Ron Fournier: Obama Presidency Could End in Bush-like Failure

Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 02:34 PM

By Melanie Batley

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President Barack Obama's bold agenda for his second-term collapsed within months of his re-election, and it remains to be seen whether he can learn from the same mistakes George W. Bush made or risk leaving office "like Bush, unpopular and relatively unaccomplished," says National Journal columnist Ron Fournier.

"I found a striking number of parallels between Bush's fifth year in office and the atrocious first 12 months of President Obama's second term," Fournier writes.

Fournier outlines nine parallels between Obama's presidency in 2013 and Bush's in 2005, starting with the assumption that a re-election victory was equivalent to a mandate on their public policy agendas.

"Bush and Obama made the same mistake. Both men convinced themselves that they were re-elected because of their agendas, rather than because of negative strategies that essentially disqualified their rivals," he says.

He identifies institutional arrogance and overreach as another similarity between the presidents.

"Shortly after [Obama's] re-election, at the height of his powers, Obama faced a choice in the 2012 lame-duck session of Congress: Lead with humility and seek compromise with the GOP on a long-term budget deal, or rub Republican faces in defeat," Fournier says.

"It was his prerogative; he won the election. And he set the tone for a harsh and humiliating 2013."

Fournier says that both Obama and Bush also allowed first-term successes to haunt their second-terms. In Bush's case, it was the Iraq war, while Obama's "white whale" was the Affordable Care Act.

"Both presidents deceived the public about their signature policies, and their credibility crumbled. Insularity hurt both teams," he says, adding that another area of similarity is that neither president took responsibility for failures on those big issues.

Both were also guilty of "dragging their feet in response to crises," Fournier says. For Bush, it was Hurricane Katrina, while Obama failed to respond to early warnings that the Obamacare website was not fit for purpose at the time of the rollout, then minimized the extent of its problems.

There are other parallels between Obama and Bush, Fournier says. Both, he says, faced an opposition party that "took partisanship to new levels," while at the same time facing pressure from supporters toward the end of the political spectrum.

Finally, he says, both presidents suffered a firestorm of scandal at the same point in their second-terms, leading to a full year of failures to advance their policy agendas. In Obama's case, he says, it was the IRS's targeting of conservative groups, the Justice Department's pursuit of journalists, and the revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance program, on top of ongoing controversy about the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.

Fournier says that the one thing that could enable Obama to salvage the rest of his presidency is if he shows contrition and accountability, the way Bush did on Iraq when he said, "We will continue to listen to honest criticism and make every change that will help us complete the mission."

Bush subsequently experienced an 8-point increase in his approval rating, Fournier points out.

"This may be one ray of light for Obama. If, after the events and mistakes of 2005, Americans were still willing to listen to Bush, there may still be hope for Obama. His presidency might recover," Fournier writes.

He concludes, however, on a sour note.

"Of course, the next year brought a spate of worse news for Bush, primarily a grim and unrelenting escalation of war in Iraq—his white whale, the issue that eventually swallowed a presidency."

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