Political Animal


March 01, 2013 5:11 PM Obama To Pundits: No “Jedi Mindmeld”

By Ed Kilgore

As we navigate another period of fiscal wrangling in Congress, pundit demands that the president provide some sort of “leadership” to overcome divided government (presumably brainwashing Republicans to relax the commitment to “conservative principle” that they’ve spent the last three years administering oaths to each other never to do, or just caving to them entirely) are again reaching a fever-pitch. It’s time once again to listen to Brendan Nyhan, who has described this peculiar belief in the magical powers of the president probably better than anyone, to remind us this is just nuts:

One of the recurring themes in commentary on national politics is the demand for the president to change politics as we know it to accomplish some otherwise unattainable political goal. If only President Obama tried a little harder, some critics claim, he could magically overcome legislative obstacles to gun control or clean energy legislation. I’ve dubbed this fantasy the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency in honor of the comic book superheroes whose abilities to use their “power rings” depend on their willpower.

This habit is particularly inapt at the moment, since the only modification of the sequester Republicans are open to is one that shifts spending reductions to the very programs the White House used all its leverage to exclude.

The media should instead focus greater attention on Congress, which writes the tax and budget legislation that determines how the federal government spends its money. Obama has relatively little leverage over the Republicans who control the House of Representatives, almost all of whom represent districts he lost in 2012.

Obama himself offered his own mocking version of the Green Lantern Theory today:

Asked why he doesn’t just sit down with congressional leaders until a sequestration deal is reached, President Obama said Friday that he can’t lock lawmakers in a room.
“I am not a dictator, I’m the President,” Obama said. “So, ultimately, if Mitch McConnell or John Boehner say, we need to go to catch a plane, I can’t have Secret Service block the doorway.”
Obama added: “I know that this has been some of the conventional wisdom that’s been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal. The fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow, you know, do a Jedi mindmeld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right. Well, you know, they’re elected. We have a constitutional system of government.”

He probably meant “Vulcan Mindmeld,” but you get the idea.

Nyan suggests that the president may have fed the belief in his magical powers by claiming at one point last that losing another presidential election could “break the fever” gripping the GOP. Predictably, that didn’t happen.

It’s increasingly clear what we really need are mechanisms to make the functioning of a working majority in Washington a lot more practicable. Thus, I’m increasingly convinced that Harry Reid’s refusal to undertake serious and unilateral filibuster reform represents a huge lost opportunity. Barring that, it’s going to take an electoral landslide of great magnitude to end divided government. Either way, the country should not have to wait for the Republican Party to find (or even want to find) some way to elude the grip of “movement conservatives,” or for the president to assume superhero powers.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Walker on March 01, 2013 5:18 PM:

    I thought this was going to be a post mocking Obama's mixed metaphor (which I have seen a few sites do today).

    It is Jedi mind tricks or Vulcan mindmeld. Not Jedi mindmeld.

  • Mimikatz on March 01, 2013 5:21 PM:

    Agree on the filibuster. Harry Reid is Charlie Brown to Mitch McConnell's Lucy and fell for a "Gentlemen's Agreement" yet again. Bring out the nuclear option. We need a government that can govern. The country is fast falling apart.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 01, 2013 5:37 PM:

    "Well, you know, they're elected."

    Exactly. If their constituents have a problem with their unwillingness to legislate, they can vote their asses out of office. Simple solution. Obama didn't cherry pick these ass hats for congress.

  • arkie on March 01, 2013 6:03 PM:

    Both Jedi mind tricks and Vulcan mindmelts require that both parties have minds.

  • Kathryn on March 01, 2013 6:30 PM:

    Amen to Mimikatz, Sgt. Gym Bunny and arkle......A gentlemen 's agreement with Mitch McConnell is ludicrous and requires a gentlemen or two,, elect morons who want to dismantle government while being compensated by said government/taxpayers, this is what you get. Good for Pres. Obama for being blunter than usual toward the clueless White House press corps, hope it makes MSM news tonight. Btw, Gym Bunny, reading the Gaslight mystery series you mentioned some time ago, a great escape from current events though we seem to be careening back to the 1890's presently.

  • shg on March 01, 2013 6:58 PM:

    One question: if Reid did take unilateral action on the filibuster, as you suggest, how would you deal with the house? I would have liked to see something done to prevent filibusters of nominees - which the house has no role in.

  • tcase on March 01, 2013 7:16 PM:

    Another example (made by Krugman and others in 2009): "If only Obama had tried a little harder, he could've gotten a bigger stimulus."

  • JJO on March 01, 2013 7:37 PM:

    House Republicans to Obama: "No kill I"

  • beejeez on March 01, 2013 7:40 PM:

    Am I wrong for liking everything about how Obama handled that question?

  • labman57 on March 01, 2013 8:04 PM:

    Obama mixed his mind-manipulating metaphors -- impeach him now!

  • Josh on March 01, 2013 10:08 PM:

    It was supposed to be Jedi mind trick - these are not the droids you are looking for. Vulcan mind meld is how Spock put his mind/soul/essence in Bones at the end of Wrath of Khan.

    Obama wants republicans to see a different debt reduction then they think they see/want, so Jedi mind trick.

  • Thingumbob on March 02, 2013 4:21 AM:

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on March 02, 2013 6:53 AM:

    @Kathryn, Ah, Gaslight Mysteries. I really like crime novels that are set in the 1890s (I'm about to finish Carr's The Alienist, then more Gaslight Mysteries :)). Their so distant from today yet so close to where we're headed if the GOTea has their way. Very good reminders for why we need to keep the safety net intact.

  • Rabbler on March 02, 2013 9:29 AM:

    'Thus, Iím increasingly convinced that Harry Reidís refusal to undertake serious and unilateral filibuster reform represents a huge lost opportunity. '

    Saying that now means less than nothing. This isn't the first time this opportunity has 'slipped away.'