For an alleged political genius, President Obama sure has been making political errors recently. One can only surmise that he's not actually that good at politics.
Exhibit one: Margaret Thatcher's funeral. The funeral of a major statesperson of one of the USA's traditionally close allies, but no official White House representative was sent:
Normally, that would prompt attendance by a high-level figure in the US government — if not the President or Vice-President, a high-ranking Cabinet official. For instance, why not send John Kerry, the Secretary of State tasked with maintaining good relations with close allies like the UK? Instead, the US delegation will consist of two men who would be traveling as private citizens to the funeral already [James Baker and George Schulz from the Reagan administration], essentially giving an official policy of ignoring the event and snubbing the other world leaders attending it.There's certainly no reason to expect Obama himself to have travelled to the UK for the funeral, but there's no shortage of administration officials he could send. Instead: zip, nada. The Republicans aren't so dumb: the Republican House speaker Boehner sent a delegation of Republicans to represent Congress:
"Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest champions freedom has ever known, and her funeral gives Americans and friends around the world an opportunity to pay final respects," Boehner said. "I'm pleased that Congressman Blackburn will lead a House delegation to Baroness Thatcher's funeral to communicate our prayers and condolences to her family and the British people."The Boston marathon bombing would have been a perfect excuse to avoid sending anyone - except that these decisions were taken before Monday's explosion. Oops. This is a serious snub to the UK government, and it's a politically stupid decision. Regardless of your feelings about Thatcher's politics, she was one of the dominant politicians of the late 20th century. It would cost nothing to send Kerry (or, heck, Biden) to the funeral. Instead, Obama - rightly or wrongly - appears to be letting his well-publicised dislike of the UK rule his political pragmatism. Machiavelli would have chastised him, and rightly so.
Next, let's look at his focus for the past 4 months: gun control. This hasn't turned out as he hoped, as his gun control bill got shot down in the Senate:
Due to procedural steps agreed to by both sides, all the amendments considered Wednesday required 60 votes to pass in the 100-member chamber, meaning Democrats and their independent allies who hold 55 seats needed support from some GOP senators to push through the Manchin-Toomey proposal.Obama couldn't persuade 8% of his own party to go along with his gun bill, failing to pass it in a Senate nominally under Democrat control. I mean, what the heck? His team must have know that those (gun-affectionate state) Democrats weren't going to vote for the bill as is - three of them have elections coming up within a year - what was it that made him try to push it through regardless? Hope that the Senate Republicans would come to his rescue? Good grief.
The final vote was 54 in favor to 46 opposed with four Republicans joining most Democrats in supporting the compromise. With the outcome obvious, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, cast a "no" vote to secure the ability to bring the measure up again.
Meanwhile, four Democrats from pro-gun states voted with most Republicans in opposition.
The common factor in both these issues appears to be Obama's belief that he is above the grubby business of politics; he doesn't have to negotiate, compromise, or schmooze with people he doesn't like in order to get things done. Unfortunately, politics doesn't work like that. His Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, would never have made these kind of mistakes. Bill was (and is) one of the great political animals, friendly to everyone no matter what their politics or interests. He knew that doing something for someone was a favour which he could later call on when he needed it. He would never have let a state funeral of a major ally go by without ensuring his administration was represented. Heck, as Yes, Prime Minister noted, a politician's funeral is an ideal opportunity for politicians from many countries to get together without press scrutiny and thrash out all their outstanding issues without the usual press scrutiny.
Hillary Clinton must have been rubbing her hands with glee watching President Obama screw up like this. She has her flaws, no doubt, but has taken many lessons from her husband's political successes - lessons that Obama doesn't seem to think apply to him.