Turnabout, the saying goes, is fair play:
MILWAUKEE — The Obama campaign is embracing debate over President Obama’s comments this week about changing Washington from the outside, saying the strategy has been “a hallmark of the president’s leadership style” while criticizing rival Mitt Romney for suggesting he could affect change on his own.
“This is a fundamental difference in how they would govern,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters today aboard Air Force One. “Mitt Romney seems to believe he can wave a magic wand and tell people what to do within the walls of Washington, and that that’s going to make change happen in this country.”
During the Univision forum Thursday, Obama said the “most important” lesson he learned in his first term is that “you can’t change Washington from the inside.”
“You can only change it from the outside,” he said. “That’s how I got elected, and that’s how the big accomplishments, like health care, got done, was because we mobilized the American people to speak out. That’s how we were able to cut taxes for middle-class families.”
It seems Obama doesn’t want the electorate to remember a few things: the Democrats' overwhelming, un-filibusterable control of both houses of Congress during his first two years in office; the massive popular opposition to ObamaCare and the outrage over his crony-capitalist subsidies and "stimulus" program; his statement early in 2009 that, should he fail to attain his major objectives before standing for re-election, then his presidency would be "a one-term proposition." But for a failed incumbent desperate to retain his office in the face of such massive failure, all this is par for the course.
Then again, so is this:
Romney pounced on the remark, saying that Obama — now on the “inside” in Washington — had thrown in “the white flag of surrender” on his pledge to change politics in the nation’s capital.
“I will change Washington. I will get the job done from the inside,” Romney said, appealing to voters’ bipartisan frustration with legislative gridlock.
This is a typical challenger's charge. And indeed, Obama's record is one of failure. But unfortunately for Romney, "changing Washington" is infinitely easier said than done. The facts of the matter are bitter.
The Constitutional organs headquartered in Washington are principally a facade over a government by unelected bureaucrats and regulators, who possess their own enforcement arms -- were you aware that the agents of the Environmental Protection Agency carry firearms? -- and are protected from dismissal by Civil Service rules. Those unelected rulers make up the law to suit their own preferences and purposes, essentially dismissing the limits on the legal basis for their authority, if any, that issued from Congress. Even the federal courts have proved largely unable to rein them in.
Ronald Reagan faced the same challenge, and was largely defeated by it. Armington and Ellis relate a typical vignette in their book MORE: The Rediscovery of American Common Sense, in which a White House staffer confronts an undersecretary in some alphabet agency:
"You know this is not the president's position."
"Well, sir, we're not in agreement with his position. We'll just study the matter until he leaves office."
Whoever occupies the White House next term will face the same sort of resistance. Overcoming it will be far harder than saying you'll overcome it. The sole remedies are the repeal of those parts of the Civil Service Act that immunize Civil Service employees against dismissal, and the complete dissolution of the offending bureaucracies. I'll give odds against either development.