As President Obama goes to Capitol Hill for his State of the Union address he is telling the world he is fed up with Congress — the paralysis and the GOP obstruction — but his anger is secondary to signs that he is a demoralized lame duck.
The president all but confirms this sad-eyed portrait when he is quoted as saying that after five years in the White House he feels as helpless as a “relay swimmer in a river full of rapids and that river is history.” Poor Barack.
Later he continues his “one man in a little boat lost in the endless sea” analogy by saying he has tried to move forward but he is thwarted by having to “take into account winds and currents and occasionally the lack of any wind, so that you’re just sitting there for awhile and sometimes you’re being blown all over the place.”
That sounds like he is talking about his dealings with Congress.
Robert Caro, the historian best known for his multi-volume biography of President Johnson, enters the magazine story in a telling encounter with Obama. Caro’s books feature stories of Johnson both as senator and president using pressure tactics to get legislation through Congress in the face of large forces swirling around him, from racial segregation to a distant, unpopular war.
After sensing Obama being cool toward him, Caro feels he has to apologize to the current Democrat in the White House for inviting comparisons of Obama’s governing style to Johnson’s overbearing but winning tactics.
To Americans who have twice elected him as president — especially voters on the left who hunger for a fighter to take on the Tea Party extremists on the right — the headline out of the story is that the president is a frustrated man.
What happened to the inspirational candidate of 2008 who confidently told people that history will record his victorious run for president as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal?”
Where is the fighter who proudly stood up to divisive forces opposed to a liberal on healthcare and said he won the election?
There is no answer from the president these days other than pointing to harsh treatment at the hands of Republicans.
But there is a chance for success on Capitol Hill if the president gets back in the game.
Remember, Mr. President, Congress and especially congressional Republicans have far lower approval ratings than you do.
On issues from income inequality to immigration reform and reasonable limits on the sale of guns — the bold progressive reforms the president laid out in his second inaugural address and his 2013 State of the Union — the Democrat has strong public support in polls, including agreement from a majority of Republicans.
Yes, the president faces relentless obstructionism from Republicans in Congress. They’ve presented him with a record number of filibusters and displayed outright refusal to negotiate, much less compromise on the issues.
Backing down, pleading for mercy from the Tea Party caucus, will do nothing to advance his political agenda. The way to win is to get busy, get angry and show some grit.
As William Galston of the Brookings Institution wrote in a column in the Wall Street Journal last week, there are several policy proposals on key issues now sitting in Congress that provide the president with the opportunity to pass legislation with bipartisan majorities. Those issues include a public-private partnership for rebuilding infrastructure (which would self-evidently also create jobs), reform of the tax code and comprehensive immigration reform.
On all those issues, there are some Republicans willing to work with him.
Why not get off the mat and fight, shame politicians who refuse to consider good ideas by calling them out, and let voters know some Republicans are more concerned with being the darling of right-wing talk show hosts than with doing what is right for the nation?
Get up and say that out loud.
Get up and say that all the critics who complain about big government are ignoring that the government today has the fewest employees in nearly half a century even though the nation is a third bigger; tell the critics that government spending as a percentage of the economy is near the lowest it has been under any president in the last 30 years; speak with pride about the drive to give every American decent healthcare.
Look, if his opponents are going to hate him for being a successful liberal in two presidential elections, Obama might as well use his powerful pulpit to put up a good fight for what most Americans believe needs to be done.
My dad trained professional fighters. He liked to tell them fear is like fire. It can burn your house down, but if you take control it can keep you warm, cook your food and show you the way to victory.
Time to start your fire, Mr. President.
Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.