Michael Cohen, Senior Fellow at American Security Project, doesn’t buy the claim that Obama is somehow missing an opportunity to instruct the voters about how the budget really works.
That’s much too complicated and inside baseball for the ordinary low-information voter.
Obama is using a far simpler set of talking points that are more likely to resonate with non-policy-wonk Americans. “I’m willing to meet Republicans halfway, I’m willing to make some painful decisions, but Republicans are too intent on protecting their rich buddies to show any leadership on this issue. As a result we are at an impasse.”
To the extent to which Americans are paying attention to this (not much I suspect) this isn’t time for some “teachable moment” it’s time for basic big picture politics – and on that account Obama has completely out-played the GOP.
In the end, I have no idea if Obama really wanted to make a grand bargain with the Republicans or is this is all political theater (I suspect the latter, but I’ll let the history books let me know) – but while I suppose I can’t discount the possibility that Obama
a) hates liberals; or
b) got elected President so he could fulfill his dream of shredding the welfare state and the social net; or
c) won 53% of the vote in 2008 w/ the middle name Hussein simply as a fluke
I would speculate that there is another explanation for what we’ve seen over the past few months.
Obama understood something that should have been obvious all along – Republicans were never able to make a deal and that no bill could ever pass the House that would satisfy Republicans and Democrats. (That any political observer is surprised Boehner pulled out of talks yesterday is perhaps most surprising of all).
Thus the best way to resolve this issue was not to stamp his feet on the ground like a petulant child and demand a clean debt limit increase. but instead to call the GOP’s bluff – and set a trap for them – by appearing conciliatory. Again, I have no idea which scenario is correct, and my sense is that Obama has probably bent too far over backwards to be conciliatory, to the point where people can reasonably suspect that he refuses to fight for core progressive values.
Still, it’s not hard to imagine that this is all a bit of a political theater to create a meta argument that will resonate in 2012 (an almost identical approach that Clinton used in 1995). But in the end, the notion that Obama is a bad politician strikes me as reflecting just a bit too much policy literalism. With the view that Republicans were likely never going to make a big deficit reduction deal, what may end up mattering most of all is how this has played out from a political perspective.
We seem to be headed for a clean debt ceiling increase, which if true would be quite a policy achievement by the President.