, Woodward writes that Obama had essentially been “voted off the island in his own house.”
As a result of Obama’s bumbling, Woodward concludes, “The mission of stabilizing and improving the economy is incomplete. First, the short-term federal fiscal problem has not been solved. Instead it has been pushed off to the future, leaving the United States facing what is now called the fiscal cliff. … Second, the long-term problem of unsustainable entitlement spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, highlighted by Republican House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and familiar to all informed politicians and economists including the president … has been left largely unaddressed.”