The Budget Deal Won't Save Obama's Potemkin Presidency

No budget accord can save the Obama administration from its own missteps.

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The term “selfie,” like the one being taken here by President Barack Obama and others, became a controversial word and practice in 2013.
The term “selfie,” like the one being taken here by President Barack Obama and others, became a controversial word and practice in 2013.

Last week, the world responded with sadness and admiration to the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela. In the words of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, "Nelson Mandela was truly the father of an integrated, democratic South Africa. He will be an inspiration for generations to come and an historic leader worth studying for as long as people want to learn about greatness in serving others." Mandela's passing inspired beautiful words, such as these, by Jonathan Faull: "I remember the news saying you were a terrorist; and my parents having to carefully explain to my seven-year-old self how you were a hero to the people; that the news and the government lie."

It also produced two unfortunate episodes for President Obama, whose second term is looking more and more disastrous. First, he was caught taking a three-way "selfie" during the memorial ceremony, providing new fodder for those among his political opponents who see superficial narcissism as one of the defining traits of the president's persona, and insulation from other views as one of his main weaknesses.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Then, on Wednesday, the news came out that the sign language interpreter standing next to the president during his tribute was delivering meaningless gestures, reinforcing the now common image of a Potemkin presidency, way out of its depth, that builds websites without underlying infrastructure or any actual functionality. (In the president's defense, the sign language interpreter was not his appointee, and the president probably learned about the interpreter's failures from the news, like everyone else.)

As President Obama returns to Washington, he will have to attempt to keep these views from driving each and every news cycle if he wants Democrats to have any chance of success in the midterm elections. The budget deal reached by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., will probably not help him in this, as it will keep the president and his acolytes from playing their  "Republicans-are-terrorists" card, at least for the time being.

But the biggest obstacle the president faces may well be his own tendency to duck blame and deny anything he is knowingly responsible for ever went wrong. His latest statements over the IRS' targeting of conservative groups, which he now dismisses as a faux scandal, certainly don't give off the impression that improvement on that front is in sight.

Stan Veuger is an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.

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