In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory at the polls, I’ve received a torrent of emails from liberal friends asking me how I can possibly stand by my characterization of the president as an amateur. After all, they say, Obama ran a masterful election campaign—conclusive proof that he’s a pro, not an amateur.
As usual, my liberal friends are conflating two different Obamas—the campaigner and the president—and in doing so, they are missing an important point. Obama has a political sense, but he lacks an executive sense. He is a happy warrior on the campaign trail, doing and saying whatever it takes to get elected, including lying shamelessly about his opponent. But when he leaves the hustings for the Oval Office, he becomes a different person, one who derives no joy from the cut and thrust of day-to-day politics and is inept in the arts of management and governance.
This explains the bullying, divisiveness, and extreme partisanship that have typified the operation of the White House since Obama took office. And it explains why, given Obama’s arrogance, his sense of superiority, and his air of haughtiness, his second term is likely to be a retread of his first. Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Senate majority leader and Obama confidant, put it best when he said: “Don’t expect a personality transplant with Obama.”
Coming off an ugly, divisive campaign, America is likely to get not just four more years of Obama, but four worse years. Obama won the election with fewer votes than in 2008. By any measure, it was a status quo election, and yet Obama is now facing a slew of problems that would test the mettle of a far more able chief executive—everything from the debacle in Benghazi and the Petraeus sex scandal to the fiscal cliff and the possibility of a double-dip recession.
What’s more, Obama is entering these dangerous times at the very moment when the team that put him in charge is breaking up. In the coming weeks, key members of his inner circle, including chief strategist David Axelrod, senior adviser David Plouffe and campaign manager Jim Messina, are all departing for the private sector. The only member of his consiglieri who will be back for a second term is Valerie Jarrett, a hard left-winger who is hardly known for her political perspicacity and the quality of her advice.
Because of Obama’s detached and impersonal leadership style, no one in Congress fears him, and the Republicans who control the House are unlikely to roll over and do his bidding. However, if Obama digs in his heels, refuses to compromise and work with the Republicans, goes over the head of Congress and takes his case to the public through a kind of permanent campaign, and then, after all that, fails to get his agenda through Congress, this country is headed for a very dismal next four years.
“Mr. Obama would be well advised to consider the history of these second terms,” historian John Steele Gordon wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Its message is to beware of interpreting reelection as an invitation to overreach.”
That, however, is exactly what I expect Obama to do. Indeed, the president met this week with 11 leaders of liberal and labor groups and raised the possibility of a barnstorming tour. According to Neera Tanden, president of the far-left Center for American Progress, Obama discussed “going around the country to communicate to people what the choice is here. He feels very strongly that it will be a continuation of what the election was all about.” And Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the coming months would amount to “another campaign.”
All of this sounds very much like a continuation of the methods Obama used during his first term when the administration circumvented Congress by waiving existing laws, creating super agencies, and setting up federal programs that were not authorized by Congress.
“We can now see before us a persistent pattern of disregard for the powers of the legislative branch in favor of administrative decision-making without—and often in spite of—congressional action,” wrote Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation. “This violates the spirit—and potentially the letter—of the Constitution’s separation of the legislative and executive powers of Congress and the President.” Or as the Wall Street Journal put it: “When Congress won’t do what [Obama] wants, he ignores it and acts anyway.”
That’s what’s in store for America for four worse years.
Edward Klein is the former editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine. His latest book is "Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. the Obamas" (Regnery 2014). His previous book "The Amateur: Barack Obama in the White House" (Regnery 2012) was a bestseller and is no available in paperback.