Opinion: Is Obama Kind of Like Fenty? - NBC4 Washington
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Opinion: Is Obama Kind of Like Fenty?



    If you talk seriously with any number of city officials and top staffers who served with Mayor Adrian Fenty, they are not really angry that some sort of shadow campaign for Vincent Gray derailed a second Fenty term.

    They are angry that Fenty stopped doing a major part of his job -- his job! -- as the political leader of the city.

    Fenty was cool or cold to business, labor and community leaders who wanted to talk with him -- and who did not want to be ignored or appear solely as photographic backdrops. But he mostly did ignore all of them, at least once grousing to this reporter that everyone who wanted to meet with him "wanted something."

    Uh, yes, Mr. Mayor, it's called being the mayor -- judging what to do based on your own ideas and feedback. Even if you don't plan to accept anything they say, you meet with the individuals and interest groups -- especially those opposed to you -- to at least learn what they are thinking and how they might react to your actions.

    Fenty also sneeringly dismissed D.C. Council members -- even those who wanted to work with him.

    All this political history came back as we've listened to criticisms of President Barack Obama in the wake of his successful convention in Charlotte, N.C. We were in Charlotte all week, and the enthusiasm among delegates was off the charts.

    Still, the economy remains the fundamental issue in this race, and Obama's handling of the situation can't be obscured by cannon-fired convention confetti.

    Now comes the newest book by investigative reporter and author Bob Woodward, who looks exhaustively at the 2011 economic showdown between the president and congressional leaders of both parties.

    The failure to reach a “grand bargain” in a highly political moment reveals a president who did not, could not or would not use personal skills to work past roadblocks with Republicans who had tea party folks clawing at their backs.

    "Obama doesn't really have the joy of the game" is the quote from Larry Summers, treasury secretary to President Bill Clinton and an economic adviser to Obama. In the book, Summers says Obama "really didn't like these guys," referring to congressional negotiators of both parties.

    Even Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who has become a nationally recognized defender of Obama, is reported in the book to be incredulous that Obama didn't have a game plan -- no core principles -- to negotiate with congressional leaders.

    On Monday's “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, both of the hosts, conservative Joe Scarborough and liberal Mika Brzezinski, hammered Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin about Obama's disengagement on a personal level.

    "He doesn't like to do it," plain and simple, Scarborough said, adding, a bit mystified, "That's politics, right?"

    Brzezinski asked why Obama didn't "reach out more” -- going to dinner with disparate leaders, inviting them to his office just to chat, meeting their families.

    "I would advise that," Durbin acknowledged. "A little bit … it doesn't hurt," he said in careful Senate collegial-speak. Yes, he should, is the real short answer.

    New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer later said of Obama on another program: "You may see the White House reaching out more to individual members." Another shorter answer: Yes, he has to.

    If the Woodward book has the ring of truth, and it does, then Obama has undercut himself in many ways. Politics is engagement and compromise, not my-way-or-the-highway. Ask Fenty, too soon a former mayor.

    • Convention notes. The post-convention polls are looking upbeat for Obama, but the convention and its aftermath aren't so rosy for others:

    • The D.C. Democrats. As we first reported on the Sunday before the convention in Charlotte, had the D.C. delegation been assigned seats one row farther back from the podium, the delegates would have been sitting in the parking lot. D.C. voted 93 percent for Obama in 2008, and its delegates were barely in the room.

    The one voting rights/statehood demonstration planned for the convention fell apart, not making a ripple. The D.C. folks were relegated to a "protest pen," fenced in blocks from the sidewalks where delegates walked. The protest was allowed only 30 minutes, beginning at 2 p.m.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, other protests prompted police to put up even more security lines, making the D.C. protest harder to access. (At one key point, D.C. police on detail to Charlotte were blocking D.C. citizens, including Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans. At least Evans was good-natured about it.)

    Even if there had been a clear path to walk to the demonstration site, your Notebook was stunned that many would-be protesters came sauntering up after 2:20 p.m., minutes before the event would have been over anyway.

    So much for voting rights passion.

    Here's a hint for 2016: Each delegation has an organizing breakfast each day of the convention, so assign groups of two friendly people to go at least once to every state delegation. Maybe the groups could distribute buttons showing tape over George Washington's mouth. In other words, do something noticeable and something that doesn't involve herding cats.

    • O’Malley oomph? The likable Gov. Martin O’Malley raced around to many events and convention gatherings, one of many national politicians eyeing the 2016 presidential campaign. Maryland's governor wisely said at every stop that he was just focused on reelecting Obama.

    We saw video of him at an Ohio delegate breakfast. A new poll by Public Policy Polling out of Ohio this week shows that 86 percent of Ohio voters don't know enough about him to have an opinion of him.

    • The big three. Although there are nine or 10 "toss-up" states in the presidential race, NBC politics editor Chuck Todd said Monday that three key states are Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

    True-blue Maryland intends to influence the Virginia outcome. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said Maryland Democrats would -- just like they did in 2008 -- staff telephone banks and put shoes on the ground in nearby Virginia to boost the Democratic vote.

    Maybe some of those D.C. Democrats will have a little time on their hands, if anyone wants to invite them to participate.