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August 21, 2014 3:00 PM Why Schmooze?

By Ed Kilgore

I suppose it’s a sign of progress that instead of expecting Barack Obama to personally solve all the world’s problems, the punditocracy is now more prone to complain that he’s “detached” or “aloof.” Ezra Klein has tried to rebut the strange assumption that things would all change if Obama’s attitude would just improve; he’s usefully paraphrased by Paul Waldman:

Klein goes on to note that because of increasing polarization in Congress, Barack Obama actually enjoys more unified support from Democrats in Congress than any president since anyone has been keeping track of these things. And it goes without saying that no amount of friendliness would ever get today’s Republicans to vote with him on anything. So why are we hearing the complaints now?

Waldman thinks it’s a combination of Obama’s lame-duck status and congressional ego. That makes a lot of sense; in the land of 535 preening Sun Kings demanding attention and inflating their importance, the symbolism of presidential schmoozing is valued far beyond its actual worth. And yes, the fact that the president’s power over congressional Democrats is ebbing matters, too; as Waldman notes, Obama spends a lot of time raising money for the party committees, but it’s not like he is in much of a position to hold Members accountable individually.

But I’d add another factor: the current bitching is bipartisan. Democrats are upset Obama can’t do more for them, and Republicans seem to alternate between treating the president as a tyrant exceeding his authority and as a deadbeat not doing his job. Either argument, of course, is a landmark on the road to calling him impeachable, if not actually impeaching him.

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.

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