THERE ARE RINGS TO BE KISSED…. There’s been a fair amount of attention today about the lead Politico piece on President Obama’s “isolation.” Josh Marshall’s take, highlighting the article as an example of a larger worldview, is well worth reading.
But I wanted to flag an excerpt from the Politico piece that I found important.
President Barack Obama has performed his act of contrition. Now comes the hard part, according to Democrats around the country: reckoning with the simple fact that he’s isolated himself from virtually every group that matters in American politics. […]
In his effort to change Washington, Obama has failed to engage Washington and its institutions and customs, leaving him estranged from the capital’s permanent power structure — right at the moment when Democrats say he must rethink his strategy for cultivating and nurturing relations with key constituencies ahead of 2012.
This really helps capture a certain Beltway mindset. Glenn Greenwald called it “a living, breathing embodiment of America’s political culture and its ruling class.”
Quite right. The focus is on the president’s willingness — or, in this case, his reluctance — to remain connected to the Washington machine. There are power brokers, apparently, who’ve come to expect a degree of deference, and Obama isn’t playing by the traditional rules.
All of this, by the way, is characterized in the Politico article as criticism, not praise.
Indeed, what Politico identifies as the “power structure” and the groups “that matter,” are some of the same entities voters don’t have much use for: party bosses, “business leaders,” and “lobbyists.” And yet, the implication is that the president had better start preparing to kiss some rings if he hopes to survive politically.
In fairness, the article touches on a few easily-corrected slights that a White House should be mindful of as part of a healthy relationship with Congress. But the crux of the piece focuses on the need for the president to “repair these damaged relations” with powerful Beltway types — or as they’re described in the piece, “the constituencies required for success in Washington.”
In one particularly telling anecdote, we learn that Obama hosted a dinner last year for Senate committee chairs and ranking members, but apparently rubbed attendees the wrong way when he “went back to the residence [after dinner] without shaking hands or visiting each table.”
There was no mention of policy problems in the piece, only a presidential neglect of D.C. “institutions and customs.”