Former White House press secretary Ron Nessen put it this way at lunch the other day with me and another old friend, former newspaper publisher and current author Herman Obermayer.
“When you’re running for the presidency, what you say is what matters. When you get the job, it’s what you do that counts.”
The three of us — all in the geezer stage of life — were discussing Barack Obama’s seeming inability to translate his promises into action on nearly every front. To summarize our opinions for their worth, we all agreed he had no taste for using the muscle available to presidents when it comes to getting what they want from Congress. That, of course, led to speculation about what other chief executives might have done — or, in fact, did — under similar circumstances, Nessen’s former boss Gerald R. Ford included.
Close to the top of Obama’s agenda as he ran for the office in 2008 was the closing of Guantanamo prison in Cuba, where some 100 men judged to be a threat to U.S. security are being held. According to the president then and now, it makes no sense and has been an embarrassment to the United States. So he has decided to renew an effort he abandoned shortly after his first inauguration.
What are his chances now? The consensus at our lunch table was that they aren’t good. In fact, we decided that few of those things he promised to do in his spectacular campaign for his first election are likely to come to fruition in this next four years.
Lending some credence to that analysis was Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Patrick Toomey’s recent statement about his party’s reasoning behind voting to derail a popular compromise he had proposed to expand background checks for gun purchases. He said the Senate’s GOP minority just wasn’t going to do anything that might benefit Obama. While that may be an oversimplification of why the GOP bucked a proposal that had overwhelming public support, there is enough truth in it to give the president and his aides a collective dose of heartburn.