Just in time for the season's final barbecue, President Obama last week backed off his promise (threat?) to "do something" about immigration reform by the end of the summer if Congress failed to send him a bill addressing the issue. He needs more time, we're told.
It's a dumb and uneventful conclusion to a dumb, uneventful summer in Washington politics. Obama's promise to rewrite America's immigration law through a mixture of executive fiat and a kind of officious neglect may have been calculated to incite a GOP freakout, a summer of polarizing impeachment rage, or a self-defeating government shutdown. Untrue to form, the GOP somehow missed the chance to score an own-goal ahead of midterm elections.
During the health-care debate of his first term, Obama was able to command kamikaze-like loyalty among Democratic legislators who knew that their support of the Affordable Care Act could cost them their seat in the Capitol. Going into the last midterm election of his presidency, Obama commands none of that loyalty, certainly not on immigration.
Instead, it seems the president is going to bow to the wishes of vulnerable Democrats running for election, "who have expressed opposition to Obama's plans to act unilaterally on the hot-button issue," according to the Los Angeles Times.
So Obama can't get the GOP to self-destruct or Democrats to fall in line. And he can't get Democrats to fall enough in line behind an executive solution to make the GOP self-destruct. In other words, the Obama presidency is basically over. Hope it was good for you, too.
The Obama agenda is spent. With the balance of power unlikely to tip in a Democratic direction in the fall, he's unlikely to put more big scores on the board in the final two years of his presidency.
Whatever revisions it faces in the coming years, the massive reform of the health-care system in his first term is probably the most significant alteration of the American state by a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." His drawdown in Iraq was necessary no matter how unhappy that country has been ever since our invasion. And while his foreign policy has generally left chaos and disorder behind it — see: Libya, Egypt — it's an obvious improvement on his predecessor's.
There's not much left to do other than to find a few more bric-a-brac "legacy achievements." Perhaps there is a nonbinding climate change document he can pretend to lead. He can put together another blue-ribbon commission on entitlement reform, perhaps. Another beer summit could happen, when another incident reminds America that it still hasn't solved or addressed racial inequities. If Obama can't be a leader of the political culture, he can be a symbol of it.
Or Obama can take a page from previous lame-duck Democratic presidents. Like Clinton and Carter, Obama could try to create peace in the Middle East by getting the media and his obedient inner circle to repeat over and over again that Obama is "evenhanded" and an "honest broker" in the region, and he's "really putting it all on the line." Stop laughing.
American presidencies have clichéd, predictable endings. But rarely entertaining or happy ones. Barring an economy-tanking incident, or an invasion of the homeland, we have a whole lot of not much to look forward to until Jan. 20, 2017.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The latent sexism of the male marriage proposal
- This judge is the reason we're still fighting over net neutrality
- After Ferguson: Stop deferring to the cops
- Why the poor can't catch a break on Thanksgiving
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- How to adopt the perfect rescue dog
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Ferguson riots were terrible — but this racist reaction was worse
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week