One of the more surprising features of the post-midterm-election handwringing that has occurred on the Democratic side of the aisle has been the general unwillingness to pin the blame on the president.
By and large the retrospective criticism has been directed at the larger, more amorphous, party; as in, 'the party failed to aggressively defend its agenda,' or, 'the party reached too far after the 2008 elections.' Obama hasn't been absolved, by any measure. But he hasn't really been targeted forcefully either.
But on Friday, the one lawmaker who would seem likely to level the personalized critiques did so. Speaking at a Georgetown University event assessing the fallout of the midterms, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) argued that the cake was largely baked for Democrats when Obama failed to take advantage of the bully pulpit he was handed on inauguration.
"The dynamic that the country was expecting was stronger leadership from the White House," said the Ohio Democrat. "It would then pull the Congress along. And if the Republicans had a plan to basically frustrate the president, the president could go over their heads to the American people and summon their support and you would have seen a different result in the election frankly. That didn't happen."
"I want to go back to Inauguration Day," he added. "I had the chance to just sit up in like a catbird seat and see it all. And it was an amazing thing and I could feel the energy. I was thinking, my god we are at a moment.' And the energy dissipated. It was gone. And it didn't have to be that way."
Kucinich often embraces the role of progressive agitator for more establishment Democrats. So his critique is, in one respect, expected. But he also put his liberal credentials on the line when he voted for health care reform legislation at Obama's urging. And it's hard not to recognize that other Democrats, some of whom will be hesitant to pile on the White House, share his frustrations.
At the Georgetown conference, at the very least, he was far from the only one who thought the administration's shortcomings were to blame for 2010. Harold Ickes, a longtime Democratic operative, argued that the White House has "not done a good job explaining what the good things are in the health care bill," which, in turn lent the legislation to being demonized. But the coup-de-grace came from former CBS anchorman Dan Rather, who accused Obama of coming off as "soft."
"Here is where President Obama does have to be accountable in this. In sports, in basketball, you don't sit on a lead. You get up on them and you try to pour it on. In military terms, even non-commissioned officers are told to exploit success. And I agree that there was some awe on inauguration day, not just in Washington D.C. but around the country.... And the president got into office having run a bold, audacious, campaign and he began to play, in the public perception, he began to play it safe. He got a reputation for playing a little soft.... You say what happened? What happened is that the perception got out that President Obama was not wiling to really stand up in Harry Truman fashion."
Rather's examples included failure by the White House to demand a bigger stimulus and allowing Congress to write the health care legislation -- both of which would be considered, in their own right, historic achievements by any recent administration. Obama's failures, as the White House would argue, are not that he didn't push hard enough for the things he wanted, but that some in the party preferred a good fight over legislative success.