A "frustrated" President Obama, as the mainstream press loves to describe the chief executive when he is ineffective but wants to shift blame, told a Beverly Hills fundraising audience last week he never said he could personally fix the partisan dysfunction in Washington, D.C.
Depicted as "angry" by the Washington Post after the massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead last week, Obama said that resolving political gridlock was something "we" needed to do:
"When I ran in 2008, I in fact did not say I would fix it. I said we could fix it," Obama told an audience of about 250 at a fundraising event here at the stately hillside home of film mogul Tyler Perry. "I didn't say, ‘Yes, I can.’ I said, ‘Yes, we can.’"
Except Obama did do this during his long-shot rise to the presidency in 2008, playing up his credentials as a cooperative deal-maker who could transcend political divides in a way his Democratic primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, could not.
"I will say this, that the reason I think I'm better as the nominee is that I can bring this country together I think in a unique way, across divisions of race, religion, region," he said at the Feb. 26, 2008 debate at Cleveland State University. "And that is what's going to be required in order for us to actually deliver on the issues that both Sen. Clinton and I care so much about."
In a debate on Oct. 30, 2007 in Philadelphia, Obama discussed bringing people together to "get things done."
"We've got major global challenges like climate change," he said. "And that's going to require big meaningful change, and I'm running for president because I think that the way to bring about that change is to offer some sharp contrasts with the other party. I think it means that we bring people together to get things done."
He later said at the same debate that "what we don't need is another eight years of bickering."
"And part of the job of the next president is to break the gridlock and to get Democrats and independents and Republicans to start working together to solve these big problems, like health care or climate change or energy," he said. "And what we don't need is another eight years of bickering. And that's precisely why I'm running for president. Because one of the things I've been able to do throughout my political career is to bring people together to get things done."
At an April 16, 2008 debate in Philadelphia, Obama again touted his credentials as someone who could bring opposing sides together.
"Unless we can bridge some of these divides we're not going to solve problems in this country," he said. "And what my entire body of work over the last 20 years has been devoted to is getting blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, young, old to work together, starting when I was a community organizer. And my own life embodies that diversity. That's what America's about and that's what this campaign has been about."
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In a 2008 speech pumping up his new running mate Joe Biden, he said Biden would be able to "help me turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington … We can bring Democrats and Republicans together to pass an agenda that works for the American people."
After his triumph in the Iowa caucuses in 2008, Obama echoed the themes of his famous 2004 Democratic National Convention speech about how the U.S. was not simply divided into red states and blue states.
"You said the time had come to move beyond the bitterness and pettiness and anger that's consumed Washington, to end the political strategy that's been all about division, and instead make it about addition," he told cheering supporters. "To build a coalition for change that stretches through red states and blue states. Because that's how we'll win in November, and that's how we'll finally meet the challenges that we face as a nation."
The same went for his 2008 acceptance speech at the DNC in Denver. He assured jubilant Democrats that by nominating him, they had embraced a new kind of politics that transcended petty partisanship.
"For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said, ‘Enough,’ to the politics of the past," he said. "You understand that, in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same, old politics with the same, old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us, that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn't come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time."
The night of his election victory in 2008, Obama asked Americans to "resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long."
"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics," Obama said in his inaugural address in 2009.
With Obama in charge, as it's turned out, the days of bickering and hyper-partisanship were just getting warmed up. To name a few of his great bipartisan moments, Obama's signature health care law was passed with exactly zero Republican support, he has referred to the opposing party as economic hostage-takers with a gun to American people's heads, and one of his most memorable moments of 2015 was sneering at Republicans that he'd beaten them twice during his State of the Union.
Obama is a great Democratic politician, but a bridger of Washington divides he is not.