New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's April 21 column on President Obama and the blocking of gun safety legislation is drawing no shortage of criticism for its determined obliviousness of how DC politics actually work. Per Dowd, the votes for the Manchin-Toomey expansion of the background check system were there, Obama just needed to take a page from Aaron Sorkin's "The American President" and go on an arm-twisting charm offensive with recalcitrant Republicans and Democrats. Just a few months ago, however, Dowd wrote that Republicans would spend Obama's second term blowing off the White House and reflexively opposing his policy initiatives (including gun safety measures) in order to isolate him politically. She also mocked Obama for saying he would employ the same political tactics she now decries him for not effectively using.
Here's how Dowd saw the Manchin-Toomey debate arriving at a successful conclusion:
It's unbelievable that with 90 percent of Americans on his side, he could get only 54 votes in the Senate. It was a glaring example of his weakness in using leverage to get what he wants. No one on Capitol Hill is scared of him.
Even House Republicans who had no intention of voting for the gun bill marveled privately that the president could not muster 60 votes in a Senate that his party controls.
The White House should have created a war room full of charts with the names of pols they had to capture, like they had in "The American President." Soaring speeches have their place, but this was about blocking and tackling.
Instead of the pit-bull legislative aides in Aaron Sorkin's movie, Obama has Miguel Rodriguez, an arm-twister so genteel that The Washington Post's Philip Rucker wrote recently that no one in Congress even knows who he is.
Dowd even singled out some blue-state Republican senators whom she thought might have been vulnerable to the Sorkin-esque strategy: "He should have gone out to Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada and had big rallies to get the public riled up to put pressure on Rob Portman, Kelly Ayotte and Dean Heller, giving notice that they would pay a price if they spurned him on this." She also picked out Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) as someone who could have been swayed by a sweet-talking from Obama. But Dowd herself previously derided the idea that such tactics would be effective.
Just a couple of months ago on January 16, Dowd wrote specifically about how the politics in Washington, marked by intractable Republican opposition to Obama, would prevent "any consequential fixes to our absurdly lax gun laws." She suggested that Republicans wouldn't be swayed by the president on guns, and sneered at Obama's "suspicion" that "issues will be resolved only if Americans 'push hard,' vote recalcitrant lawmakers out and 'reward folks who are trying to find common ground'" -- the precise tactic she's now saying Obama should have brought to bear against the blue-state GOPers.
In her January 16 column, just before Obama's second inauguration, Dowd wrote:
Many top Democrats here feel distant from the White House. They like seeing him try to take it to the Republicans on money and, in the all-too-brief time he has left to get things done before he morphs into a lame duck, want him to follow through on guns and immigration, to say this is the right thing to do and this is what we got elected on and either get on board or get out of the way.
The president complained that even when he invites Republicans to a White House picnic and poses with their families, ''it doesn't prevent them from going onto the floor of the House and blasting me for being a big-spending Socialist.''
Steve Stockman, a Republican elected to the House from Texas, has barely started work, but he's already threatening to start impeachment proceedings against the president if he takes executive action on gun safety measures.
A Greek chorus of historians and pols have been urging the president to spend more time schmoozing with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as other presidents like Jefferson, Lincoln and L.B.J. did to get their way.
But Obama still resists the idea that personal relationships can be pivotal, noting that his ''suspicion'' is that the issues will be resolved only if Americans ''push hard,'' vote recalcitrant lawmakers out and ''reward folks who are trying to find common ground.''
And it's true that Republicans have snubbed the president. John Boehner blew off Obama's invites for six state dinners and Mitch McConnell skipped all but one.
Unlike Chris Christie, Republicans here want to make sure that the president dances alone.
To follow through on Dowd's dancing metaphor, she now seems to be arguing that Obama should stride out onto the dance floor, seize a Republican partner and just start furiously jitterbugging, heedless of their determined efforts to escape.
I've never seen that in a Sorkin movie.