Monday, September 20, 2010

White House Insider

by Ulsterman

Part 1 : “the President is Losing It.”

A longtime Washington D.C. insider, and former advisor to the Obama election campaign and transition team, speaks out on an administration in crisis, and a president increasingly withdrawn from the job of President.

2008 gave America an incredibly charismatic candidate for President of the United States. Speech after speech showed a candidate with increasing momentum as primary race after primary race concluded. And then came the nomination, more speeches, culminating in an election night victory.

According to the person sitting across from me, those were incredibly exciting times, even for one who had been a participant with three previous presidential hopefuls. Barack Obama appeared to move from one city to the next effortlessly, gaining confidence and motivation with each campaign stop. He was remarkable to watch. He took the script, elevated it with his oration, left the crowds screaming for more, and then would do it all over again, time after time after time. On the campaign trail, Obama is a machine.

When I asked this insider if the media gave candidate Obama an assist throughout his campaign, it elicits a sly smile. Sure – we definitely had people in the media on our side. Absolutely. We went so far as to give them specific ideas for coverage. The ones who took that advice from the campaign were granted better access, and Obama was the biggest story in 2008, so yeah, that gave us a lot of leverage.

Could Obama have succeeded without the media’s help? Yeah, I think so. As I said, on the campaign trail he is very-very good. The opposition didn’t have near the energy, or the celebrity attraction that Obama brings. Plus, the country was burned out after eight years of Bush. We knew that going in. We knew that if we won the Democrat nomination, we were likely going to cruise our way to the White House – and that is exactly what we did.”

But after Obama was sworn in, things began to change? Almost immediately. Obama loved to campaign. He clearly didn’t like the work of being President though, and that attitude was felt by the entire White House staff within weeks after the inauguration. Obama the tireless, hard working candidate became a very tepid personality to us. And the few news stories that did come out against him were the only things he seemed to care about. He absolutely obsesses over Fox News. For being so successful, Barack Obama is incredibly thin-skinned. He takes everything very personally.

And you state he despises Joe Biden? Oh yeah. That is very well known in the White House. Obama chose Biden for one reason – to have an older white guy with some international policy credentials. Period. If Biden has all of this international experience that Obama found so valuable, why has he buried him under the pile of crap that became the stimulus bill? What does Joe Biden know about budgets and economics? Not much – but Obama didn’t care. Give Joe a job and get him the hell out of my hair – that pretty much sums up the president’s feelings toward Joe Biden.

What about Hillary Clinton? Obama is scared to death of Hillary. He doesn’t trust her – obsesses over her almost as much as he does Fox News. He respects her though, which might be why he fears her so much as well. He talks the game, but when it comes down to it, she has played the game on a far tougher level than he has, and Obama knows that.

How about Bill Clinton? I never heard Obama say anything about Bill Clinton personally, though I was told he has cracked a few jokes about the former president since getting into the White House. I have heard that Bill Clinton does not like Barack Obama. That really started when Obama played the race card against him during the primary campaign. Apparently Clinton was apoplectic over that and still hasn’t gotten over it. If there is one thing I have learned in this town – don’t make an enemy of Bill Clinton.

So if Obama doesn’t appear interested in the job of president, what does he do day after day? Well, he takes his meetings just like any other president would, though even then, he seems to lack a certain focus and on a few occasions, actually leaves with the directive that be given a summary of the meeting at a later date. I hear he plays a lot of golf, and watches a lot of television – ESPN mainly. I’ll tell you this – if you want to see President Obama get excited about a conversation, turn it to sports. That gets him interested. You start talking about Congress, or some policy, and he just kinda turns off. It’s really very strange. I mean, we were all led to believe that this guy was some kind of intellectual giant, right? Ivy League and all that. Well, that is not what I saw. Barack Obama doesn’t have a whole lot of intellectual curiosity. When he is off script, he is what I call a real “slow talker”. Lots of ummms, and lots of time in between answers where you can almost see the little wheel in his head turning very slowly. I am not going to say the president is a dumb man, because he is not, but yeah, there was a definite letdown when you actually hear him talking without the script.

That sounds like you are calling Obama stupid to me. No – I am not going to call him stupid. He just doesn’t strike me as particularly smart. Bill Clinton is a smart guy – he would run intellectual circles around Barack Obama. And Bill Clinton loved the politics of being president. Obama seems to think he shouldn’t have to be bothered, which has created a considerable amount of conflict among his staff.

So how bad are things at the White House these days? I don’t know about right now, because I have not been there in over a month. But I still hear things, and I know what it was like when I left. It’s not good. As bad as it might look to voters based on what they do know, it’s much worse. The infighting is off the charts. You got a Chief of Staff who despises cabinet members, advisors who despise the Chief of Staff, a President and First Lady having their own issues…

Come again – what about the First Lady? (The insider takes a deep breath) Ok, look, just like any other marriage, folks have issues. The Obamas are no different, except of course they are very high profile. I was told they were having issues before the campaign, and they have even more issues now. Maybe that is why Obama seems so detached – not so much the stress of the White House, but the stress of personal issues. I can certainly relate to that kind of situation.

Care to clarify some more on the Obama marriage? No. That is all I will say about that. Don’t ask again.

Ok, back to President Obama then. In just a few words, how would you describe him these days? Like I said, it’s been a while since I was last at the White House, but I don’t have a problem saying that the president is losing it. I don’t mean he is like losing his mind. I mean to say that he is losing whatever spark he had during the campaign. When you take away the crowds, Obama gets noticeably smaller. He shrinks up inside of himself. He just doesn’t seem to have the confidence to do the job of President, and it’s getting worse and worse. Case in point – just a few days before I left, I saw first hand the President of the United States yelling at a member of his staff. He was yelling like a spoiled child. And then he pouted for several moments after. I wish I was kidding, or exaggerating, but I am not. The President of the United States threw a temper tantrum. The jobs reports are always setting him off, and he is getting increasingly conspiratorial over the unemployment numbers. I never heard it myself, but was told that Obama thinks the banking system is out to get him now. That they and the big industries are making him pay for trying to regulate them more. That is the frame of mind the President is in these days. And you know what? Maybe he is right, who knows?

Will Obama run again in 2012? I don’t know. That subject was never brought up again after 2008, at least not around me. If he does, I think it would have more to do with allowing him another year and a half of campaigning again. He just loves it so much. He really needs the crowds, the cheering, the support of the people.

Can he win in 2012? Oh – absolutely. Who else campaigns as well as Barack Obama? Nobody. What politician is more loved and supported by the media? Nobody. I don’t see the Republicans offering up a candidate as powerful as Obama. I mean Sarah Palin? Really? Obama would defeat her by a 20 point landslide! Romney? The Republicans will enjoy these midterm elections, but 2012 is Obama’s year if he chooses to run again. As a president, Obama has many flaws, but as a candidate, he is near flawless.

But would another four years of an Obama presidency be the best thing for America? (Long pause) Now that is a much more interesting question right there, and a question I think more and more Democrat Party insiders are asking themselves these days, myself included. I am going to come right out and say it – No. Obama is not up to the job of being president. He simply doesn’t seem to care about the work involved. You want to know what? Obama is lazy. He really is. And it is getting worse and worse. Would another four years of Obama be the best thing for America? No it would not. What this country needs is a president who is focused on the job more than on themselves. Obama is not that individual. I actually hope he doesn’t run again. Looking back, as much fun as the campaign in 2008 was, Hillary Clinton should have been the nominee. Hillary was ready to be president. Obama was not ready. He had never lost a campaign. Everything was handed to him. He doesn’t really understand the idea of work – real, hard, get your heart and soul into it work. And frankly, that is very disappointing to a whole lot of us…

Part 2: "The President needs to grow up."

Once again we have the privilege of speaking with someone from within the Obama team – a former member of the Obama campaign and transition team, and longtime Washington DC political insider. This is the follow up to our original discussion that took place a few weeks ago.

So you still wish to keep your name hidden from the public? Why? I intend to remain working in this town for a bit longer. A public disclosure might complicate that just a bit given who is in power right now. But I won’t be the last one from the current administration coming forward. After the midterms, there will be a number of us speaking about what is really going on in the Democrat Party, if for nothing else because it’s such a damn mess right now.

What do you mean “it’s a damn mess”? I mean just what I said. The Democrat Party is the most chaotic I have ever seen it – and that goes back almost 30 years.

So who is to blame? We all are. By we I mean those of us who were working within the party power structure the last ten years or so. We got so caught up in the hate Bush mentality, we let the party get hijacked by our own far left. That was disaster the moment it happened. The disaster that will be the midterm election in 2010 started in November of 2006 when Pelosi and Reid took over the Democrat Party. Those two have only brought trouble to the Democrat Party since day one of that time.

How do you mean? (A long pause…) Look, I’ve been in the Democrat Party in one way or other, be it campaigns, fundraising, lobbying, whatever…we lost our way in 2006. We put in place a Speaker of the House who is an absolute public relations train wreck. The lady is a… She’s tough. Yeah, she’s real tough. But outside of the halls of Congress, forget it. She’s a nut to the American people because America was and is a right of center country. As a Democrat I say that, because I understand it. Bill Clinton understood it. Pelosi, Reid, Obama…they don’t accept that fact.

You mention Clinton a lot. Yeah, I do because Bill Clinton was the very best politician of our time and I got to see it up close for a period of time and I am still amazed at just how good he was. Second, I think Bill Clinton was a damn good president. He should be recognized more for just how good he really was.

And you don’t place Obama in the same league as Bill Clinton? (Laughter) Hell no. Obama has only been in office a couple of years, so that isn’t even a fair question right now. But what I have seen of Barack Obama has not left me with the confidence to say he will be as good a president as Bill Clinton. Maybe he will get it figured out before 2012, and I sure as hell hope so because the Republicans are getting some real oddballs running their own show over there and that scares me too.

What scares you more as president – Sarah Palin or Barack Obama? (Hands to head) Oh boy. What a choice! People would kill me for saying this – actually you know what, there are more and more of us Democrats saying what I am going to say in one form or another… Sarah Palin understands America more than Barack Obama. Yes, she has a minority of our far left who hates her, and some in our media are part of that group, but overall, she seems to get America. Americans aren’t a complicated people, and neither is Sarah Palin, so that probably works in her favor. But President Obama is just out of touch. He really doesn’t understand what America is. What it’s about. Or who it is. And that is a real problem for him – and the Democrat Party at this moment in its history.

Are you saying you would vote for Sarah Palin over Barack Obama? No, I don’t think I could do that. As much as I admire Palin’s ability to connect with the American people, I just can’t stand her politics. I am a pro-choice Democrat. I support unions. I support welfare programs. Sarah Palin understands America, but that doesn’t mean she understands the best parts of America. That being said, I think President Obama understands hardly any of America. That is probably a big reason he appears so lost these days.

Last time you mentioned trouble with the Obama marriage. I am not going to ask you to elaborate on that specifically, but could you tell us if you like Michelle Obama? Like is not a word we use in D.C. very much. Do I respect the First Lady? Sure. She seems like a strong woman, a good mother. I wasn’t around her really enough to say anything more than that. Or, at least, I would rather not.

Were you afraid of her? No – not anymore than anyone else who was around her as briefly as I was. Here is what I get from the First Lady. She is very much the Chicago ideologue. Nancy Pelosi is the far left of the Democrat Party, right? Well, Michelle Obama might be to the left of Nancy Pelosi. She really doesn’t care for how things work in the country and she wants to see it all changed. I can respect that, though I would guess she is far too liberal even for me – and I consider myself a liberal Democrat.

Could she be mean? Mean? She’s the First Lady. She is a strong, influential woman in America. I don’t know what you are trying to ask me there – though I suspect what you are trying to get at and all I will say to that is, “Don’t go there.”

If you had President Obama here right now and you could give him some advice that he would follow, what would that advice be? (Long silence. Eyes closed – long sigh) Man, that’s a tough question right there. I have thought about it a lot lately. I know I’m not the only one who left that White House feeling really let down, but maybe that wasn’t fair to the President. Maybe our own expectations got so high that he had no choice but to let us down…some advice, huh? Hopefully without sounding disrespectful, I would tell the President to pull his head out of his ass. To man up, grow up, and start to pay attention to what the American people want and need. That is a big-big flaw with this president. He comes at it from the position of thinking he knows what we need because we don’t have the ability to know for ourselves. And he doesn’t respect any opinion that is different from his own. He just doesn’t care to know any other side to any given issue. I really believe it’s a maturity thing. I think our president needs to grow up. I hate to put it that way, but there it is. President Obama – grow up.

Part 3: What The Hell Have We Done?

Hello again. Hello – let me start right off by saying that your last two stories have created quite a stir. My inbox is off the charts. Congratulations.
Thank you – but let’s get right to it then.

Yes, the initial two stories have indeed stirred the political pot, which leads me to ask a very basic question of you – why? Excuse me?

Why give your account of what you were seeing or hearing going on at the White House or in the Democrat Party? What is your motivation? Are you angry at the administration? This is perhaps the most common response to any story like this – why do it? Ok, fair enough. And let me be equally blunt with you then – my motivation is simple. I am doing it for me, for my party, and for my country. In my own small way – maybe it’s insignificant, maybe not, I want to see Democrats move ahead of this mess that we are in right now. It is a mess of our own making, so we need to be the ones to clean it up. If we don’t, this country is going to continue hurting, and too many people out there are really hurting these days.

Ok…but how does giving me some apparent insider information going to help the country, or help your political party? Simple – it lets others know it’s time to start talking. It’s time to get the word out. It’s time to challenge the inept status quo that is currently running things. People are scared – hell, I’m a bit scared myself. But enough is enough – this political train has got to get back on its tracks. And I’ll tell you this, my talking to you, and your little blog stories, is already helping. More people are ready to talk. It’s already happening. And more is coming. The media won’t be able to ignore it anymore. This administration, the leadership in Congress, they need to account for how they have totally mishandled the responsibilities given to them. That accounting is coming soon enough in November – we are going to get what we deserve. But I am still hopeful it is not too late to save 2012.

How do you intend to save 2012? I assume you mean the presidential elections? Well, that is the top spot of course, yes. But not just the White House. There is Congress, we need to put in place like-minded governors, all of that. Right now the term Democrat is toxic to mainstream America. It’s as bad as I have ever seen it. We are literally killing our political futures out of some need to keep supporting an administration that has in no way, shape, or form shown itself to be worthy of that support.

Those are strong words – but what exactly to do you mean by that? What do I mean!? (Voice rising) What I mean is exactly this – we got Congressmen and Senators running for re-election right now whose political careers are about to be ended because they supported a president and a Democratic Party leadership that told them to do so. They trusted they would be politically protected, that the American people would agree with the agenda. Well guess what? That hasn’t happened. Good people, good Democrats, are being tossed aside like so much trash – and this White House DOES NOT GIVE A DAMN. In my eyes that is absolutely unforgivable. You just don’t do that to your own people. And some of these politicians are talking. They are – but for the most part the media is ignoring them because they don’t want to hurt the administration. To that I say enough! Do your damn job. Report what is going on within the Democratic Party. We need to clean up this mess, and it starts by getting the truth out there. That is my motivation.

You clearly feel strongly about this. You’re damn right I do. And so should everyone else that’s got skin in the game. And we all got skin in this game.

So how exactly has President Obama failed to help members of his own party? (Leans forward – clearly agitated.) Loyalty – loyalty – loyalty. This White House doesn’t give a damn for the concept of loyalty, dedication, sincerity. This White House is the most self-centered, arrogant, and ignorant…they just don’t care to know what they are doing. And when they do it – consequences mean nothing to them. NOTHING. And that is not to say it’s all bad at the White House. There are some very bright people working there. But you know what, those people have been marginalized, pushed aside, and are now leaving. You watch – the exodus from this White House will prove to be of historical proportions.

With all due respect, you sound like a disgruntled employee. No, not even close. I wasn’t on the books. I’m a contract player – I worked the ground game, I have been at the White House during this and other administrations, done meetings both formal and informal, and talked regularly to White Housers over the last two years who enjoy top level access. That is a big thing – access. I could get at it, but let me tell you, the feedback I got, and the things I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, it was a terrible letdown. This is not 2008 anymore, not by a long shot. For most of the last year, you want to know what question keeps playing in my head?

What question was that? WHAT THE HELL HAVE WE DONE? Now that may come off terribly disrespectful to the president, but so be it. What have we done? We were led to believe this man was one thing, but everything I have seen, heard, and understand, points to the indisputable fact he is not what we hoped for. Not what we were promised. Maybe he might have been. Maybe a full term or two in the Senate and he would have had the experience and maturity to handle the job of President of the United States. But right now – the man is simply not up to the task, and yet it is loyal Democrats who are paying the price for his incompetence and incoherence. The health care bill? Do you know I was told he has never read the bill? Not one part of it? NOT ONE. Sounds like something you would hear on one of the talk radio shows, right? And I wouldn’t normally consider such a possibility, but this came directly from one of those good Democrats who might now see their political careers ended because they supported that bill and now its being used against them like some political sledgehammer. How is that supposed to make someone who put their career on the line feel? Betrayed. A whole lot of us are feeling betrayed these days and it just pisses me off.

What were you told to lead you to believe the president has not read any part of the healthcare bill? I was talking to a current member of Congress who was assured – strongly assured, prior to their vote that the bill would, long before the November elections, be a positive for them. They could run on it was what they were told. Well, as we all know now, that didn’t work out, and so they attempted to get a meeting with someone higher up on the political food chain to find out what the administration was going to do to help the situation. They were ignored. They kept at it and eventually was given a meeting. You want to know the gist of that meeting?

Yes. The gist of it was this – they were told to drop it. They were told to, exact words here – “worry about your own campaign and don’t expect the White House to hold your hand over this.” Well, they were upset right? Just hearing about it made me absolutely furious. This is a person’s career, their life here. Now that answer wasn’t good enough so they pushed it a bit further – suggested the president could do some town meetings and answer questions about the bill, alleviate all the concerns and fight back against the conservative chatter that was being put out there. Guess what they were told regarding that? They were asked one question – did they read the bill? This Congressperson admitted they hadn’t. Like a lot of them, they had voted for it, but hadn’t read it. That was a mistake, sure, but the thing is over 2000 pages, right? Well, after admitting they didn’t read the bill they are told in a laughing way mind you, “That’s ok – neither has the president, so you can’t expect him to take on a bunch of town meetings on it, right?” So that was it. Nice, huh? Bye-bye, thanks for playing, and good luck with the -explitive- storm coming your way this summer.

Well, that doesn’t actually prove the president didn’t read the bill. Yeah…ok. But I followed up with this story with someone in the White House. Guess what? The president was briefed on the bill – he never read it - it was a damn running joke among all of them! But leading up to the vote, back when the battle was raging in Congress, President Obama was throwing fits over the delays, telling his aides something to the effect, “I don’t care what it is I just want something on my desk to sign. Get me a –expletive- bill. Just get me something to –expletive- sign.” And that is just what those Democrats in Congress did – they got the president a bill. And now they are paying a very high political price, and this president appears to care less. He is basically telling members of his own party “You got me my bill and thank you very much. Now go to hell.”

Was everyone on his staff on board with the president pushing so hard for healthcare? Absolutely not. There were some who voiced concerns. Some who pushed for a more clear economic agenda. Apparently Obama wanted none of it – he was obsessed, absolutely obsessed with getting some kind of healthcare legislation. And the ones who did voice concerns…they are, or will be, among the first to go. And it’s coming sooner rather than later.

So you want to repair the damage to the Democrat Party. You want to give a voice to the Democrats who are now paying the price for the administration’s faults, and you are hoping that this damage can be repaired before the 2012 election cycle. That sum it up pretty well? Sure – close enough at any rate.

And tell us again how you think all of that can be achieved? Democrats need to rise up within the party and say enough is enough. We have allowed ourselves to be carried far too far to the left of the mainstream. You know what word I cannot stand? Progressive. Enough with this “progressive” crap. Shut up about it. We are Democrats. Anyone who wants to call themselves a Progressive I say show them the door – they are doing nothing but killing the Democratic Party. And regardless of whether or not we survive the November midterms with a majority, Nancy Pelosi must step down or be removed as Speaker. That is an absolute must – I cannot emphasize that point enough. She is political poison on the national level. Second, President Obama must fully engage himself with the requirements of the job. He must surround himself with people who understand the tone and temperament of the country because he clearly does not. And if he can’t or won’t do this, he needs to not run for reelection in 2012.

So what happens if he does intend to run again, but makes none of the improvements you hope to see in him? (Prolonged silence. Looks down – then responds quietly.) I really hope that is not the situation we get to. I really hope President Obama, who I think still has the potential to improve, realizes and respects the great opportunity he now has. I don’t believe he respects any of it right now, which is a terrible shame. Such a terrible shame…but, if he does not fully engage in the job of president. If he does not even begin to live up to his own potential…Democrats must take measures to provide an alternative in 2012. The country simply cannot afford another second Obama term like these first two years. It is simply too difficult a time for America to have the Democratic Party act so irresponsibly.

Any ideas as to an acceptable alternative? Hillary Clinton perhaps? (Smiles) The Clinton angle was not missed in your last two articles, was it? I make no attempt to hide my admiration for President Clinton. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton cannot run for another term as this country’s president. As for Hillary, I do not know her as well, but I do admire her – a lot, and now regret not having been a part of her own run for president. My ties to the2008 Obama campaign feel more and more these days like a dishonorable victory.

But would you like to see her run in 2012 if President Obama, as you put it, fails to improve? Yes. I would support Hillary Clinton over Obama in 2012 if the need was still there to help ensure President Obama was given only one term. But Hillary Clinton is not the only possibility for the Democrats. We are a party with many fine leaders – many, many potential candidates for president who I would gladly support.

Such a race could tear the Democrat Party apart. You know that, right? The party is already tearing apart thanks to the Obama White House and figures such as Nancy Pelosi. If we lose 2012 so be it. Let it be the beginning the party’s rebuilding. Just like the Republicans came back in 2010, we will be back also, and much stronger than we would be with a second Obama term that is as weak and confused as this first term has been so far.

Any final comment? Keep your ear to the ground. All kinds of news is going to be coming surrounding the Obama White House and the Democrat leadership. Watch for Pelosi in particular. That will be the key when you know the door is getting kicked open and the truth of just how chaotic things have become gets out into the open. I will say it again – Pelosi is the key. It is going to be ugly for Democrats, but people need to keep the faith. The party will emerge from this – and hopefully in time for 2012.

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