We’ve all acknowledged that we’re living in the era of the permanent campaign, but the general public is just catching onto the fact that, for Barack Obama, campaigning is the default setting.
Over the past several weeks, Obama has devoted his energy less to negotiating with House Republicans than to casting them as stubborn trolls bent on destroying the Nation via the sequester, a measure that Obama proposed in the first place.
The Sequestration Era is only a few days old but so far, it feels a lot like Y2K and the Mayan Apocalypse. In other words, almost nothing has changed.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who remembers the President’s dire warnings that our teachers and law enforcement agents would be furloughed, our flights grounded and our hospitals shuttered.
Now that the dust has settled, respected fact checkers across the spectrum are revealing that the parade of instant horrors promised by the White House never materialized.
Jay Carney’s claim that Capitol janitors would receive less take-home pay received an embarrassing “Four Pinocchios” from the Washington Post, and Obama’s own claim that sequestration would force federal prosecutors to “let criminals go” was rated “Mostly False” by PolitiFact.com.
In fact, the most noticeable sequester-related change in Washington has been the indefinite suspension of White House tours. (For the record, House Speaker John Boehner has said that tours of the US Capitol will continue as planned.)
So why did the President and his men cry wolf when they knew that their predictions were so far off base?
Because it’s easier than governing.
Barack Obama feels at home with the permanent campaign because it’s all he knows how to do. His meteoric rise up the American political ladder was the result of well-run campaigns armed with powerful messages, not substantive achievements as a legislator.
So why negotiate with Republicans when he could use his bully pulpit to damage their brand in advance of the 2014 midterm elections?
To their credit, Republicans called Obama’s bluff.
When the sequester passed and the Nation failed to descend into post-apocalyptic disorder, Americans caught onto the President’s ruse, and his approval rating took a hit. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed that 43% of voters approve of Obama's performance, down 7 points from just two weeks ago. The President took a 4-point hit in the Gallup Daily Tracking Poll over the same period.
The good news is that Obama seems to have gotten the message, at least for the moment, and has initiated a series of sit-downs with influential Senate Republicans.
Part of the reason for the sudden change of course is that his numbers are trending the wrong way. But maybe this is the beginning of a long sought-after “grand bargain” on taxation and entitlements that will put America on the path to a balanced budget.
That all depends on whether this President is willing to – and capable of – actually governing. We know that Obama can campaign. He’s one of the best campaigners in American political history. We’re about to find out if he can work alongside his political opposition to accomplish something meaningful. But if past is prologue, I wouldn’t bet on it.