Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Recent Tweets @
Posts tagged "President Obama"

So, USAID covertly funded and created a “Cuban Twitter” called ZunZuneo in an effort to “destabilize” the Cuban government. Obviously worked out really well…oh wait…USAID ran out of money and it sputtered.

By the way, covert actions by federal agencies require Presidential authorization. Apparently, President Obama has learned nothing about the resiliency of the Cuban Revolution from his TEN IMMEDIATE PREDECESSORS.

The best part isn’t even something that they SAID! It’s the lower-third with Obama’s title!

In Dreams From My Father, I don’t remember Barack Obama mentioning that his father was Brother Mouzone from The Wire, do you?

I mean, I know Obama and his father had a complicated relationship, but you’d think he would have mentioned that his dad and Omar (whom President Obama has mentioned is his all-time favorite television character) killed Stringer Bell.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Any ideas for Obama when he's term ends? Would you like to see him go down the John Quincy Adams path and return to congress, maybe in the senate or wait for a Supreme Court nod Taft style?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I can’t see Obama seeking any other type of political office after his Presidency. Quite frankly, I don’t think Obama likes politics all that much. For him, politics has been a necessary evil — the means to a very specific end (the Presidency).

I don’t envision Obama seeking or accepting a less prestigious position after two terms in the White House. Nor do I think that he needs to do so in order to remain an influential voice. I believe he has the ability to stay relevant without holding any further office. In fact, that could be a strength as he would have the freedom to focus on the issues most important to him without fearing the response from his constituency.

I’ll tell you what I’d love to see Obama do after the White House. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have been wonderful examples of the type of meaningful work that an ex-President can do by putting to use his talents, influence, and unique connections with foreign leaders and people around the world. The humanitarian accomplishments of the Carter Center and Clinton Foundation are impossible to list, but those groups (and their partners), under the leadership of our former Presidents, have done and continue to do remarkable things for the world. George W. Bush has also began to follow in the Post-Presidential footsteps of his predecessors, particularly in Africa where Bush directed a tremendous amount of humanitarian aid while he was President. Since leaving office, Bush has continued to show his interest and concern for the people of sub-Saharan Africa and has expanded his relief efforts there.

No one would be surprised to see Obama commit himself to similar efforts after leaving the White House. The examples set by former Presidents Carter, Clinton, and now Bush, have made such humanitarian work almost seem part of the responsibilities of being an ex-President.

I hope Obama will continue such work, but with a different focus. I’d like to see the former community organizer bring relief efforts or humanitarian missions to troubled people and places right here in the United States. That would be very powerful, and I think it could be effective.

Imagine Obama, like Clinton, raising money for a Foundation through the force of his personality and mere presence. While Carter and Clinton use their foundations to build homes, provide low-cost or no-cost medication and health care, or offer educational opportunities internationally, imagine the impact an Obama foundation could have by rebuilding or reinforcing struggling communities here in the United States. Recreational centers with safe places to play sports, do homework, receive tutoring, take certain enrichment classes, and so on. Intramural sports leagues, a community library, performing arts program, adult education (including GED prep), literacy programs for all ages. Access to a school counselor to help find a path to higher education and navigate the application/financial aid process. Life skills, creative cooking classes, responsibility seminars for prospective/deadbeat dads, assistance for single parents/teen moms, child care resources for working parents, a food bank, clothing donations. Mental health resources, access to health care information, vaccines, STD screenings, quarterly health clinics, nutritional education. Even graffiti removal, clean-up crews, public art installation, and neighborhood beautification projects to instill some pride and a feeling of ownership within residents toward the community that they live in.

I could go on-and-on. This obviously is a subject that I have strong feelings about. If someone came up with the financial backing for such a program I would drop everything in order to have the chance to run it. Programs and resources such as these can mean the difference between rehabilitating communities or allowing them to wither and die. Having someone of Obama’s stature and influence advocating for such programs would bring attention to the issue and be a major factor in attracting direct funding as well as the in-kind donations from corporate partners, non-profit organizations, and other collaborators that help power such wide-ranging, ambitious projects.

As President, Obama has frequently mentioned the need to wrap-up our military commitments overseas so that “we can do nation-building here at home”. That would be a fantastic post-Presidential mission for Obama — “domestic relief” or “homefront humanitarianism”. That type of work even has a natural jump-off point — Chicago — due to Obama’s familiarity with his adopted hometown and the staggering number of young people being murdered in the city.

There is even a model for effectively organizing people at the grass roots level and empowering them to lead by telling personal stories and sharing why what they are doing is important to them — the Obama campaign in 2007-2008. By using Camp Obama training techniques like the “story of self”, it should be easy to establish programs in communities ripe for revitalization. Obviously, the message would no longer be about electing a certain individual, but the message could easily be changed while the delivery system, proven to be effective, remains the same.

Alright, I’ll stop daydreaming for now. But this is the perfect post-Presidential mission for Barack Obama — a chance to truly do that “nation-building here at home” that he has mentioned so many times.

(Oh, and I know you’re reading this because you’re a big fan, so, Mr. President, count me in if you need help with this idea.)

He’s luckier than a dog with two dicks.

Bill Clinton, to aides, on Barack Obama’s good fortune against Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign

•For hundreds of more fascinating quotes just like this, go buy my book TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK: WHAT OUR PRESIDENTS SAID ABOUT EACH OTHER for just $4.95.


•Barnes & Noble/Nook:

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again — so it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can,make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.

President Barack Obama, statement on the death of Nelson Mandela, December 5, 2013


Really, the whole White House Communications Office has been a mess for a while.  The biggest mistake of the Obama Administration (in my humble opinion) was taking ownership of the name “Obamacare”.  It’s divisive.  In fact, it’s intentionally divisive.  That was the idea behind branding the Affordable Health Care Act as “Obamacare” by the right, and it’s the same reasons that the left co-opted the name.  Both sides are playing the same game, and we’re losing.

There is a huge difference between campaigning and governing, and I feel like Obama’s Communications team is still in campaign mode.  You won..twice…now govern.

I think it’s just time to hire the writers from The West Wing to run communications.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What do you think of the new reports about Obama and Biden's relationship from 'Double Down'? It seems the two still clash a lot in private.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’m looking forward to reading the book.  I didn’t get an advanced copy of Double Down: Game Change 2012, so I probably won’t get a chance to read it until the beginning of next week.

I’m not surprised that the Obama campaign thought about dumping Biden for Hillary — it’s politics, and while Plouffe said they never seriously considered it, I’m sure they did because there was a point where it looked like Romney could actually win the election.  But as I said last year when I was asked whether they SHOULD dump Biden for Hillary, Joe Biden has been a hard-working, loyal, and incredibly influential Vice President.  They only reason that they should have done the switch and made Hillary VP and Biden Secretary of State is if Biden wanted to do it.  He deserved that much.  Biden has been the closer on several significant pieces of legislation with Congress.  Obama has needed Biden, no matter how much Biden might tend to go off page (and I think his tendency to speak his mind if both overrated and refreshing).

By the way, there’s no way Hillary Clinton would have taken the Vice Presidency in the second term of an Obama Administration.  She spent most of her time as Secretary of State traveling the world, and the best possible strategy for her potential 2016 run was getting the hell out of government.  If she was Vice President, whoever her opponents are in 2016 (both Democrat and Republican) could tie her to whatever goes wrong in Obama’s second term.

Asker bbkld Asks:
This isn't the first time in American history that Congress has been so dysfunctional, but it's gotta be in the top three of the worst. In your opinion, is there a person or event capable to leading them out of the darkness and back into a reasonably useful lawmaking body?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think both parties need to dump their leadership in both chambers of Congress in order for things to have a shot at turning around.  We are in the midst of a strange situation — the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate are abysmal, don’t have the influence or power to whip their caucuses in line, aren’t respected by junior members within their own party, can’t work together effectively with the opposition or the President, and yet they are entrenched in their respective leadership positions.  It’s as if the coach of a football team was terrible at his job, couldn’t win a game, lost the respect of his players, had no chance at out-coaching the opposition, but couldn’t be fired for some reason.

The House of Representatives isn’t a legislative body; it’s a tar pit.  The Senate is no better.  A big part of the blame belongs to us.  It is our job to toss out shitty, ineffective, inefficient members of Congress.  The Senate is tougher to do that with because they have six-year-long terms and only a third or so of the Senators are up for reelection every two years.  But we have the ability to make changes in the House of Representatives every two years.  We could fire every single member of the House and replace them with someone new in 2014.  Will we?  Of course not.  The voters are partly to blame.

The senior members of the House and Senate — on both sides of the aisle — are largely to blame for the day-to-day bullshit that has brought the government to the place that it has been in for the last six years or so.  Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Nancy Pelosi, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer should not have jobs.  They are the party leaders of the worst Congress in American history.  I didn’t include the Senate whips — Dick Durbin and John Cornyn — because I think those two are the only party leaders in Congress who are worth a shit, but I wouldn’t put up a fight if they lost their jobs, too.

The party leaders in the House and the Senate should have control of their respective caucuses at all times.  If not, they aren’t leading.  I’m stunned at how little respect many of the junior members of Congress — even freshmen in the House of Representatives! — have for the leaders of their own party.  Raul Labrador, a Republican member of the House, was elected in 2010.  In 2011, as a freshman Congressman, Labrador stood up in a GOP conference told John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, “I didn’t come to Washington to be part of a team.”  That’s right, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives — one of the five most powerful positions in the country when there is someone useful in the job — implored his fellow Republicans to work together, a freshman Congressman from Idaho straight up told him no in front of every other House Republican.  Speaker Boehner should have remembered that disrespect and in 2012, he should have CRUSHED Labrador.  He should have withheld RNC money from Labrador.  He should have built up a primary challenger against Labrador.  He should have pulled together every powerful Republican that can breathe and walk, flown them to Idaho, and campaigned against Labrador.  Instead? Nothing.  Labrador was reelected last year.  That’s just one example.

The Democrats are just as bad.  They control the Senate and they have a Democrat in the White House.  But Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader and the Democrat from Nevada is, hands-down, the worst Majority Leader in American history.  Nobody is intimidated by him, nobody is influenced by him, nobody respects him.  And why should they?  Why should the White House defer to him?  In 2011, Vice President Biden met with Senator Reid to help pass the two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts.  The White House wasn’t ecstatic about the deal that they made with Republicans to extend the tax cuts, but politics require compromises.  Progress requires compromise. 

So, when the Democratic President sent his Vice President to settle the issue with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, how did Harry Reid decide to help out his President and Vice President?  He said this to the President and Vice President of the United States:

"You guys went and did this deal.  You go sell it.  Not my deal, not my problem.  Not telling you I’m against it, not telling you I’m for it, not yelling at you, just saying you guys made this deal.  Hope you can line up the Senate Democrats behind you because I’m not going to."

Harry Reid wasn’t taking a stand because of a strong, ideological position that he was absolutely opposed to compromising on.  No, Harry Reid was acting like a fucking baby because the White House closed a deal that Harry Reid simply couldn’t do on his own.  If FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, or Bush 43 were President, Harry Reid would be working in a pawn shop in Las Vegas tonight.  But Harry Reid is still the Senate Majority Leader.

I know that I am ranting, but the whole subject pisses me off because the problems are so clear and the solutions are so simple.  The party leadership — Majority and Minority, Democrats and Republicans — from both chambers of Congress — House and Senate — NEED TO GO.

There is one more person who deserves some blame for how shitty the 112th Congress (9% approval rating, by the way) was and the 113th Congress has been, and he’s not a member of Congress:  President Barack Obama.  As I mentioned above, every President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, would have absolutely smashed individual members of the House and Senate, specific blocs of voters, and each chamber of Congress as a whole if they had been as intransigent, disrespectful, and ineffective as these last two Congresses have been.  It wouldn’t have gotten as bad with many of those Presidents because they either had a mastery of the legislative process or they used the bully pulpit of the Presidency to win the public opinion war.  President Obama has done none of these things.  Junior Senators and freshman House members from Obama’s own party have no problem openly criticizing the President or opposing Administration goals.  That should NEVER happen.  Joe Manchin should be working in a coal mine in West Virginia instead of taking shots at his own President whenever he feels like it.  Manchin’s predecessor, Robert Byrd, earned the right to be independent whenever he wanted, but even after 50 years in the Senate, Byrd knew to support his President.  What’s even worse is that Obama’s top Cabinet members are legendary Senators — Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.  Whenever a President wants something from his Democrats on the Hill, he should get it.  If not, Biden, Kerry, and Hagel should be laying the "Johnson Treatment” on anyone who needs it.  They have to because Obama obviously doesn’t have that weapon in his arsenal.  As embarrassing as Obama’s influence with his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill has been, can you imagine how bad it would be without Joe Biden doing the dirty work with Congress over the past four years?  

There’s a lot of anger in this post and I know that it is all over the place, but I am truly angry about this subject.  As I said, the problems are clear and the solutions are obvious.  And the past 80 years of Presidential/Congressional relations are a blueprint for what works and what doesn’t.  We need new party leaders on both sides of the aisle in both chambers of Congress.  And we need a President whose approach to dealing with useless Congresses and intransigent, disrespectful Congressmen is more FDR/Eisenhower/LBJ than Carter/Obama.  

I did not review it, but I did read Jeffrey Toobin’s The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court (BOOKKINDLE) and would definitely recommend it.  Toobin always has great insight into the Court and there have certainly been some interesting moments and historic decisions handed down by the Court during President Obama’s Administration.

The behind-the-scenes story of Chief Justice Roberts botching the oath of office at Obama’s first inauguration and later coming to the White House for a do-over is reason enough to check out Toobin’s book. 

I am a supporter and fan of both men, but outside of their party affiliation, no, I can’t say that I see a whole lot in common between the two.

They are very different types of politicians.  Clinton was an emotional, empathetic figure, while Obama is a much more technical, analytical politician.  Each of these styles have their distinct advantages and disadvantages for a politician, but I think that Clinton’s style is a better fit for someone in an executive position such as a President or Governor.  Bill Clinton, like Ronald Reagan, could lead by inspiring.  The things he said, the way he said them, and the connection he made with audiences built something that felt a lot like a relationship between the President and the American people.  When that exists, it becomes easier for the President to take his case to the people, if necessary.  Where that emotional, empathetic leader is especially successful is in those special national moments when a President is needed not so much for their role as head of state, but for their unofficial role as head of the American family.  Reagan did this spectacularly well, most notably following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.  Clinton had his chance in 1995 following the Oklahoma City bombing and came through at a prayer service.  One of George W. Bush’s strongest moments as President was in this type of role following 9/11.  While that is usually a time for comforting and calming the nation, it can also be one of opportunity as proven by Lyndon Johnson proved in the wake of the JFK assassination when he immediately went to work fighting to pass chunks of Kennedy’s legislative agenda that had been mired in a Congressional stalemate.    

The analytical politician thrives in a legislative setting where piloting legislation through a chamber of Congress can be like piecing together a puzzle — locating certain votes here-and-there, building alliances or blocs of support, finding patterns, and finessing the bill through with subtle changes that satisfy as many people as possible.  An analytical politician like Obama is usually the type who masters the technical details and arcane rules of Congress in order to use them tactically, like a lawyer masterfully controlling the courtroom, to build or break a piece of legislation’s momentum and guide it through to passage or down in flames.  Analytical politicians can still be successful as President — Franklin D. Roosevelt is a good example — but they must work with Congress.  It can’t be an antagonistic relationship, and Congress must be willing to do their part.  Unfortunately for President Obama, he’s saddled with a Congress in which both chambers — a House with a Republican majority and a Senate with a Democratic majority — are historically inept. 

Those two different types of leadership are the two immediate differences that I notice between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.  Interestingly enough, in private, I think that their roles are probably somewhat reversed.  Obama is much more relaxed and laid back in private conversation, or even with smaller groups, than he comes across in press availabilities and interviews.  And while Clinton is largely the same person that you get the rest of the time, he possesses a vicious temper that would surprise any longtime Clinton-watcher who wasn’t aware of that relatively little-known aspect of his personality.