Passive-negative types are in politics because they think they ought to be. They may be well adapted to certain nonpolitical roles, but they lack the experience and flexibility to performeffectively as political leaders. Their tendency is to withdraw, to escape from the conflict and uncertainty of politics by emphasizing vague principles (especially prohibitions) and procedural arrangements. They become guardians of the right and proper way, above the sordid politicking of lesser men."
But this quality, perhaps Obama’s greatest strength in gaining office, is his greatest weakness in conducting it. And as he ends the first year of his second term, that weakness seems to dog him—and to matter—more and more. At a time when the abrasions of office leave any president most in need of friends, Obama is the capital’s Lonely Guy.
Obama’s self-evident isolation has another effect: It tends to insulate him from engagement in the management of his own administration. The latest round of “what did the president know and when did he know it” on the disastrous rollout of Obamacare and the tapping of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone raised troubling questions: Were Obama’s aides too afraid to tell him? Was he too detached to ask? Or both? At the least, such glaring failures cast fresh doubt on Obama’s invariable assurance to those around him in times of trouble: “I got this.”
The structural partisan realities of modern American politics are such that no one believes that Obama could really do himself any good by inviting John Boehner to share even a magnum of his favorite Merlot, if only because the recent government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis showed that Boehner can barely control his own hotheaded Republican caucus, much less strike a binding bipartisan deal with the White House. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine that Obama did not do himself at least some real harm in September by abruptly canceling the annual congressional picnic at the White House—which had already been postponed from June—on the grounds that members would be too busy considering the president’s request for authority to use force in Syria. The rain check was delivered in a terse, graceless, 53-word e-mail to Capitol Hill offices, announcing that “[t]he President and Mrs. Obama look forward to welcoming Members of Congress and their immediate families at the Congressional Holiday Ball in December.” Immediate families. Such a friendly, legalistic ring.