Shhh. The president is sleeping

By Keith Koffler
January 31, 2014

President Barack Obama is out of gas. Pooped out. Gone fishing. Or rather, golfing. He’s just not that into it anymore. The republic is safe from any further vast left-wing legislative prescriptions for our ills.

But Obama’s increasing job fatigue is, paradoxically, cause for serious concern. While he sits back, aides in the White House and in the agencies are busy enacting a stealth agenda of rules and regulations. And on the world stage, Washington’s withdrawal threatens national security.

The president on display at Tuesday’s State of the Union is one who has shrunk from the pretension of becoming a president on the order of Ronald Reagan or Franklin Roosevelt into the purveyor of a list of puny policies that tinker at the margins.

Instead of offering “fundamental change” and inspirational hope, Obama made increasing the minimum wage for federal contractors the centerpiece of this year’s address. The increasingly disinterested president even had trouble pronouncing the name of his other “big idea,” a limited savings vehicle the White House is calling a “MyRA.”

Major issues like debt, deficit and entitlements? Fuhgetaboutit, way too much bother.

Obama had entirely unremarkable tenures in both the Illinois and the U.S. Senate, angling almost immediately after entering each to move up. But now he has the same problem as lots of working stiffs. After five years in the same job, the thrill is gone — and the grunt work is to be avoided.

It’s not the State of the Union, but Obama’s recent golf excursion to Hawaii, that may serve as the template for the president’s proclaimed 2014 “year of action.”

Obama played nine times during his 15-day vacation. What’s more, in a not insignificant indication of where his mind is at, he golfed 46 times in 2013 — easily an annual record for him as president and more than twice the 19 times he went out in 2012, when there was the serious work of getting reelected to be done.

You will likely search in vain for a world leader who accomplished significant things in the same year he or she went golfing nearly four dozen times.

For some perspective, President George W. Bush, who was known as a golfer, played only 24 times in more than two and a half years as president before stopping in October 2003, because he felt it wasn’t appropriate to play during wartime, according to White House chronicler Mark Knoller of CBS News.

Obama and his advisers grieve to a sympathetic press that Republicans are to blame for the impasse in Congress. This even as “moderate Democrat” has become an oxymoron and the president touts his crowning left-wing achievement, Obamacare, which he jammed through Congress without convincing a single Republican — they can’t all be right-wing “extremists” — to vote for it.

A republic is intended to be a fractious form of government. Successful legislators, like Reagan and Bill Clinton, knew how to hold their own party’s ranks while picking off enough of the opposition to pass laws.

Obama was never particularly interested in building the relationships needed to curry favor, call in chits and twist arms. But now, he’s finished even pretending.

He’s not going through any halfhearted motions — like he did last year, when he took some Republicans to dinner in a widely celebrated “reaching out” offensive that ended almost immediately after it started. It’s not clear who Obama’s close friends are on Capitol Hill now, or if he even has any — on either side of the aisle.

As if to highlight the point, Obama recently brought back to the White House his former liaison to Congress, Phil Schiliro. But Schiliro won’t be trying to pass new legislation. He’ll be working on implementing the Affordable Care Act and beating back Republican attempts to undermine it.

Republicans are interpreting Obama’s vow to step up his use of executive orders as a play by a leftist president to undemocratically expand his power and unilaterally make policies he sees as inarguably enlightened. And they’re right.

But it’s also the default position of a tired president who would rather have his aides come up with a policy than grind out something more important and far-reaching on Capitol Hill.

So the hired help will do the work. An ever-vigorous John Podesta was brought in for at least a year, to see exactly how much legislation can be passed by the executive branch alone.

Podesta is the perfect person for this job. As a former White House chief of staff for Clinton, he knows how to move both the White House and the agencies. He also created the Center for American Progress, a politically astute left-wing think tank that can serve up endless helpings of ideas for regulatory action.

But Obama’s effeteness is even less reassuring when it comes to foreign policy — where benign neglect can look like a dangerous abdication of duty.

After failing to negotiate a U.S. military presence in Iraq, where al Qaeda is now snatching up real estate, Obama may be on course to do the same — or nearly the same — in Afghanistan.

Having avoided seriously taking a side in Syria, Obama has now ceded diplomatic ground there to the Russians and allowed the festering battleground to become a new magnet and training ground for jihadists of several stripes.

Most frightening is the possibility that Obama’s self-disengagement will lead to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Few have faith that Obama has the stomach for a war with Iran. He’s already dropped a longstanding U.S. demand, and acquiesced to a “peaceful” Iranian nuclear program. How can he be trusted not to embrace a flimsy final agreement that allows Iran to cheat its way into a nuclear weapon?

Republicans should not be reassured by the passive new Obama. Because while he’s sleeping, his aides at home and U.S. enemies abroad will be filling in for him.


PHOTO (TOP): President Barack Obama prepares to depart Andrews Air Force Base aboard Air Force One, in Maryland, January 29, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Barack Obama and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) talk during a round of golf at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, May 6, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


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Avoiding ad hominem, idiotic article… :-)

Posted by juggernaut | Report as abusive

I didn’t know pieces from Drudge got posted on Reuters…

If the author hadn’t noticed the deficit has gone from $1,400B in Bush’s last year to $250B this year, or from 9% to 1.6% of GDP – an 80% reduction. GDP Growth is forecast at 3.5% this year; effectively that is a DEBT reduction of 1.9% in the main metric of sovereign debt, debt:GDP.

Take a look at how Europe and China are struggling while America is back in 4th gear, and ditto-heads STILL insist on babbling about socialism and the destruction of America. If they pulled their collective heads out of the sand they might realize they’d like what they see after all!

And of course, everyone’s personal favourite, Obama is disengaged on foreign policy because he doesn’t want to have to invade Iran. What in God’s name is wrong with you people! I agree he could’ve been more active in the Syrian civil war, but any direct US involvement would have made Syria a nesting ground for al Qaida – as it is now all the al Qaida there are foreign ‘freedom fighters’. What I see is that he’s forcing Israel and Palestine towards an agreement, so far made peaceful progress on Iran’s nuclear program (the election of Rouhani being the biggest evidence of his influence), and did just enough in Libya and Egypt. Arguing that NOT honouring the formal wishes of the elected Iraqi govt was a mistake is folly. Afghanistan is still a problem only in the sense that it still is not fully controlled by any one group, like it never has been or possibly never will be. The Taliban couldn’t take over again if it tried; every assault they plan is a bloodbath for their ‘soldiers’ – they are reduced to suicide attacks and mining roads… hardly a control and conquer strategy.

I honestly can’t find one piece of intelligent or interesting reportage in this piece and it pains me to realize that tens of millions of Americans think it is the plain and obvious truth.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

This is the most straight-forward, accurate, and honest analysis of Obama’s performance that I’ve read in many months. Thank you, Keith, for nailing this guy down for us. The damage his attitude, as you describe it, may cause the U.S. in coming months is scary.

Let’s hope someone will come forward to take up the slack caused by Obama’s early retirement. Unfortunately, many House and Senate members are already out on the links, also.

Posted by Plinius | Report as abusive

So many people rushing to Obama’s defence… Where is Obama’s own defence? The author is only voicing what many people have been thinking! It’s not as though he is alone in pointing out how frequently the President goes golfing during major political crises!

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

He is still campaigning, though – 4 stops after the SOTU speech. And now prepping for a trip to Saudi Arabia. No word on getting out of Afghanistan yet. Iraq is in what most would consider a civil war. No progress on the Israel/Palestine talks.

There is just too much going on and he has to pick his battles – now it is the MyRA so the feds will have control of your savings.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

This author didn’t notice that the President condoned NSA spying on all citizens, whether or not we are suspected of any crime???

Posted by Oma | Report as abusive

Are you for real? What a piece of junk!
Go work for FOX!

Posted by Ultramayan | Report as abusive

Mr. Koffler has presented a poor article here. Under Obama, the debt has decreased significantly, and is continuing to decrease, there is nothing left to do there but to keep steady. His foreign policy is a good one: don’t invade other countries and deplete the treasury. He signed a bill cutting food stamps and ending long term unemployment payments (a republican dream yet Mr. Koffler is still unhappy). The highest priority now is to focus on getting money in the hands of working people (by raising the minimum wage), and protecting the patient bill of rights (by continuing to work on implementing the ACA). I doubt he would ever get any republican to go along with these things.

Posted by pantathalos | Report as abusive

Crappy article. The Author has obviously never been invited to play Golf in Corporate America. That’s were all real decisions are made. SO I hope the President plays a lot and knows how to lose gracefully.
I don’t think he’s given up either, just on Congress. I’m glad he did. It’s a waste of time as they long ago before he even took office publicly stated they would not work with him and would counter his every request.
What an embarrassment this congress has been.

@matthewslyman, the President does not own nor control any media outlets and no one listens to the weekly radio address. So he, or any president, can defend themselves without it being tainted or ignored by the media. Also, the president is there for blaming everything on anyway. That way congressmen that have no term limits can continue to do evil things.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

@Oma, didn’t you notice that all presidents, and all congressmen have condoned the NSA? Only a few token votes against it once in while.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Have to agree with the other posts. This is a forgettable op-ed. It almost sounds as if Mr. Koffler is upset that Obama didn’t offer up any major policy initiatives for him to attack. It also reflects the disturbing rightwing notion that we should be at war at all times, otherwise we’re guilty of international “disengagement.” Silly.

Posted by flashrooster | Report as abusive

America is back in 4th gear? We must have a 12 speed transmission, right? CDN, I’m no ditto head but I must point out that comparing federal deficit spending under Bush vs. Obama without factoring in $1 trillion per year in Fed QE is a little disingenuous. Deficit spending or money printing, it’s all pretty much the same to me.

Posted by Missinginaction | Report as abusive

And how many billions for war efforts and Halliburton that never made it “on the books” during the Bush administration? Really you can’t trust the figures from any administration or agency of the government or Congress. Goes for State level too.
Also, the Fed decided to do QE’s. They are a private group of banks, not a government agency. Supposedly it went on their balance sheet.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

There sure was a lot of sour grapes remarks about Keith Koffler’s artaicle. I, for one,
thought the article was inciteful and on topic. We need more columnists like Mr Koffler.

Posted by auntym | Report as abusive

It is distressing to see an article take such a light tone when this country is clearly approaching some sort of breaking point unless things change rapidly for the better.

This article is far more appropriate, both in specific reasons for this crisis and tone as to how dangerous these times have become.

I am including my comment to that article, which is quite compelling.

“Obama’s small steps won’t fix inequality” 14/01/30/obamas-small-steps-wont-fix-ine quality/

You are correct, of course in stating what you did about the problems the US is experiencing today is due SOLELY to the rising wealthy class. And, obviously, “bad things can happen in this sort of environment. Obama needs to take it on. If he can’t get Congress to take action, he needs to explain to the American public the consequences of inaction. Small steps are unlikely to be enough.”


I have a problem with the ending of your article in that, having set up a prima facie case for strong immediate action by the American people you argue that the president should take his case directly to the American people, explaining clearly and concisely why this nation is in serious trouble. Unfortunately, most of whom haven’t a clue as to what is really going on or why.

What we are seemingly lacking is a president who has the capacity to do what you are asking.

He was elected and reelected by a coalition of minority groups, including primarily Blacks, Hispanics and young voters by making vague promises that could in reality never be met (e.g. “change we can believe in”). He never tried to reach the white voters in any way whatsoever, thus further dividing an already divided nation.

Since then, he has ignored his political base, continued to alienate white voters with changes that were highly controversial (e.g. Obamacare, and championing increased immigration). Worse yet he has fashioned an administration that caters mainly to the whims and desires of the wealthy class, even though many of them openly despise him, both personally and as president. For example, his council of economic advisers are composed of some of the wealthiest people in this country.

It is indeed difficult for Obama to convince the rest of the nation that he has the best interests of the whole nation at heart, which is why his ratings are plummeting.

Yes, I agree, that bad things can happen in this environment, but Obama is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by EconCassandra

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

Obviously, I meant to say a “prima facie case for strong immediate action by Obama” … in the first paragraph above.

This is, of course, the crux of the problem is that we have a president incapable of taking strong immediate action on his own to force Congress to act in the best interests of this nation, or failing that, to go directly to the American people with the truth of what is destroying this nation.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

Cassandra, consider that the problem isn’t just the wealthy or politicians. Consider that in the aggregate the problem is society overall. Based on my personal experiences people just plain do not want to hear that we’re on the economic highway to hell. I’ve been told more than once that I have a “bad attitude”. Who wants to be Debbie or Dan Downer?

Look at the surveys that show people clearly dislike congress. When it comes to their own congressman or woman though, well, that’s different and they generally approve. The same holds true for economics, which is part math, part psychology and part sociology. We want a sustainable economy, we realize that our policies (as a nation and world) are not sustainable. Don’t do anything that effects me though. Don’t raise MY taxes, or cut MY benefits or do anything to devalue my stocks or home. Take it from someone else.

Before the “largest downturn since the great depression” has breathed it’s last, we’re all going to give something. Some of us already have. Sadly, some will give their lives.

Posted by Missinginaction | Report as abusive

Oh, please!!

Not the “confused society, NIMBY excuse”, which is usually offered by the wealthy class and their sycophants as a “reason” for not taking action.

The argument generally goes something like this. “Well, if you people could make up your mind, the (wealthy-run) government would know better what the people want”, thus neatly shoving the problem back at the people for not wanting to hear bad news or being wishy-washy, as though the entire electorate is nothing more than a thoroughly confused teenager, not to be taken seriously.

In reality, it is little more than a pat on the head from the wealthy class to an errant servant.

Lastly, I resent your blatant attempt to patronize me in your last paragraph.

Your comment, taken as a whole, is actually incredibly stupid and insulting.

I normally wouldn’t bother responding to a comment like this, but I have heard this same tired BS so many times before, and I didn’t want you to think I swallowed one bit of your wealthy screed.

Posted by EconCassandra | Report as abusive

Dear EconCassandra,
Maybe he was too scared to tell the American people the truth or maybe he’s only a golf club marionette.

Posted by seafloor | Report as abusive

Ummmm… we blame the politician(s). OK, then what should we do?

Cassandra, your response to my post is a text book example of a large part of the problem. If I understand you correctly you’re angry because I believe that generally speaking (you are certainly an exception) voter apathy and ignorance is at the center of the nations problems. I wouldn’t go as far as you regarding the wealth inequality but I do lean in your direction. Yet, you attack me and call me names. You seem to think I’m one of the rich. Maybe so, but wealth is a moveable feast. Some would call me rich, Jamie Dimon would call me poor so it’s all relative. I’m not name calling. If anything I’m supportive of your position.

I hope that you’re right because if you are we’re in store for a much better world than I envision. If I understand you, you believe that we need a strong leader who will “level” with the people. Once that happens the people will rally around this person, right?

I hope you’re correct. But consider this….what is truth? Is truth different for different people? Heck, we spend time as a society debating creationism versus evolution. For me that debate ended long ago but currently about 1/2 of Americans have faith in creation.

It’s all about what’s in it for the individual. Look, if you’re British in the late 1700′s the people “fighting for independence” in the American colonies are nothing but a bunch of terrorists.

Back to the economic inequality. I think the solution is to revisit the estate tax. A simple fix would be to raise the federal estate tax to confiscatory levels on all estates over a fixed amount. You might, for instance allow anyone to bequeath say $10 million to whoever they want, tax free. Over that amount the inheritance would be taxed at, say 90%. Perhaps money could be given tax free to a charity (registered), so that people could have some sense that they control where their money goes. Very simple, the law could be written on one page. Now find me a politician that would support that idea and get elected after Citizens United. I’ll give that person all of my support and work for him/her for free!

Posted by Missinginaction | Report as abusive