Over at Bloomberg View, I argue that the White House should be disappointed by how Obama’s second term is going. The gun-control push is fizzling out, the sequester scare talk flopped, and what progress liberals are making is mostly unrelated to Obama.
Jonathan Chait criticizes the article at New York’s website, and I’ll give him this: The headline claim that the second term is already a “failure” is an overstatement. I don’t agree with the rest of what he has to say.
1) I noted that Obama could well end up signing fewer major pieces of legislation in 2013 than Bush did in 2005. Chait responds that Obama has an opposition-controlled House to deal with, which is true but not the reason the Senate couldn’t get a majority to reinstate Clinton’s assault-weapons ban. He also says that the 2005 legislation was hardly a model for conservatives to hold up, which I didn’t do.
2) As he has in previous posts, Chait analyzes the Republican desire for “regular order” in terms of personal pique at Obama and not of political strategy. He does not believe that the White House has less leverage when the president is not directly involved in negotiations and at the center of news coverage about them, or that fighting congressional Democrats (or getting them to fight each other) makes for better political outcomes for Republicans than fighting President Obama directly. I think his judgment is peculiar.
3) He suggests that I’m using an impossible yardstick to measure Obama’s performance. Chait’s own expectations for a second term were modest. He’s a more realistic guy than a lot of liberals. He’s more sensible than most people of all political stripes, for that matter, in not holding an exaggerated view of the power of the presidency. But I don’t think my yardstick is unreasonable. Obviously there were plenty of Democrats who thought a few months and even weeks ago that the president would be able to sign an assault-weapons ban and win the fight over the sequester. So, yes, I’m sticking with my claim that the White House ought to be disappointed by how the second term has been going so far.