No Bully In The Pulpit: After Gun Control Failure, Maureen Dowd Says Obama ‘Still Has Not Learned How To Govern’

For all the confused debate over the meaning of the climate bill’s failure, the most salient lesson for climate hawks is that Obama is not “the one.”

Obama isn’t the Winston Churchill that this nation — and indeed all of humanity — so desperately need if we are to avoid a catastrophic 7°F warming, let alone the unimaginable 11°F warming we are currently headed toward.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd makes that key point about the gun control failure in her tough Sunday piece, “No Bully in the Pulpit”:

President Obama has watched the blood-dimmed tide drowning the ceremony of innocence, as Yeats wrote, and he has learned how to emotionally connect with Americans in searing moments, as he did from the White House late Friday night after the second bombing suspect was apprehended in Boston.

Unfortunately, he still has not learned how to govern.

Obama talks the talk, but he doesn’t walk the walk, or, rather, he doesn’t twist the wrist, as Dowd details in her piece:

How is it that the president won the argument on gun safety with the public and lost the vote in the Senate? It’s because he doesn’t know how to work the system. And it’s clear now that he doesn’t want to learn, or to even hire some clever people who can tell him how to do it or do it for him.

It’s unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate. It was a glaring example of his weakness in using leverage to get what he wants. No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him….

The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in “The American President.” Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling….

Sometimes you must leave the high road and fetch your brass knuckles. Obama should have called Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota over to the Oval Office and put on the squeeze: “Heidi, you’re brand new and you’re going to have a long career. You work with us, we’ll work with you. Public opinion is moving fast on this issue. The reason you get a six-year term is so you can have the guts to make tough votes. This is a totally defensible bill back home. It’s about background checks, nothing to do with access to guns. Heidi, you’re a mother. Think of those little kids dying in schoolrooms.”

Obama had to persuade some Republican senators in states that he won in 2012. He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this….

Couldn’t the president have given his Rose Garden speech about the “shameful” actions in Washington before the vote rather than after?

There were ways to get to 60 votes. The White House just had to scratch it out with a real strategy and a never-let-go attitude.

Obama, of course, didn’t do either the speechmaking or wrist-twisting for the climate bill.

He never kept Democratic Senators in line for the climate bill. He never made clear there was definitely going to be a vote on the bill, as they knew there would be for health care. This allowed moderate Democrats to publicly bad-mouth the bill and say that there was no path to 60 votes, which essentially sent the message to moderate Republicans crucial to the bill’s passage that they would be taking a massive political risk supporting any bill.


He never forced a vote at all in the Senate, never framed the issue for moderate Republicans (and moderate Democrats) as the most important vote of their careers — a historic vote that would determine their legacy for all time. But then apparently Obama has failed to realize climate change will determine his legacy for all time (see “Obama Wins Reelection, Now Must Become A Climate Hawk To Avoid Dust-Bin Of History, Dust Bowl For America”).

Indeed, on climate, Obama never gave one single major national speech on the most important issue of our time. He even muzzled his Cabinet and Administration from talking about climate. Worse, the Obama White House insisted on a communications strategy for everyone involved in pushing the climate bill that rejected any talk about the problem the climate bill was designed to address — see “The Sounds Of Silence: Team Obama Launched The Inane Strategy Of Downplaying Climate Change Back In March 2009.”

Finally, after his reelection, Obama has started making some (relatively brief) national comments on climate. In his State of the Union address, he vowed, “If Congress Won’t Act Soon To Protect Future Generations, I Will.” His decision on the Keystone XL pipeline this summer will make clear whether even that pledge is true.

Dowd’s bottom line:

President Obama thinks he can use emotion to bring pressure on Congress. But that’s not how adults with power respond to things. He chooses not to get down in the weeds and pretend he values the stroking and other little things that matter to lawmakers.

After the Newtown massacre, he and his aides hashed it out and decided he would look cold and unsympathetic if he didn’t push for some new regulations. To thunderous applause at the State of the Union, the president said, “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” Then, as usual, he took his foot off the gas, lost momentum and confided his pessimism to journalists.

The White House had a defeatist mantra: This is tough. We need to do it. But we’re probably going to lose.

When you go into a fight saying you’re probably going to lose, you’re probably going to lose….

Obama hates selling. He thinks people should just accept the right thing to do. But as Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, noted, senators have their own tough selling job to do back home. “In the end you can really believe in something,” he told The Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer, “but you have to go sell it.”

The president said the Newtown families deserved a vote. But he was setting his sights too low. They deserved a law.

And what do all of our families and indeed all future generations deserve?

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