Scandals Sink In: NPR Political Director Gets Out a Hanky for Obama's Lost 'Audacious Hope'

May 15th, 2013 7:49 AM

NPR political director Ron Elving wrote a wistful blog post on Tuesday night headlined “Goodbye, Again, To Obama's Most Audacious Hope.”

“The sudden eruption of second-term scandals in his administration will have many costs for President Obama, but surely the most grievous will be the lost opportunity to transcend the partisan wars of Washington,” Elving mourned. “That aspiration was his fondest dream for his second term, much as it was for his first. Now it seems destined to be dashed once again.”

Despite his obvious affinity for Obama’s platitude-loaded 2004 convention speech, Elving knows that the Obama scandals are damaging. If they don’t completely turn Obama into Carter or Nixon, they certainly prevent NPR’s Obama Dream from becoming reality.

Elving’s piece almost sounds like an end-of-second-term rumination on Obama’s place in history, versus what it could have been. In this story, Obama’s presidency is ruined by conservatives who somehow don’t want to bend to a socialist utopia. Naturally, Elving admitted “there are those who believe Barack Obama never intended to be anything but a conquering hero of the left,” but he preposterously placed Obama in the political middle, despite all real-world evidence at this point.

Obama knew he wasn’t going to win a landslide (America’s too racist for that?), so:

He knew he was struggling for just enough votes to win. But beyond Election Day, he was no less ambitious than his predecessors in the breadth and loft of his program. He set out to remake the health care and immigration systems, as well as to redefine financial regulation and the tax code and the nation's balance of energy and environment. And beyond these goals, he wanted to make a clear majority of Americans stakeholders in his program.

By so doing, he believed, he could build a coalition of the middle around solutions more practical than ideological. Were he able to do all that, he would be remembered as more than the champion of one party and the victor in two presidential elections. He would be a president who moved the nation, as a nation, in a certain direction. That has been the judgment of history on FDR and Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan — all partisan warriors in their rise to power who are widely revered in retrospect.

Was it hubris that made Obama hope for a place in such company? His first term began with tremendous momentum. Not only was his election itself historic, but the banking crisis of 2008-2009 forced the warring parties in Congress to act in concert — if only for a season. Early on, the new president and his inner circle thought they could negotiate on health care and other issues on a bipartisan basis. They saw a Republican Party chastened by the election of 2008 and ready to deal. They saw the prospect of a new consensus.

But within the first few months of that term, a more virulent form of opposition developed within conservative ranks. It manifested itself in protest marches, angry town hall meetings and primary challenges to mainstream Republican officeholders. Call it the Tea Party or the anti-Obama movement or just the resurgence of traditional attitudes. By any name, it dominated the elections of 2010, especially at the state level. The enactments of 2009 and 2010 gave way to the fiscal wars and confrontations of the past 24 months.

The Obama team endured all that and kept its focus on November 2012. Re-elected, the president hoped his return to the Oval Office might occasion "a fever break" in Washington. There could be a sense of capitulation, a season of acceptance. Given the distinct demographic evidence from Election Day, Republicans would want to appeal to a younger, more diverse electorate.

But it hasn't happened that way. Set aside the urgings of one report offered up by the Republican National Committee in March, the standard posture of the GOP has been anything but conciliatory. From the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling to gun control and the immigration laws, the opposition party has been as unified and as oppositional as ever.

Isn't it fascinating that the NPR politico can't find anything "virulent" in denying your opponents tax-exempt status and lying shamelessly about Benghazi and having your Justice Department snoop on reporters' phone calls? When Obama seeks a "sense of capitulation," it's not a bow to bipartisanship he seeks. It's a bow to Obama's will.

Elving brought out his handkerchief for lost dreams at the end: “We can now be sure that the capital's pre-existing condition of partisanship will worsen with complications from multiple investigations, probes and Hill hearings as far as the eye can see. Whatever else that means, it means that the President Obama we have will not be the President Obama he wanted to become.

(Hat tip: @NPR_Not_Neutral)