11/23/2011 05:00 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2012

Obama the Bargainer in Chief? Don't Hold Your Breath

Oddly enough, he wanted nothing to do with them.

Or not so oddly at all.

Barack Obama, that is -- he'd be the "he." And the "them"? Congress, of course. More specifically, that congressional super committee charged with moving the federal budget a wee bit closer to balancing before calamity strikes.

Which, of course, they totally failed to do. And which failure, of course, some of them (and some of their strategically inclined mouthpieces) tried to pin on Barack Obama.

"Where was the leadership?" they wailed. "Why wasn't the president in the room with us?"

True: The president wasn't in the room with them. For most of those final days of fruitless negotiating, the president wasn't even in the country with them. Not even in the hemisphere with them. He was clear on the other side of the world, doing presidential things in Australia and Indonesia and...

And when his travels were over? When he returned to Washington with just a few days left before the super committee's deadline? Would Barack Obama finally come to the rescue?

Dream on, Siobhan.

The president kept his distance. No invitations to the White House. No last-ditch visits to Capitol Hill. No photo-ops. No speeches from the Oval Office.

If you didn't know better, you might think that he'd decided to let them whiff all on their own. That he'd decided it was dangerous to his health -- his political health, that is -- even to be seen associating with such a bunch of losers.

Now, why would he possibly think that?

Could it be because associating with such a bunch of losers had already been dangerous to his political health?

Can you say "debt-ceiling negotiations"?

So Barack Obama stayed away, and the super committee squabbled and quarreled and came up with nothing. Whereas if Barack Obama had joined the conversation, the super committee would have... squabbled and quarreled and come up with nothing. But at least he would have had some of that failure rub off on him.

Which may have been the point of all that wailing.

After all, it's not as if Republican members of Congress, or the Republican congressional leadership, had shown themselves even vaguely willing to cooperate with this president, let alone follow where he tries to lead. (The Democratic members of Congress are no piece of cake either, party discipline not ranking especially high as a Democratic virtue. But at least the Dems aren't actively committed to wrecking his presidency -- with them, it's more of a collateral-damage kind of thing.)

So the idea that the biggest roadblock -- the only roadblock -- standing between gridlock and a couple of choruses of "Kumbaya" was Barack Obama's absence --

Not even slightly.

Still, you can understand why a few of the Distinguished Members might be miffed. When you're down in the single digits in public approval, you need all the friends you can get. And if you can't get any friends, at least you can try to get someone who'll share the blame with you. Instead of say, someone who'd cross to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue -- or the Pacific Ocean -- to avoid being seen with you. Instead of, say, someone who'd even rather be part of a group photograph with a bunch of foreign leaders wearing colorful native shirtwear.

That was merely embarrassing. Mixing with Congress would be so much worse.

Oddly enough, he wanted nothing to do with them.

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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at