Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Three mistaken views contrary to blaming White House incompetence for the debt debacle

It's much more fun to be counter-intuitive than to repeat the obvious. So, when we see overwhelming evidence of egregious and pathetic political failure by the Obama White House, there is no shortage of theories defending them (or at least saying that their political ineptitude was, as an appeals court might say in affirming a trial court judgment, harmless error).

Theory One is that he wanted more spending cuts than Democrats are comfortable with. So the Republicans gave him cover. As in: "See what they're making me do?"

Verdict: True that he had this motivation. Perhaps even true that it influenced his feckless negotiating "strategy." But surely he did not want to get rolled, and so publicly and humiliatingly rolled, by the utter failure of his oft-repeated insistence on getting revenues as well as spending cuts. So bottom line: False.

Theory Two is that he simply had a weak hand to play. Sure, he might not have played it well, but even a competent politician and negotiator wouldn't have done much better.

Verdict: 100% false. The public supported his preference for "balanced" cuts and tax increases. Now, admittedly, public opinion is often close to irrelevant in Washington. But he had a decent hand and failed to play it. Point one: the constitutional option and related gambits, all of which would have gained support from Washington's beloved "strong leadership" meme. Point two: skillful politicians can do much better with hands that are much worse than what he had here. Think Clinton in 1995 after he lost the 1994 election. Or for that matter consider the Republicans taking him on in 2009. If either had performed as abysmally as he did, people would have said: "They just had a bad hand. Nobody could have won with that."

Just because he lost doesn't mean he had an inevitably losing hand. In many ways it was a good hand.

Theory Three is that he's cleverly positioning himself in the center, and letting the Republicans be seen as extremists.

Verdict: Mostly false. People also respect strength, commitment, self-confidence, and success. His pathetic showing is not going to win him the 2012 election. He's disheartened his base, millions of whom will likely stay home. Clinton positioned the Republicans as extremist (when they weren't nearly as far around the bend as they are today) without making himself look like a pathetic loser.

The evidence that Obama has very little understanding of the most basic political tactics and strategy is pretty overwhelming. This is a guy who believes that you start a negotiation by offering LESS than you want, not more so that you can give ground and still do well overall.

Jon Stewart had some rather obvious fun with the December press conference clip where he said that of course the Republicans wouldn't risk the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, so there was no need to negotiate a debt ceiling deal back then. And for the past 6 months his minions have apparently been telling reporters that of course the Republicans will agree to new revenues, because reasonable people can't disagree that it's part of the problem.

He also appears to be strangely arrogant and uneducable about his woefully naive view of political competition. The Bourbons famously "learned nothing and forgot nothing." Obama will evidently learn nothing and forget everything.

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