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Joe McQuade

Obama Overcomes His Biggest Failing

3 posts in this topic

Many of us who admire Barack Obama are willing to recognize what has been his greatest flaw: an outsized estimation of his ability to persuade and negotiate with his opponents.

In his first weeks in office, rather than stake out a bold position on a stimulus package that would have been far more effective in addressing the Great Recession, he instead offered a watered-down version at the insistence of Congressional Republicans -- who voted against it anyway. He quickly abandoned the utterly sensible "public option" in the health care debate, dusted off a collection of Republican ideas -- and watched as the GOP assailed him as a Stalinist tyrant for proposing what they had supported only months before.

A similar dynamic unfolded on immigration reform, carbon reduction and many other issues. Matters came to a head in the summer of 2011, when radicals in the GOP used a routine debt ceiling vote to bring the nation to the verge of default. Finally, Obama saw with clear eyes how impotent even a man of his gifts was in the face of such nihilism. And he had the good sense to change course.

Take it away, Paul Begala.


From the Daily Beast, 3/5/13

Barack’s Blunder: “I’ll take John Boehner at his word.”

By Paul Begala

When Barack Obama was running for president, Greg Craig, one of his strongest supporters (later his White House counsel), described the candidate’s philosophy of dealing with Republicans. “I want a President who is looking to move the country with positive inspirational ideas rather than to fight off the bad guys and proclaim victory by defeating the forces of reaction,” he told George Packer of The New Yorker. Craig predicted Obama would win universal health coverage “by building the consensus around the positions that make sense—say, the position that we should not have forty-seven million Americans uninsured. You don’t win national health insurance by turning Republicans against you. You’ve got to get them to join you.”

Of course, President Obama won universal health coverage, but without persuading a single Republican to join him. The health-care fight proved the folly of a strategy of rational reasoning with the Republicans. And yet one reason we have the manufactured crisis of sequester is because the White House somehow believed reason would triumph over partisanship.

Obama himself said as much. After the Republican takeover of the House, but before the gavel had been handed to John Boehner, the president cut a deal with Congress to extend the Bush tax cuts. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked Obama if he was worried that, since the tax-cut deal did not address the upcoming ceiling on the national debt, “it would seem that [Republicans] have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in. Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?”

The president seemed to not even be able to comprehend the import of Ambinder’s question. “When you say it would seem they’ll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?” he responded. Ambinder explained that the new House GOP majority could use the threat of defaulting on the national debt to force “significant spending cuts across the board that probably go deeper and further than what you’re willing to do.”

The president didn’t buy it. “I’ll take John Boehner at his word,” he said, “that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.”

Barack Obama is a remarkably gifted politician. But his cardinal political error has been that at times he seems to lack the imagination to even conceptualize how truly nihilistic, irresponsible, partisan, and, yes, crazy his Republican opponents are. The last Democratic president saw the Republicans shut down the government, squander millions on partisan witch hunts—including taking 140 hours of sworn testimony investigating President Clinton’s Christmas-card list—and drag the country through an impeachment process. Despite that history—and despite that Obama may be dealing with Republicans who are even more ideological and self-destructive than in Clinton’s day—he still expressed a blind faith in their reasonableness. How quaint.

This faith in the reasonableness of others is quintessentially American. We are, after all, a nation born of the Enlightenment. John Locke, the intellectual godfather of the American Revolution, said, “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.” But John Locke was a 17th-century English philosopher, not a 21st-century Tea Party nihilist. Obama, sadly, is not dealing with Mr. Locke—nor with Mr. Spock—but rather with zealous partisans who would, it seems, gladly harm the country in order to hurt the president. Highly illogical, perhaps, but real.

Our president, however, is nothing if not smart. And so he has adapted. Instead of sitting with Boehner and Cantor and McConnell, seeking to appeal to the cool light of reason, which failed so miserably in previous budget showdowns, he is barnstorming the country, basking in the warm glow of popular approval. Whereas once he seemed to prefer the prophet Isaiah’s entreaty, “Come now, let us reason together,” now he seems to be channeling the prophet Ezekiel: “I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes.”

Fortunately for our nation, the president seems to have hit upon a strategy that works. Republicans are more divided and more extreme, while Democrats seem more united and more mainstream. By a 3–1 margin in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters say the GOP prefers partisanship to national unity, while a slight plurality views Obama as putting unity before party.

It seems our supremely rational president has concluded that, rather than trying to reason with his irrational adversaries, it’s better to fight off the bad guys and defeat the forces of reaction.

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And while we're at it, enough with the false equivalence already!

From The Democratic Strategist, 3/17/13:

Look closely at the language and metaphors that self-proclaimed "middle of the road" pundits use to criticize Obama: it provides an ironically revealing indication of their deep intellectual dishonesty.

By James Vega

Democrats really don't need any assistance in finding examples of intellectual dishonesty in the writings of the self-proclaimed "nonpartisan" or "sensible middle of the road" commentators who criticize Obama but let Republicans escape with little or no condemnation. But there is one particular characteristic of this group that provides a psychologically fascinating demonstration of their subconscious bias toward the GOP.

Consider one of the most popular political metaphors of recent weeks -- the demand that Obama should act like "the adult in the room," basically by making completely one-sided concessions to the GOP. This "adult" metaphor is invariably presented by middle of the road commentators as something that is self-evident; to them, the demand seems entirely reasonable and politically neutral.

But the intriguing psychological fact about this metaphor is that it carries a very clear and completely unavoidable set of implications about the other side of the equation - the GOP.

If Obama is being called upon to act as "the adult in the room" this inescapably implies that the GOP is behaving like a bunch of children. Indeed, it actually implies a good deal more than that: it implies that the Republicans are acting like spoiled, undisciplined and misbehaving children. In most people's minds, when children's behavior becomes so unruly that it becomes urgently necessary to call on someone to act as the adult in the room it tends to suggest a whole series of subsidiary concepts -- that the children needing adult supervision are behaving like spoiled brats, that they need a good spanking, that they are being indulged and pampered. That their parents are not doing them any favor. That they need tough love or they are going to grow up as deeply damaged selfish and self-centered adults.

Now, how many times have you seen a middle of the road commentator connect his or her call on Obama to behave like the adult in the room with any of these images of the GOP? The answer, of course, is absolutely never.

And in fact, this refusal to take their own language and metaphors seriously is repeated again and again in the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed middle of the road commentators.

-- Obama is called on to display "Leadership as President" because it is his responsibility in that high and exalted position but Republicans are not held to have any corresponding responsibility to show even minimal respect or deference for either the man or the office.

-- Obama is called on to display political "courage" but Republicans are not criticized for failing to show even the most minimal political bravery of their own.

-- Obama is called on to "rise above politics" but Republicans are not condemned for gleefully wallowing in it.

In short, virtually the entire range of sanctimonious, one-sided demands made on Obama by the middle of the road commentators inherently imply equal or greater failings on the part of the Republicans, but these implied failings are never directly expressed or criticized.

(Note: After two years of savage criticism by progressive writers like Greg Sargeant, Paul Krugman and others, middle of the road commentators have now finally begun to add a pro-forma sentence somewhere in their columns that quickly notes that "of course, Republicans can be argued to be more at fault than Obama", but they quickly make up for this brief criticism of the GOP by throwing around a dozen or more terms like "Washington" "the political parties" "congress" and so on, all of which are calculated to indicate that they really believe both sides are equally to blame.)

So the bottom line is this: the same exact language that middle of the road commentators so widely use to criticize Obama simultaneously implies that Republicans should be viewed as "spoiled brats" who "need a good spanking" because they are "disrespectful", "ill-mannered", "ill-behaved", "cowardly", "selfish" and "self-indulgent," but the middle of the road commentators absolutely never - never - follow their own language and metaphors to their logical conclusion.

This is not only powerful evidence of a deep intellectual dishonesty but -- for people who are paid to exercise literary skill -- it also demonstrates a genuinely startling inability to perform the task for which they were hired.


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I believe the gop strategy is plain and simply that they think the cost of Obamacare for middle earner Americans, who already had health insurance, will be so increased that the gop will not need to compromise on issues such as progressive taxation. Changes to medicare and soc sec are all back burner issues till this shakes out. They just want to get the immigration issue off their back, and they're a bit unsure how to do that.

My guess is that they overplay the hand. I'm expecting to be shocked, but then again if Hillary runs, she'll be advocating changes to amelorate the negative cost effects. I think it's entirely likely that the gop can flip the senate in 14. But, nationally, Ayn Paul and Rand Paul just aren't middle of the road guys; they bat shite crazy in the Bachman sense.

As for Obama, I'm sorry but I just don't see him as a guy like Ike or even JFK who didn't necessarily covet the presidency so much as find themselves in position to lead, and decide to accept the challange. To me, Obama has been about legacy since day one. He's secured it. He ended Reaganism. Most Americans want more progressive taxes. Most Americans think the policies of the old Moral Majority are not moral. Latinos overwhelmingly support national healthcare of some sort, and want illegal aliens to be citizens, if they chose. Gay rights aren't going away with the younger folks. He's running out the clock while watching the NCAA tourny.

But its true he has no one to negotiate with. I don't know who in the admin said it, but "John Boehner can't deliver a pizza" let alone get a compromise through his own party.

Nationally, the gop will probably retain enough votes to keep congress in play, and frustrate progressive efforts for another decade.

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