Good Cop, Bad Cop

Who’s in charge at the White House?

Is this how it works?

On Wednesday, Obama says he wants health care reform.

On Friday, Rahm says he’s going to kill it.

At some point or another, Obama needs to decide what he wants and fight for it.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

12 thoughts on “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

  1. It seems like what is being left out of this equation (what's new?) is where congress is. There are, in fact other fish to fry. So if, as I think Chait is right, the Democrats already "own the downside" and will likely face endless attacks on health care come election time, they need to rally themselves and get a clue.

    But as Obama has himself said, he's already spent about as much political capital as possible on this and it would do him good to start getting in front of some other issues. If this meant that health care was indeed dead, that would be a different story. (maybe, although if we were at that point the Democrats might really be hopeless.) Whichever move Obama makes next is going to attract heat, so in the meantime this softening of attention may be just what is needed to allow congress to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture.

  2. And when is Obama going to stop wishing for bipartisan ponies?

    Case in point: the attack masquerading as a question posed by rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)about 56 minutes into Obama's "question time" appearance before the House GOP Caucus.

    Obama called him on making a campaign speech while Obama was obliged to sit and listen and (apparently) accepting the absurd premises of the interminable "question". Why can't this brilliantly articulate guy take his own point here? The Republicans are going to go right on painting themselves into a corner where they can't compromise with Obama even on trivial matters without their base complaining that they're making deals with The Devil(tm).

    Another part of the conversation offers a possible explanation. An earlier questioner alluded to their work together in the Illinois State Legislature. It seems that Obama's current strategy WORKED for him as a state legislator and he hasn't yet been persuaded to abandon it in D.C.

    I wonder if Obama quite realizes just how much the pervasive media attention to D.C. changes the game? It's a non-stop video freak-show. But of course Obama knows this — in the last minute or so before his departure he made my point for me. Does he really think he's going to beat this? Bless him if he can get *that* done, but his work to date on other matters does NOT inspire confidence.

  3. If he has decided, the Emanuel interview suggests we won't like the decision. If he hasn't decided, we're quickly coming to the point where the failure decide itself settles the issue. I get it that decisions are made privately, & I may not know what's happened until long after the fact, but at this late date, the lack of any clear sign of White House commitment really does begin to suggest its over. If anyone still has an urge to put outside pressure on Democrats to act, they'd better do it fast, because the circus has begun to strike the tents.

  4. Obama has decided what he wants and he does fight for it. As noted by Seth, Obama wants bipartisan ponies.

  5. "At some point or another, Obama needs to decide what he wants and fight for it." I think he has, and is. He believes, perhaps very correctly, that our long term problems are insoluble without serious cooperation between parties. He has said as much, repeatedly. I think he believes that encouraging the country, as represented by political factions and the press, to grow up, is the only way to achieve a changed perspective that will lead to cooperation. He may fail at this, but it is a tenuous assumption indeed that we would be much farther down the road to reform in any meaningful way if he had taken a take-no-prisoners progressive stance. I think, frankly, that the country is not, probably never will be, ready for or deserving of him, but I sure hope we are.

  6. He believes, perhaps very correctly, that our long term problems are insoluble without serious cooperation between parties. He has said as much, repeatedly.

    Well, that's great, but the other party isn't cooperating. They are in fact, engaging in the closest thing to civil war that you can get without, say, seceding. I don't think giving up on solutions is a workable strategy.

    max

    ['So, if you are correct, then he is a big dork.']

  7. acorvid:

    You may be write that Dr. Obama's Rx for democracy — what he's thinking of when he says stuff like 'I'd rather be a really good one term president — is a healed political discourse. But my reading of history says thats a pony. Heck, it's a unicorn.

    By the way, the alternative is not 'take no prisoners'. Far from it. I for one am happy to accept compromise. What I think is delusonal is the fixation on 'gotta get me some R votes'. And all the sitting around and waiting for Godot (R-Paris, TX) while the democratic caucus on the Hill is twisting in the wind. That's just political malpractice.

  8. Must . Stop. Typing w/ my thumbs. But you can be write and right, either or both 😉 I must be posting too much, my output is starting to scan like Matt Yglesias' on a bad day.

  9. Acorvid:

    1. Straw dog: no one's talking about "take no prisoners." We're talking about using the majority to pass legislation. That was called "democracy" as recently as 2007. Check your newspapers.

    2. Healing our discourse does not require "compromising" endlessly with Republican Senators, any more than raising teenagers requires giving them everything they demand. Some political parties – even in America – gasp – DISAPPEAR. Think about the Whigs. Most political discourse – gasp – even in America – takes place OUTSIDE of Washington, DC and has nothing to do with the two "parties," whom Howard Zinn or was it Gore Vidal accurately described as the two right wings of the Property Party.

  10. He wanted to be President. He already fought for it, and doesn't need to fight for it again for another couple of years.

  11. True, Brett. However, there's quite a bit of difference between a successful and unsuccessful president.

  12. Eli says:

    "It seems like what is being left out of this equation (what’s new?) is where congress is. There are, in fact other fish to fry. So if, as I think Chait is right, the Democrats already “own the downside” and will likely face endless attacks on health care come election time, they need to rally themselves and get a clue. "

    The problems I see are that (a) a number of nominally Democratic senators and reps really figure that *they* don't own the downside, 'Librulz' own the downside. They'd be quite happy if the GOP took a lot of seats. This is where Obama needs to lean on people.

    (b) "There are, in fact other fish to fry." And right now the Democratic Party is walking into those other fish fries having left fish on the grill to burn; their credibility is sh*t; Republicans *know* for a fact that a policy of 100% obstruction is feasible; they also know that they'll have help from a significant faction within the Democratic caucus.

    And at this point the GOP is dealing with a few months of stalling, not a year or more.

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