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President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting on February 6, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The Democrats Turn on Obama

Walter Russell Mead & Harry Zieve Cohen

The rising stars of the Democratic Party have been airing criticisms of President Obama lately, covering them with only the thinnest of veils. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Though they rarely mention the president by name or address his policies, Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison have sent a clear message that Mr. Obama has left the party in a weakened state.

Messers. Perez and Ellison—along with state chairmen Jaime Harrison of South Carolina and Ray Buckley of New Hampshire, who are also candidates for chairman of the DNC—are seeking a mandate to reverse Obama-era tactics that cut funding and attention to local parties and left Democrats with far less power in Congress, governorships and state legislatures than when his presidency began.

“This needs to be the very last cycle in which the presidential candidate takes over the DNC,” said Mr. Harrison, speaking at a forum for candidates earlier this month. “The DNC is not just about winning the presidency. Amen?”

The audience, mostly Democratic state party chairs, responded “Amen.”

Obama is truly the great uniter. First he united the Arabs and Israelis in a repudiation of his Middle East policies, now he’s united Republicans and Democrats in a repudiation of his policies at home. Almost everywhere you look, the gap between Obama’s stirring rhetoric and his underwhelming accomplishments is immense. One of the biggest failures was his inability to make the Democrats competitive in every state.

This stems from many things, but one is his apparent indifference to state government. He seems to think of the Federal government as the only level of government that really matters. It is especially telling that he has been missing in action while his home state of Illinois drifted into a state of advanced decay due to a worsening pension problem. Ditto his home city of Chicago, where racial polarization and financial decline have proceeded while the Obama White House was largely uninvolved. Great U.S. Presidents, and even good ones, are usually rooted in local politics. They are citizens of real places, and they carry the concerns and the insights of those places into office. Obama was a member of the New York Times tribe, people for whom an absence of local loyalties is a sign of enlightenment. One sometimes gets the sense that Albany can rot as far as the New York Times is concerned; its allegiance isn’t to the Bronx or upstate, but to the world. State party organizations can only wither when led by people who think like this.

President Obama will no doubt have a lucrative and high-profile retirement. He’s younger than most Presidents, and he will be staying in Washington for the time being. But his immediate legacy is clearly a disaster for Democrats: in early 2017, the Party will control a minority of state houses and no branch of Federal government. With so little, it’s very difficult to regenerate and develop a farm system. The Democrats’ bench is already extremely shallow; it probably won’t get much more crowded over the next few years.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s signature policy initiatives are withering on the vine. The Iran Deal looks unlikely to survive the next four years. Obamacare will likely be gutted early next year. The President’s international climate change frameworks aren’t supported by the incoming administration or the incoming Congress. His nuclear non-proliferation efforts failed. Dodd-Frank’s regulations may be repealed. His free trade agenda has stalled. His immigration reform efforts have led to a backlash that will make life even harder for the people he tried to help. The list goes on…

A President’s job is not simply to make good on his promises; it is also to ensure that his policies stick. Increasingly, it looks like Obama’s won’t. Somewhere between rhetoric and reality, they seem to have been sucked into the void.

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