Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Can it get any worse for Obama?

By Dean Obeidallah, Special to CNN
November 1, 2013 -- Updated 1542 GMT (2342 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dean Obeidallah: Obama in a tough stretch, facing policy debacles, low poll numbers
  • If it were a movie, his character would be surrounded -- but he can change outcome, he says
  • He says he must aggressively press agenda and also aim for Democrats to retake House
  • Obeidallah: GOP dictating narrative, but he must take control before term runs out

Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the co-director of the new comedy documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" It was released recently. Follow him on Twitter @deanofcomedy.

(CNN) -- Things are looking horrible for President Barack Obama. There's the Obamacare website fiasco. Ongoing allegations of National Security Agency spying on European leaders. There was the government shutdown that damaged the economy on his watch. And a new poll released this week finds Obama with his lowest approval rating -- and his highest disapproval rating -- ever.

If this were a movie, we would be at the part where the hero finds himself surrounded. He has no escape routes and he's outgunned. What will happen next: Will our hero prevail like John McClane in "Die Hard," or will he fail like William Wallace in "Braveheart"?

Well, the good news for Obama is that the script for the final scenes of his presidency has not been written yet. The bad news is that he may not be the one writing it.

Dean Obeidallah
Dean Obeidallah

Simply put: Obama is not the protagonist driving his own story. Rather, his storyline is being dictated by others. No question, he has long had trouble controlling the narrative, with a GOP bent on denying him, basically, everything he wants. But now he's heading toward the end of his final term -- and the clock is ticking on his agenda.

Obama's main antagonist, of course, is the hyper-partisan Congress that refuses to agree on the most basic issues, such as raising the debt ceiling, which Congress has done more than 40 times since 1980. And unless something changes, it's looking bad for immigration reform, universal background checks for gun purchases, income tax reform or any of the other proposals he outlined in his State of the Union nine months ago.

Perhaps the worst thing about the problems with the Obamacare website is that they occurred at a time when things were finally looking politically brighter for Obama. Though the government shutdown had been an unwelcome setback, polls showed after it ended that Americans blamed the Republicans in Congress for it much more than they blamed him. It looked as if Obama had righted his ship and would be able to refocus Americans on his priorities.

It was as if Obama had become George Clooney as the captain of the fishing boat in "The Perfect Storm." The rain has stopped, the ocean is turning calm and there is even a glimmer of sunlight; he's beaten the storm. But then moments later, the sky darkens and there is a deluge of rain. The choppy waters (in this case, the Obamacare website debacle) soon consume the ship.

Cost of Obamacare exchanges
Cruz's dad: Send Obama 'back to Kenya'

Is this Obama's metaphoric fate? He can accept another plotline -- let's say of "Gravity," with Obama as a character like Sandra Bullock's, hit with one harrowing challenge after another. This may be exciting to watch, but not great for the character, who has no idea what will happen next.

I'd recommend a different story line. I'd use the ending of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" as inspiration and metaphorically go out with guns blazing. Why not set some lofty goals that will frame the agenda anew going forward?

First, Obama should announce that retaking control of the House in 2014 is a top priority. Yes, many districts have been gerrymandered to all but ensure re-election for Republican House members. But he should take the fight to his adversaries anyway. Unseating some tea party House members has become newly possible after the shutdown mess. Their approval ratings are just below toe fungus. Can the President maneuver through this new landscape and turn it to his advantage? Even getting more moderate Republicans into the House could be a step toward sanity. (Sometimes you have to improvise to make a story line work.)

Obama should also use executive orders to the extent legally possible to attain his policy objectives. He did this very thing in 2011 when he ordered that many children of parents illegally in the United States would no longer be deported.

Sure, the Republicans will push back -- they will say Obama is behaving like a "king" or "tyrant" and complain about him nightly on Fox News. But the upside is that the debate will be about the issues the President has chosen.

It's denouement time for Obama as we enter the final act of his presidency. Will the President's agenda continue to be dictated by others, making him nothing more than a lame duck, caretaker President? Or will he use every means at his discretion to write his own story?

Obama is the star of this movie. The only question is: How is it going to end?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 1215 GMT (2015 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT