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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 3:11 pm | A Few Clouds 63º

 
 
 
 

Jamie Stiehm: President Barack Obama’s Best and Worst of Times

As Barack Obama’s presidency dwindled down to the last day, there was no silent amen.

Donald Trump people were swarming the streets around Union Station. These Republicans seemed to have come from the country to claim the country, what’s theirs. They were mad that it was meant to rain on Inauguration Day.

As I made my way through the barricades and bollards to the beloved Capitol, the place looked like a police state. The citadel of democracy looked captured.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Obama can do no wrong. On his way out, praise for his cool dignity and brilliant speaking was generous. I am one of many Washingtonians who admire him. We will miss him dearly.

However, there were times when Obama fell short on the legislative and appointments fronts. He would tell you that losing a simple gun control bill in the spring after the Newtown school mass murder in Connecticut was a grave disappointment. He shed tears at the tragedy and seemed to put his political capital on the line.

The narrow loss in the Senate involved a handful of centrist Democrats in rural states switching sides. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., popular in his state, might have been prevailed upon to vote with his party and president.

As president, you have to insist sometimes. Pick up the phone and see if there’s a deal, a trade to work out. Obama was too sleek to play the heavy to win the wavering votes. That was for Southern Old School pols like Presidents Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton.

Almost three years ago, I watched that vote unfurl on the floor. Here’s the thing: Nobody was afraid of Obama, neither friends nor foes in Congress.

In turn, this emboldened those who truly opposed him at every turn for a living. Chief among them was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a formidable adversary.

During his brief pass as a young star senator, Obama could not wait to get out of there. In the clubby Senate, elders like to be cultivated and chatted up about its rules and customs.

A lot of McConnell’s hostility to Obama was personal. So when McConnell blocked the path of Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, it was bold, crafty and rude.

Obama never healed the breach. If he tried over 10 months, we don’t know about it. The public eye only saw that the Senate didn’t hold hearings as a constitutional duty to “advise and consent” on Supreme Court nominees.

McConnell’s brazen move never led to a standoff, because Obama didn’t engage on his challenge to the balance of power. That means it can be done again and again. There is now a “precedent” that a president passively accepted a deep insult to his role.

Now we come to Obama’s best and worst appointment. Simple. John Kerry, secretary of state for the last four years, was Obama’s best pick by far. He speaks French fluently; he knew foreign policy from chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and he knew the price of war as a naval officer in the Vietnam War. He’s worldly, in a word.

Kerry had three major accomplishments to his name: the Iran nuclear deal, opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba and the global climate change accord. He invested each with tremendous knowledge and energy. He also tried to get Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table, and if anything, he tried too hard.

Hillary Clinton paid house calls and mended fences as Obama’s first secretary of state. She was fine, but Kerry was out of this world.

The kicker is that Obama wanted to appoint his national security adviser, Susan Rice, but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., opposed her. Thanks to McCain, the nation got Kerry.

Comes now James Comey, the FBI director with a lead touch. He forgot to tell the Democratic National Committee the Russians were hacking them. Then he made a harmful hash of Clinton’s emails before the election. Much ado about nothing may have cost her a close election.

You tell me why Obama appointed Comey, a Republican, to act as a Shakespearean dagger in a tragedy. This was the unkindest cut.

A tragedy that starts now: high noon.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. The opinions expressed are her own.

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