The difficulties plaguing President Obama's second term go deeper than an obstructionist Congress, says Political Junkie Ken Rudin.
"Ronald Reagan was polarizing," Rudin said Monday on The Daily Circuit. "Bill Clinton was polarizing. They still managed to work with the opposite party."
Over the weekend, the administration said it had met its goal of getting its HealthCare.gov website up and working to an acceptable standard by the end of November. Rudin said the website and other elements of the Affordable Care Act still posed a major threat to the administration's effectiveness.
"You know that the administration has got to come out with some kind of a statement at the end of November, when they promised good news," Rudin recounted. "So they said, 'Yes, it's much better than it was on Oct. 1.' That's a small bar to go against, but yes, it's probably true. The website is probably working better. But there's still a lot of problems. ... There are still a lot of glitches, and a lot of things need to be fixed."
Rudin and host Kerri Miller credited a New York Times piece on Sunday for documenting the administration's failure to test the website adequately before its launch a month ago.
"They only passed this bill three years ago," Rudin said, "so you'd think that in the time when they're building this whole mechanism, this whole system, it would be tested. And the fact is, it was not fully tested on Oct. 1. And then last week we saw that small businesses would now have a one-year delay for them to shop for insurance, because the system is not ready for small businesses. Right now they're only trying to work on individuals. So it's just not ready. And this is what Republicans were talking about during the shutdown, and everybody was saying they were just alarmist. But a lot of it is true."
Frustrations with the health-care rollout have caused Obama's fellow Democrats "tremendous anxiety and panic the last couple of weeks," Rudin said. "This is not because of Republican obstructionism; it's because of self-inflicted White House pain that basically was a policy that was not ready to be launched when it was launched on Oct. 1. The Democrats have been telling the White House, 'This is just killing us, and we've got to get something done.' There's no way other than anecdotal evidence to know what's changed, but maybe we'll see it coming out from the words of Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014."
As bad as things look for Democrats now, he said, there's no reason to think that their fortunes won't improve before the next elections.
"A month ago, everybody was saying that the Republicans were finished forever because of the negative reaction to the shutdown," Rudin said. "Now people are saying the Democrats are going to lose everything — this is a month later — because of the Obamacare problems. A month is a lifetime in politics, as we've seen. A year is a long way away. A lot can change, and a lot will change."
The most welcome change, he suggested, would be a new kind of leadership from the president. Obama needs to transform his ideas into achievements.
"Not only Republicans are complaining about it, but Democrats are fretting about this. He talks a great game about immigration; he talks a great game about guns. Can you blame Republican obstructionism? Yes, that's a legitimate complaint. But as Leon Panetta said, you've got to have a president who rolls up his sleeves, gets his hands dirty and gets in the middle of everything. And for many occasions President Obama just seems to sit back, be philosophical about everything, and expect Congress to do its job. And it often doesn't."
While he doesn't think Obama is the only modern president to have faced partisan hostility, Rudin does think the divisiveness has been taken to a new extreme.
"I think the real anger toward presidencies began, really, at least in the modern day, with Bill Clinton, and extended with George W. Bush, and of course it accelerated beyond belief with Obama. But for all the antipathy and outright dislike that the Republicans had for Bill Clinton, they were able to work together."
"For some reason, either because the tea party is so adamant against any kind of compromise they refuse to sit down and talk, or the president is so convinced that he's right and everybody else is wrong, so they don't work together," he said. "I'm not saying both sides are equally at fault, but something happened since the election of Obama in 2008 and the rise of the tea party in 2010 to make this just unbearable."