Politico has a fun re-cap of quotes from President Obama that have dogged him throughout this re-election process and may well get a rehearing in Wednesday’s debate:
[A]s the president and his team well know, Obama in Denver on Wednesday will be defending a first-term record that looks strikingly different than the one he imagined when he took office in January 2009. Obama’s own words, and those of his closest aides, culled from his first campaign and the early phase of his presidency, tell the story. Cumulatively, the quotations are an anthology of lofty aspirations that fell to earth, and boastful predictions that didn’t come true. All presidents have plans that don’t work out. But many of Obama’s off-the-mark quotes echo because—as a president with a short history in Washington and no previous executive experience—he faced an especially jarring collision between his confident assumptions about how he would govern and the reality of what was possible.
“Washington is broken. My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works.”
In retrospect, Obama’s exaggerated belief in his own capacity to transform Washington—not to mention his own wavering self-discipline in resisting nakedly partisan politics—looks like his most naïve miscalculation about his own power.
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
Obama biographers and even friends have noted his tendency from a young age to sometimes to let self-confidence curdle into excessive self-regard—a trait he will try to suppress in Denver. But the main problem with Obama’s quote was not that it was immodest but that it was inaccurate. Obama has not presided over an especially skilled political operation. Relations with key members of Congress and with key political figures in states have been frayed, driven by complaints that Obama does not do enough outreach and political fence-tending.
“If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”
In this quote, from a February 2009 interview on NBC’s “Today” show and widely repeated this year by taunting Republicans, Obama was referring to the pace of economic recovery. Obama’s explanation, of course, is that his policies, including the $787 billion stimulus package, averted depression and made possible a slow but still incomplete comeback. But the words haunt Obama because they were a reminder of how profoundly he and his economic team misunderstood the long-term nature of the crisis that confronted them upon taking office.