In the Oval, you know things are bad when the best prospect before you is peace in the Middle East.
Washington loves a winner, and even President Obama's friends (like me) wonder why he hasn't put any points on the board in his second term, with a busy game of political hoops going on in Congress. The president has not been a player – or at least he has not been seen as a player – same difference.
Now Obama's first six months of his second term are over, thank goodness. They are nothing to write home about.
In an outrageously unfortunate start, Obama has achieved nothing of note – unless you count thoughts he shared with us on race in light of the Zimmerman verdict in the slaying of Trayvon Martin. Those cautious, gentle remarks came Friday, July 19, after days of turmoil. They are not necessarily stuff of the historical record.
The second inaugural was January 20. Obama delivered a bracing address that frozen day. By contrast, does Obama seem world–weary and sapped this summer? The bipartisan immigration bill recently passed by the Senate seems likely to be the next casualty of his hope and overconfidence he could "change the culture" of Washington. Its prospects of ever reaching the House floor are grim.
Don't even get me started on the gun control bill, which Obama promised to champion this winter after the Connecticut school shooting in December. Well, maybe he called Montana's Max Baucus and a few other balking Senate Democrats. Then again, maybe he let others try their hand at reaching out to the swing voters. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, made the most difference in moving hearts and minds over to backing the gun control bill.
Though a majority of senators voted for it, the bill fell short of passage this spring, a bitter end to the lofty, passionate promise he made to the country to pass meaningful gun control legislation for the first time since the Clinton years. In the nitty–gritty of passing a bill, Obama may have forgotten there are some calls only a president can make, bearing down with blazing intensity. As we know by now, that's not his style.
That bill too would have gone down in the House, one place where Obama really did change the culture of Washington. The tea party election of 2010 meant the House changed hands to a radical Republican majority, apparently determined to overthrow the federal government from within. Losing the House Democratic majority in a public spanking still has huge consequences for Obama's ability to govern in his second term.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled off votes on several presidential nominees last week, defying threats of filibusters. Yet that was not so much a victory for Obama, as Reid acting as the Capitol policeman on the beat, on Obama's behalf.
Abroad, the folks don't love him in Berlin like they used to, as he found on a recent visit. Obama's hesitancy on the question of arming the rebels in Syria has endeared him to neither hawks nor doves. Finally, new Secretary of State John Kerry is a little bit busy now, making his boss – soon to turn 52 – look lost in the shadow of starpower, statesmanship and getting things done.
Here at home, the president needs to get in the game – right in the center of it.