There is no question that President Barack Obama is a money magnet for Democrats on the campaign trail this election season. The smiles of both Democrats and Republicans broaden considerably whenever they hear the click of coins tumbling into their campaign coffers. Vice President Joe Biden recently visited Connecticut to boost the financial prospects of Governor Dannel Malloy and assorted Democrats. All Democrats in the state were pleased to see him come and go. Sharp-eyed Democrats, however, could not help but notice, to vary a phrase used effectively by Lloyd Bentsen in his 1988 Vice Presidential contest with Dan Quayle, that Biden is no Obama.
Recent polls indicated that former Republican Party presidential nominee Mitt Romney is more popular than Mr. Obama, and the grumblings within Democratic Party ranks are ominous. The New York Times has reported that Speaker of the U.S. Senate Harry Reid, “and other senators have been dismayed by President Obama’s attitude toward concerns of Democrats.” Gone are the days when all Democrats who had hoped to ride the Obama coattails into office uncomplainingly walked the plank.
Congressional bigwigs and the President had come together in June to discuss “the unraveling situation in Iraq.” Since June, the situation has unraveled further. Mr. Reid, a little off subject, was grousing that Senate Republicans, among them Mitch McConnell, then sitting within glaring distance of Mr. Reid, were “spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.”
Mr. Obama, according to the Times report “quickly dismissed the matter. ‘You and Mitch work it out,’ Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.”
The abrupt rebuff caused Mr. Reid to seeth “quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it.”
Mr. Reid’s frequent seething bouts usually produce an explosion somewhere down the line. Returning to the Capitol, Mr. Reid confided to his staff and other senators his astonishment at Mr. Obama’s evident “disengagement.”
The Times probed other Democratic senators and found “nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama’s approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.”
Even U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, noted in Connecticut for his frequent media smooge sessions, offered, no doubt with a twinge of regret, a soupcon of criticism.
Other Congressional Democrats, the Times noted, could point to only four social events hosted by Mr. Obama for Democrats this year, while Mr. Obama had extended “250 invitations to members of Congress for bill signings so far this year.”
Mr. Blumenthal, referring to the number of times he has been to the White House since he took office in 2011 and to the large and impersonal nature of the events, remarked, “I can count them on both hands, and they’re big. It’s more the interaction that I think has been somewhat lacking — the personal.”
All politics is personal. During his first term in office, Mr. Obama did not shrink from requiring his Democratic congressional supporters from taking this or that bullet to advance HIS causes. There is a problem in forging more or less permanent personal relationships among presidents and congressional supporters. A political obligation is a sword that cuts both ways. Congressmen who have risked their political futures to satisfy the demands of their president expect such favors to be returned in the same coin.
“Disengagement,” as the term is commonly understood by political warhorses such as Mr. Reid or Mr. Blumenthal, indicates a short circuit in the hotline attaching the legislative and executive departments. And this kind of detachment is understandably worrying for those who have walked the plank and now find themselves staring into shark infested waters.
Executive disengagement breeds legislative disengagement. Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, will be up for re-election in two years – plenty of time for both to step away from programs they, as faithful progressives, have thus far heartily supported. Even now, Hillary Clinton, whose unannounced candidacy for president in 2016 Mr. Blumenthal warmly supports, appears to be retreating from the plank. In due course, Mr. Blumenthal may be expected to follow in her footsteps.