March 10, 2016


I’ve always remembered a piece of advice I once read: always go to the funeral, it said. Even if you don’t know if you should, even if you’d rather not, always go to the funeral. The reasoning behind the advice is that you’re going for the people left behind. It will mean something to them.

When former first lady Nancy Reagan is buried on Friday, first lady Michelle Obama will attend the funeral, which is being held in California, but President Obama will not. Instead, he will be in Austin, Texas, leading a conversation about innovation in government at SxSW, and then headlining two Democratic fundraisers.

But for President Obama, a man so skilled in symbolism, attending Mrs. Reagan’s funeral Friday — or Justice Antonin Scalia’s funeral Mass a few weeks earlier — could have been a moment for him to send a message that even Washington, and he as its leader, can rise above politics when it matters.

Well, that’s because he can’t.

These two funeral services are just the most recent examples of missed opportunities for President Obama to do the small things, especially with Republicans, that could have had a big impact on his presidency. In and of themselves, the gestures that build and sustain relationships in Washington can seem insignificant — calling a congressman to ask his opinion about this or that, asking a subcommittee chair to dinner, giving out extra tickets to the White House picnic for a congresswoman’s children.

Over the last seven years, President Obama has had major successes related to his agenda, but he has done little of the relationship building that connects a White House to the rest of Washington and makes broader progress possible.

Obama’s not a politician. He’s a messiah. If you reject him, you’re a heretic and unworthy of consideration. Bill Clinton wants you to love him. Obama just wants you to obey, or shut up.

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