In ancient Rome, whenever a general was given a victory parade, he would be accompanied in his chariot by a slave who whispered into his ear, “Heed not the call of the crowds, for all glory is fleeting.”
Someone ought to be whispering that advice into Barack Obama’s ear right now, for if ever there was a fleeting victory, it was the Supreme Court’s ruling that ObamaCare is constitutional—a decision that will lead to the largest tax increase in American history and leave Obama and the entire Democratic ticket vulnerable at the ballot box in November.
But don’t count on David Axelrod, the president’s top political strategist, to perform the duty of the prudent Roman slave. These days, Axelrod isn’t whispering; he’s shouting from the rooftops that the Supreme Court ruling is proof that a new, politically skillful Obama has replaced the callow, arrogant incompetent that I describe in my book "The Amateur."
And Obama has joined this chorus of self-congratulation. Minutes after the Supreme Court’s ruling, a tweet was sent out by the campaign -- and perhaps even by the president himself -- he tweeted: “Still a BFD”—a reference to Vice President Joe Biden’s “big f—king deal” comment when Obama signed the health care legislation.
The notion that Obama has changed his stripes, that he is actually a better and more effective president than any of us suspected, is pure hogwash.
Talk about a “New Obama” reminds me of the effort on the part of Richard Nixon’s PR people in the 1960s to repackage him as the “New Nixon.” During the presidential election of 1968, voters were treated to TV commercials and carefully planted stories claiming that the old, mean-spirited Nixon had matured, and that a more tolerant, magnanimous “New Nixon” had taken his place. It was a brilliantly orchestrated campaign, but as we learned during Watergate and the subsequent release of Nixon’s Oval Office tapes, there never was a “New Nixon.”
The example of Richard Nixon’s non-makeover makeover should tell us something about the efforts of the Obama political team to reframe his image and resell him to voters. The entire story of ObamaCare—from inception to Supreme Court—reeks of amateurism.
It is the hallmark of a political amateur to ignore the advice of wise men and women who tell him what he doesn’t want to hear and, instead, embrace those who cater to his inexperience, vanity, and worst instincts. This has been the pattern of the Obama presidency. And that was exactly what happened in the case of ObamaCare.
Early in his presidency, Barack Obama received ample warning that he was headed for disaster if he went for broke on health care. His then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel urged the president to push for a smaller bill with popular items, such as expanding health coverage for children and young adults. Both his vice president, Joe Biden, and his top political adviser, David Axelrod, sided with Emanuel and raised a red flag.
But Obama wouldn’t listen to his wisest and most experienced advisers. Instead, he chose to listen to his wife Michelle and to Valerie Jarrett, his powerful behind-the-scenes confidante. It was Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett who persuaded the president to side with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her gaggle of far-leftwing Democrats and push for an enormously complex Rube Goldberg health-care bill.
Obama’s arrogance, his sense of superiority, and his air of haughtiness—but above all, his amateurism—led him astray and encouraged him to focus initially on a “public option” in his health care bill. Rick Scott, the health care executive who launched and ran the successful campaign to kill the public option in 2009, parlayed that victory into winning the governorship of Florida in 2010.
When Scott and his group, Conservatives for Patients Rights, defeated the public option, Obama was then stuck with going along with an “individual mandate,” which he had vigorously campaign against during the Democratic primaries. He denied time after time that the mandate was a tax, only to allow his Solicitor General to argue before the Supreme Court that it is, in fact, a tax.
Only a rank amateur could have turned months and months of debate over a widely unpopular health care bill into something even worse—an onerous tax on the middle class.
Only a rank amateur could have turned a government-run health care system that suffers from hundreds of billions of dollars in annual fraud, and is already on life support, into a $1.5 trillion Rube Goldberg machine that will destroy American medicine and deliver a poorer quality of health care to millions of people.
Only a rank amateur could conceive of a “solution” to our health care problems that cuts benefits to seniors by $500 billion and established rationing boards known as “death panels.”
Only a rank amateur could threaten to turn America into Sweden—and possibly even Greece—by passing an ill-conceived piece of legislation whose major goal is to earn him a place in history.
Only a rank amateur could levy a series of new taxes on America’s small businesses, under the guise of ObamaCare, that will raise unemployment and stall an already anemic recover.
Only a rank amateur could hand his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, an electoral game changer.
Yes, Barack Obama is still The Amateur.
Edward Klein is the former editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine. His latest book is "The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House" (Regnery 2012) which has just been released in paperback.