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Barack Obama, Post-Partisan, Meets Washington Gridlock
January 23, 2012 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Barack Obama, Post-Partisan, Meets Washington Gridlock. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza reviews major domestic policy decisions from the first two years of the Obama administration, based on internal White House memos. Some key decisions:

The size of the economic stimulus:
Since 2009, some economists have insisted that the stimulus was too small. White House defenders have responded that a larger stimulus would not have moved through Congress. But the [Larry] Summers memo barely mentioned Congress, noting only that his recommendation of a stimulus above six hundred billion dollars was “an economic judgment that would need to be combined with political judgments about what is feasible.”

He offered the President four illustrative stimulus plans: $550 billion, $665 billion, $810 billion, and $890 billion. Obama was never offered the option of a stimulus package commensurate with the size of the hole in the economy––known by economists as the “output gap”––which was estimated at two trillion dollars during 2009 and 2010. Summers advised the President that a larger stimulus could actually make things worse. “An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” he wrote, and added that none of his recommendations “returns the unemployment rate to its normal, pre-recession level. To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions—which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.”
Passing health-care reform through "reconciliation":
There were two ways for the Senate to approach Obama’s health-care plan: the normal process, which required sixty votes to pass the bill, or a shortcut known as “reconciliation,” which required only a simple majority and would bypass a possible filibuster. Baucus and several other key Senate Democrats opposed reconciliation, and Republicans decried its use on such major legislation as a partisan power grab. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, complained that using reconciliation would “make it absolutely clear” that Obama and the Democrats in Congress “intend to carry out all of their plans on a purely partisan basis.” On April 10th [2009], Obama’s aides sent him a memo asking him to decide the issue. The White House could still fashion a bipartisan bill, but it was important to have the fifty-one-vote option as a backup plan, in case they weren’t able to win any Republican support and faced a filibuster. They recommended that he “insist on reconciliation instructions for health care.” Below this language, Obama was offered three options: “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Let’s Discuss.” The President placed a check mark on the line next to “Agree.”
The pivot from jobs to the deficit:
Obama’s moderation didn’t sway Republicans, nor did his attention to interest groups or his cuts to beloved liberal programs. Through the rest of 2009, as the anti-government Tea Party movement gathered strength, and conservative voters began to speak of creeping American socialism, Obama’s aides quarrelled over how the President should respond. [Christina] Romer wanted him to press the Keynesian case for his policies—to defend the proposition of increased government spending to fight the recession. [Peter] Orszag argued that he needed more support from Washington’s deficit hawks, and urged him to create a deficit commission, partly because “it can provide fiscal credibility during a period in which it is unlikely we would succeed in enacting legislation.”

It presented Obama with a common Presidential dilemma: Should he use the White House bully pulpit to change minds or should he accept popular opinion? He chose the latter. In his speeches, he began saying, “Americans are making hard choices in their budgets. We’ve got to tighten our belts in Washington, as well.” Romer fought to get such lines removed from his speeches, arguing that it was “exactly the wrong policy.” She thought the President should emphasize that the government would seek to use taxpayer money wisely, and leave it at that. Instead, he seemed to be accepting the Republican case against stimulus and for austerity. She thought he was losing faith in Keynesianism itself.

... Axelrod and other Obama political advisers saw anti-Keynesian rhetoric as a political necessity. They believed it was better to channel the anti-government winds than to fight them. As much as it enraged Romer and outside economists, the White House was on to something. A President’s ability to change public opinion through rhetoric is extremely limited. George Edwards, after studying the successes of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan, concluded that their communications skills contributed almost nothing to their legislative victories. According to his study, “Presidents cannot reliably persuade the public to support their policies” and “are unlikely to change public opinion.”
Summary:
Predictions that Obama would usher in a new era of post-partisan consensus politics now seem not just naïve but delusional. At this political juncture, there appears to be only one real model of effective governance in Washington: partisan dominance, in which a President with large majorities in Congress can push through an ambitious agenda. Despite Obama’s hesitance and his appeals to Republicans, this is the model that the President ended up relying upon during his first two years in office. He had hoped to use a model of consensus politics in which factions in the middle form an alliance against the two extremes. But he found few players in the center of the field: most Republicans and Democrats were on their own ten-yard lines. (The Tea Party, meanwhile, was tearing down the goal posts and carrying them away.) This situation is not unprecedented. During much less polarized periods, when it was easier to build centrist coalitions, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson suffered similar fates. “When Johnson lost 48 Democratic House seats in the 1966 election, he found himself, despite his alleged wizardry, in the same condition of stalemate that had thwarted Kennedy and, indeed, every Democratic President since 1938,” Arthur Schlesinger noted in his 1978 biography of Robert Kennedy. “In the end, arithmetic is decisive.”
Via Paul Krugman.
posted by russilwvong (50 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating. On politics alone, the "channel the winds" discussion was a good one. By riding on that wind, he has set the battle lines for this election, which will be, first and foremost about the tax structure of the country. It is precisely where the GOP is at its weakest, ridiculously asserting that the deficit is terrible but refusing categorically to raise taxes on the wealthy. All the GOP candidates with tax plans are literally finding revenue through raising taxes on those people making less than 250k a year and lowering them on the rich. In the general, that will be suicidal.

What Obama was able to do on the policy side was to win the policy battles on cutting government spending--there have been ZERO cuts to Social Security and only one small cut to Medicare providers--none to beneficiaries. Where have the cuts come from? Staggering cuts to defense. 890 billion over 10 years, all of which the GOP agreed to. He gambled correctly that the GOP didn't have the balls to cut medicare. That forced them to accept steep cuts to defense.

That's what this whole fight over Romney's taxes are about, it isn't that he makes a lot of money, or even uses tax shelters in the Caymans--its that he's the poster boy for exactly what is wrong with the system--the Warren Buffets paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

Its no surprise either. A majority of people in the Tea Party favor higher taxes on the rich.

And Gingrich's success comes partially from this--the attacks on Bain Capital worked. Its why Gingrich is getting stronger and Romney weaker.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:46 PM on January 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


Well, Ironmouth, he better be careful he doesnt channel those winds right into Gingrich's sails.
posted by spicynuts at 8:55 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's hard to tell where the root of the problem lies - but I'm willing to bet that a great part is in multi-term offices and voter ignorance. But you can't really fix those: if you made all terms single, long-term senators would just become long-term senate dynasties, with little effect on policy - and ignorance, of course, is invincible.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:57 PM on January 23, 2012


If term limits helped with this kind of thing then California would not be half of the gargantuan clusterfuck that it is in terms of governance. The thing that multi-term offices promotes is collaboration, both within and without one's party. If you think you'll be around in 4 years to see a favor repaid then you're more likely to reach out, but if you're gone in 2 then there's no incentive to cross an ideological barrier.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:05 PM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ironmouth: I subscribe more to the Krugman/Romer view that pivoting from jobs to the deficit was a mistake, so it was interesting to see what the decision looked like from the White House's point of view. It's a tough question: if you know what the right policy is, but you also know that you won't be able to win public opinion over to it, what should you do?

Hans Morgenthau talks about this challenge with respect to foreign policy. From Politics Among Nations:
The Government Is the Leader of Public Opinion, Not Its Slave

Those responsible for the conduct of foreign policy will not be able to comply with the foregoing principles of diplomacy if they do not keep this principle constantly in mind. As has been pointed out above in greater detail, the rational requirements of good foreign policy cannot from the outset count upon the support of a public opinion whose preferences are emotional rather than rational. This is bound to be particularly true of a foreign policy whose goal is compromise, and which, therefore, must concede some of the objectives of the other side and give up some of its own. Especially when foreign policy is conducted under conditions of democratic control and is inspired by the crusading zeal of a political religion, statesmen are always tempted to sacrifice the requirements of good foreign policy to the applause of the masses. On the other hand, the stateman who would defend the integrity of these requirements against even the slightest contamination with popular passion would seal his own doom as a political leader and, with it, the doom of his foreign policy, for he would lose the popular support which puts and keeps him in power.

The statesman, then, is allowed neither to surrender to popular passions nor disregard them. He must strike a prudent balance between adapting himself to them and marshaling them to the support of his policies. In one word, he must lead. He must perform that highest feat of statesmanship: trimming his sails to the winds of popular passion while using them to carry the ship of state to the port of good foreign policy, on however roundabout and zigzag a course.
posted by russilwvong at 9:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If term limits helped with this kind of thing then California would not be half of the gargantuan clusterfuck that it is in terms of governance. The thing that multi-term offices promotes is collaboration, both within and without one's party. If you think you'll be around in 4 years to see a favor repaid then you're more likely to reach out, but if you're gone in 2 then there's no incentive to cross an ideological barrier.
We actually have an example of great "bi-partisan" consensus driven legislation recently: SOPA. It was supported by both republicans and democrats, and both parties worked together to come up with something they both liked and that "solved a problem". On the other hand, when the democrats steam-rolled something through we got Obamacare.

That's the problem I have whit this idea that parties should work together and "collaborate" -- there seems to be this idea that the stuff they come up with if they work together will be good. But why make that assumption? The Iraq war authorization vote was another example of "bipartisanship" as well. Sure, bush and Karl Rove used the war to attack democrats after most of them voted for it, but in the initial vote most senate democrats voted for the war.

---

As far as the general election goes, who knows. I'm certainly not following the republican primary closely, so the only time I hear about it is when someone like Gingrich or Santorum (or previously Bachman, Perry, Cain, or whoever) says something crazy. I never hear about Romney saying anything ridiculous or evil. So I think that, after the primary if Romney is the nominee he'll be able to give Obama a run for his money. Of course if Gingrich wins, the republican party is doomed.

Also, if anyone thinks the average voter cares more about Taxes and the Deficit over jobs they're delusional. Romney will go after Obama on Jobs. And claim that his plan (which actually increases the deficit) is all about creating jobs, rather then worrying about the deficit, as opposed to Obama who in some cases seems more concerned about the deficit then unemployment.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on January 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Lizza's article talks about a 57-page memo from Larry Summers to Obama in December 2008, discussing the economic crisis and options for responding to it. Lizza has posted the full memo.
posted by russilwvong at 9:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


... Axelrod and other Obama political advisers saw anti-Keynesian rhetoric as a political necessity.

Here in Canada, I think that's the approach Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken. Decry deficits and say Keynesianism doesn't work, while running massive deficits and practicing Keynesianism.
posted by bobo123 at 9:41 PM on January 23, 2012


That's the problem I have whit this idea that parties should work together and "collaborate" -- there seems to be this idea that the stuff they come up with if they work together will be good. But why make that assumption?

But nothing gets done when control of government is split. And sometimes (most times) things need to get done.

The partisanship is emotionally fulfilling, but as governance, it sucks.

Take Ronald Reagan. I disagreed with him and disliked him, but compared to what came later? Damn. The guy made key deals--extended out life of social security trust fund by raising the social security tax and raised taxes 6 or 7 times once it was obvious supply-side econ wasn't working.

The other thing is that this isn't the UK. People actually vote with the other party relatively often. They scream and yell a lot, but there are compromises all the time. There must be during divided government--budgets must be passed.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:57 PM on January 23, 2012


But nothing gets done when control of government is split. And sometimes (most times) things need to get done.

Which is why we need to reform government, and get rid of things like the filibuster.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


On the stump here in South Carolina, Gingrich was constantly promising voters that he would “challenge the president to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglass tradition.” If Obama refused, Newt continued, he would simply turn up the heat. “When we get to Tampa, in my acceptance speech, I will announce that the White House will be my scheduler,” he told the crowd in Beaufort on Thursday. “Wherever the president goes I will show up four hours later. I don’t think it will take very many weeks of me methodically rebutting his speeches for the White House to say they want to debate.”

The audience, of course, applauded. But Gingrich’s plan is delusional—a professorial fantasy that neatly illustrates why his scattershot, shoestring style of improvisational campaigning will be no match for Obama’s rigorous, high-tech, billion-dollar behemoth.

posted by KokuRyu at 10:14 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is the best article I've read so far about the Obama presidency. Thanks, russilwvong. It'll take a while for me to digest this; but I'm confident this article represents the first step in actually writing the history of this administration.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


But nothing gets done when control of government is split. And sometimes (most times) things need to get done.

I would prefer they do nothing, instead of the crap they are pulling now.

What are these important things congress should be working on?
posted by psycho-alchemy at 10:32 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reining in the excesses that caused the financial meltdown. Doing something about the skyrocketing cost of health care. Encouraging the economy. Seeing to the common good. Providing for the national defense. Protecting the poor and the weak from the depredations of the rich and the strong. Acting in the defense of its citizens generally. Lots of things. Some of these things haven't been invented yet. The Internet would never have happened without government sponsorship.

Do not make the mistake that government does nothing. It certainly has its functions, and many of them are valid. What is necessary is that government's role be well-defined, competent, and visionary, with fairness and justice to all. To argue otherwise reveals decadence.
posted by JHarris at 11:04 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Axelrod and other Obama political advisers saw anti-Keynesian rhetoric as a political necessity. They believed it was better to channel the anti-government winds than to fight them.

What made this so incredibly frustrating at the time was that public opinion was firmly in favour of creating jobs. Poll after poll showed that nobody cared about the deficits. Even after Obama started to shift focus onto the deficit the issue only slowly gained ground.
posted by patrick54 at 11:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Internet would never have happened without government sponsorship.

And they will soon correct that problem if they don't stop fucking with it. It has been thirty years since the last positive thing the US Government did for the Internet, and they have enacted or attempted to enact quite a string of disasters in that time.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:31 PM on January 23, 2012


A majority of people in the Tea Party favor higher taxes on the rich.

For all the talk about the president not being able to change public opinion, we know that public opinion on many issues is already on the liberal side. Large majorities of the population believe that raising taxes on the rich should be done. But what happened to the Bush tax cuts? Why haven't they expired? That's money that could have been spent effectively, and could have stimulated the economy.

And Gingrich is coming at Romney from the left, and it's working - with Republicans, even. Why, again, are we supposed to be convinced that Obama's center-right position is a strategically good move? He doesn't have to change public opinion. He just has to take advantage of what's there. He could force the Republicans to the left. The Occupy movement, amazingly, has accomplished that, so we know it is possible.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:46 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know it's sentimental and nearly delusional, but I want Obama to come back and win and show us all that the first four years were practice and he just got tripped up by the various global crises he inherited. Will it happen? Probably not. But that's what "Hope" has transformed into for me.

The Republican lineup is making it as easy as it gets on Obama (I look forward to the debates), but even that might not be enough. I really hope it is, though, and I hope the next four years make up for the last four. Like I said, sentimental, possibly delusional. But still.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:13 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The White House staff memos show Obama scaling back his proposals in the face of the business lobby, designing a health-care bill to attract support from doctors, rejecting schemes from his aides that could be caricatured by the right, and in dozens of other ways making the unpleasant choices of governing in a system defined by its constraints.

Which, as various people have remarked on, is the problem with the nominally "left of centre" political figures. With the political theatre of the organised labour movement dead and buried after the 1980s/90s, there's no overriding principle to stand for. So you toss up whatever seems popular, change direction to protect your "image", and forever fetishise about your "strategy" and "positioning". Or you just hand issues over to competing interest groups, see who wins the public debate, and adopt their position.
posted by kithrater at 1:36 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


For all the talk about the president not being able to change public opinion, we know that public opinion on many issues is already on the liberal side. Large majorities of the population believe that raising taxes on the rich should be done. But what happened to the Bush tax cuts? Why haven't they expired? That's money that could have been spent effectively, and could have stimulated the economy.

And Gingrich is coming at Romney from the left, and it's working - with Republicans, even. Why, again, are we supposed to be convinced that Obama's center-right position is a strategically good move? He doesn't have to change public opinion. He just has to take advantage of what's there. He could force the Republicans to the left. The Occupy movement, amazingly, has accomplished that, so we know it is possible.
Why not accept the obvious answer: The president is focusing on what he wants to focus on, and this is the stuff he cares about?
posted by delmoi at 2:45 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


--And Gingrich is coming at Romney from the left, and it's working--

While in bizarroland: "Conservatives use liberal playbook" :
"And the 1971 agitator’s handbook “Rules for Radicals” — written by Saul Alinsky, the Chicago community organizer who was the subject of Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis, and whose teachings helped shape Barack Obama’s work on Chicago’s South Side — has been among Amazon’s top 100 sellers for the past month, put there in part by people who “also bought” books by Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck,and South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint."
posted by peacay at 3:28 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sort of interesting to note that even at the top of the US government, "Keynesianism" has come to mean "spending as much money as we can possibly get away with." I wonder what Keynes would've thought of it.
posted by sfenders at 4:38 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


All the GOP candidates with tax plans are literally finding revenue through raising taxes on those people making less than 250k a year and lowering them on the rich. In the general, that will be suicidal.

Well, "suicidal" only if you consider the continued operation of the government as vital to the nation's interest and future health. This crop of Republicans, though, in-general, do not view the government in any light other than that of a cancer that must be eliminated. Along with that is their unshaking belief in the power and infallibility of the private sector, especially once it is free of government interference.

To those ends, they are following the "starve the beast" doctrine. This isn't a secret. Their ultimate goal is to kill-off as much of the government as possible (saving the military) and leave the private sector to swoop-in and fix everything.

So, you see, lowering taxes on the rich isn't suicidal to them. It's a mercy-killing.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on January 24, 2012


Basically, Obama made every decision based on perfect political calculus. And then got slaughtered in the 2010 elections.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:59 AM on January 24, 2012


But nothing gets done when control of government is split. And sometimes (most times) things need to get done.

I would prefer they do nothing, instead of the crap they are pulling now.

What are these important things congress should be working on?


A budget, for example. Also appointments to the executive branch. These things are currently held up.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 AM on January 24, 2012


So, you see, lowering taxes on the rich isn't suicidal to them. It's a mercy-killing.

Its suicidal because you can't get elected on that platform.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:02 AM on January 24, 2012


And Gingrich is coming at Romney from the left, and it's working - with Republicans, even. Why, again, are we supposed to be convinced that Obama's center-right position is a strategically good move?

The idea that we need to cut some parts of government spending is not an center-right position. What are we supposed to do? Act like excessive soverign debt hasn't been a problem since 1400 A.D.?

More importantly, why is job creation and tax reform now the main topic of discussion? Because of Occupy? Hardly. They couldn't stay on a single message. its because the President put the deficit talk to rest with a debt deal that forced $900 billion in defense cuts with exactly zero benefit cuts. And he turned straight to jobs. The week after.

Occupy was helpful but it petered out into fights with local government and never stayed on a single message.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:10 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the Larry Summers memo as a PDF. I assume I'm not the only one who can't stand web interfaces for that sort of thing.
posted by stopgap at 6:11 AM on January 24, 2012


On the stump here in South Carolina, Gingrich was constantly promising voters that he would "challenge the president to seven three-hour debates in the Lincoln-Douglass tradition."

Hey, Daily Beast copy editor: it's Lincoln-Douglas, like Stephen, not Lincoln-Douglass, like Frederick. Not that Newt himself wouldn't like it better the other way.
posted by box at 6:48 AM on January 24, 2012


Its suicidal because you can't get elected on that platform.

Sure you can. And do. The House is full of such examples. Americans are famous for electing anyone who screams "cut taxes" no matter whose taxes they actually mean to cut. Just as long as some taxes are being cut, that's the important thing. Everyone assumes it's going to be theirs. Those librul media charts are lies. Newt's gonna kick that Kenyan's ass!!! And cut some taxes!!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 6:55 AM on January 24, 2012


The new measurement of New Yorker articles: can you grow a beard whilst reading it?
posted by mattbucher at 7:18 AM on January 24, 2012


Do not overestimate Gingrich's strengths against Romney. Gingrich did well in South Carolina because Romney is not only a Yankee, he is a goddamn urban elitist Massachusetts Yankee. Conservatives love to play up the "axis of liberal evil" that runs from Cambridge to Ann Arbor to Santa Monica.

Even more important, do not underestimate the hatred that southern evangelicals have of Mormons. I mean the word hatred. I went to a Baptist church in high school, and they never missed an opportunity to pound home the point that Mormons were a cult.
posted by Xoebe at 7:19 AM on January 24, 2012


Even more important, do not underestimate the hatred that southern evangelicals have of Mormons. I mean the word hatred. I went to a Baptist church in high school, and they never missed an opportunity to pound home the point that Mormons were a cult.

By the same token, don't underestimate the hatred that Americans, and southern evangelicals in particular have for Muslims. It doesn't matter that Obama isn't one, but he sounds like one and looks like one so that's what he must be, or at least is very good friends with the ones who want to destroy us and our way of life. And that makes him more dangerous than a whole state of Mormons.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:39 AM on January 24, 2012


"Lincoln-Douglas"

I can't be the only one to hear the following in my head every time Newt uses that phrase:

Newton L. Gingrich is a great debater
But Barack Obama is the healthcare legislator

Link for those who don't know their Sufjan.
posted by Kattullus at 7:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Gingrich is auditioning for the role of Douglass in the Lincoln-Douglass debates.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Its suicidal because you can't get elected on that platform.

Sure you can. And do. The House is full of such examples. Americans are famous for electing anyone who screams "cut taxes" no matter whose taxes they actually mean to cut. Just as long as some taxes are being cut, that's the important thing. Everyone assumes it's going to be theirs. Those librul media charts are lies. Newt's gonna kick that Kenyan's ass!!! And cut some taxes!!!!


The House is full of examples of people who want to raise taxes on the poor while lowering them for the rich?

Name one whose faced reelection yet. Its a new phenomenon. And one that will end in defeat.

Also, I'm confused here. Either we're supposed to stand up against regressive taxation or run in fear from fighting it. We can't do both.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 AM on January 24, 2012


kithrater: “Which, as various people have remarked on, is the problem with the nominally "left of centre" political figures. With the political theatre of the organised labour movement dead and buried after the 1980s/90s, there's no overriding principle to stand for. So you toss up whatever seems popular, change direction to protect your 'image', and forever fetishise about your 'strategy' and 'positioning'. Or you just hand issues over to competing interest groups, see who wins the public debate, and adopt their position.”

You seem to have missed the entire point of this article.

No matter how much you'd like it if Obama had been this Mr Smith Goes To Washington type who valiantly defied even his own party to demand change and build a better world, that is simply not at all possible. The reality of politics in the United States is that, unless you work hard on 'image,' 'strategy' and 'positioning,' you will never pass any legislation whatsoever.

I know it would be fantastic if the president were all–powerful, because then all we'd have to do is get out idealistic candidate in and that candidate would fix everything. People love to think this way during an election year, and Obama's election was no different. That's why people lament the lack of an "overriding principle to stand for." But the fact is that the US presidency has absolutely nothing to do with principle and everything to do with trying one's best to work with the hundreds of incredibly powerful people in Washington to maybe get something done that might possibly be vaguely positive. Choosing to take the popular route in order to move forward and compromise in order to get something - anything - done is the only way to handle the presidency at all.
posted by koeselitz at 8:39 AM on January 24, 2012


Came looking for memos on the assassination of u.s. citizens, left disappointed.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:54 AM on January 24, 2012


from the article: The President’s caution, and his concern about business, can be seen in the way he dealt with major interest groups.

This is all anyone needs to know. Forget all the puffery around why Obama did this or that, or why the GOP asked for this or that, or why the GOP is evil, etc. etc.

Please understand that you do not vote for your candidate of choice, you are voting for those who *pay* for your candidate of choice.. There is no other way to say it, because private financing holds far more key sway in public policy making than any one other variable.

Of course, people will conveniently (and in a very human way) overlook this, because they want to "suspend belief" as political analysts and others romanticize the intentions of the politicians they believe.

Welcome to the religion of politics - i.e. MONEY

posted by Vibrissae at 8:56 AM on January 24, 2012


Ironmouth: “The House is full of examples of people who want to raise taxes on the poor while lowering them for the rich?”

No. That's now what he said. He said that it's famously easy to get elected in the US by promising to cut taxes. And he seems to be correct on this point.
posted by koeselitz at 8:58 AM on January 24, 2012


Vibrissae: “This is all anyone needs to know. Forget all the puffery around why Obama did this or that, or why the GOP asked for this or that, or why the GOP is evil, etc. etc. Please understand that you do not vote for your candidate of choice, you are voting for those who *pay* for your candidate of choice.. There is no other way to say it, because private financing holds far more key sway in public policy making than any one other variable.”

This is kind of silly. You seem to be laboring under the misapprehension that the President has oodles of power that are his to do with as he wishes, and that he chooses to grant that power to special interest groups because they scratched his back, so he'll scratch theirs. The mistake is assuming that the President has much power at all. Read the rest of the article.
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 AM on January 24, 2012


Koeselitz,

I think you overstate your case a bit when you state that the presidency has nothing to do with principles. Sure, I agree that any president must bow to political reality, but underlying principles are a very important to act as a bedrock from which to bow.

I think this has been the problem with the liberals here in the US since the labor movement fell apart. At least on economic issues, liberals have been adrift for thirty years. And it is really why conservatives have dominated during that time, even though the public often disagrees with them on specific issues.

There needs to be a framework of principles on which to hang the policy proposals so that the electorate will support them, and liberals have failed to enunciate a strong unifying vision that supports their polcies. Hence, as the article points out, conservatives in DC have become much more conservative than liberals liberal.

On other issues, like gay rights for instance, liberals have dome much better, and are generally winning those debates.
posted by JKevinKing at 9:23 AM on January 24, 2012


Ironmouth: “The House is full of examples of people who want to raise taxes on the poor while lowering them for the rich?”

No. That's now what he said. He said that it's famously easy to get elected in the US by promising to cut taxes. And he seems to be correct on this point.


But that's strawmanning what I said. I said that they want toraise taxes on the lower income brackets and lower them on the upper income brackets. That's the new and interesting part of this. That's why they are not going to be in a good spot come August. They are running on raising taxes. Look at the plans they are all putting forward, from Paul Ryan to Gingrich to Romney. They literally raise taxes on many, many voters.

This is why Obama is in a good place here. He's been arguing for 4 years that we need to raise taxes on the rich in order to get our fiscal house in order. He's right. And the American people approve by approximately 72%. 53% of Republicans agree.

This is what the election is going to be fought over. Obama's gonna say we should not raise taxes on the lower brackets while giving the rich a break. And that's exactly what nearly every GOP tax plan does. He's backed them right into that corner. That's why pounding on the deficit was a good idea politically, because that's how you change the tax bracket situation. Every GOP plan adds to the deficit by giving the rich more cuts, yet still raises taxes on the poor.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, hot off the presses, 52% of Americans support equalizing income tax rates with capital gains tax rates, only 36% oppose.

This is why Romney's tax returns are significant.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:13 AM on January 24, 2012


The most interesting part of the article for me was the comparison between Obama's public image and the reality that he is a savvy, determined and somewhat unprincipled political operator with a penchant for raising money, and an even better skill at organizing, and executing on strategy (to get elected, that is).
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 AM on January 24, 2012


Why not accept the obvious answer: The president is focusing on what he wants to focus on, and this is the stuff he cares about?

The question was asked mostly rhetorically because that, of course, is the answer. Besides the ever-popular 18-dimensional chess answer.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:39 PM on January 24, 2012


You seem to have missed the entire point of this article.

I suppose it depends on what you think the points of the article are. Certainly one of the points is that politics is hard, compromises are needed, but hardball partisanship does achieve results. Another major point, as demonstrated in the section of the article I provided, is that the Obama administration acts in a very self conscious way, and is very concerned about how it may be depicted in the media and by right wing opponents.

No matter how much you'd like it if Obama had been this Mr Smith Goes To Washington type who valiantly defied even his own party to demand change and build a better world, that is simply not at all possible. The reality of politics in the United States is that, unless you work hard on 'image,' 'strategy' and 'positioning,' you will never pass any legislation whatsoever.

I agree with you. But while working on the political spin of your actions is important, what the article shows is that this political spin is as important, if not more important, to the actual policy trying to be enacted by the Obama administration. My dream politician would decide to do things first and then figure out how to spin it, not the other way around.

I know it would be fantastic if the president were all–powerful, because then all we'd have to do is get out idealistic candidate in and that candidate would fix everything.

I wouldn't find it fantastic if the president were all-powerful. I would find it fantastic if the president had a coherent agenda that he/she did his/her best to implement, making the necessary sacrifices and compromises along the way. With the very notable and not at all to be underestimated exception of health care reforms, the article fails to highlight any moments where Obama made a decision, decided to stick with it when things got tough, and then figured out how to spin it.

But the fact is that the US presidency has absolutely nothing to do with principle and everything to do with trying one's best to work with the hundreds of incredibly powerful people in Washington to maybe get something done that might possibly be vaguely positive.

If you believe this, and if you assume everyone else believes this, then what is your explanation for why people run for president?

That's why people lament the lack of an "overriding principle to stand for."

Actually, my lament is about the stall of the labour movement being championed at high levels, and the flow-on oddities this causes in the behaviour of all left-of-centre candidates across almost all western democracies.
posted by kithrater at 1:34 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't find it fantastic if the president were all-powerful. I would find it fantastic if the president had a coherent agenda that he/she did his/her best to implement, making the necessary sacrifices and compromises along the way. With the very notable and not at all to be underestimated exception of health care reforms, the article fails to highlight any moments where Obama made a decision, decided to stick with it when things got tough, and then figured out how to spin it.

Name one that he didn't. He still wants to close Gitmo, his own party stabbed him in the back, because, unfortunately, 65% of the electorate opposes it.

Part of the problem is that you wish the electorate didn't hold the positions it does.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:58 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what happened to the Bush tax cuts? Why haven't they expired? That's money that could have been spent effectively, and could have stimulated the economy.

He traded a 2 year extension for an up or down vote on DADT. Which he got, which he won, and which fulfilled a campaign promises. They now expire on Dec 31, 2012. We just gotta win and its a done deal.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Name one that he didn't.

I'm not going to be able to point out an example of something I think the article doesn't contain. I can, however, point out a couple of examples from the article where the Obama administration failed to adopt a decide-compromise-defend approach but instead made decisions on very political grounds:
* funding a child nutrition plan: His advisers suggested that he could make a point about political reform and offered him a plan to “ask Congress to fund as much of your original request as possible through reductions in agriculture subsidies.” They expected the ploy to fail but argued, “You would be able to say that you had offered a serious plan to fund the full bill, and Congress had fallen short.” Next to this more cynical option, Obama wrote, "Yes."

* setting the level of a corporate tax: But Geithner and Summers warned that if Obama was not willing to personally “defend” the plan he should not send it to Congress. In that case, they offered him an even more defanged alternative, one that would be “more responsive to the business community’s concerns” but would certainly “be criticized by some as caving.” Campaign promises were easy, but, as President, Obama could fight only so many legislative battles. Next to the dramatically scaled-back option, Obama wrote, “Worth discussing.” But in the end it was only worth discussing. Obama didn’t completely capitulate to the multinationals, and he adopted his aides’ modestly clipped package.
He still wants to close Gitmo

The article doesn't discuss Gitmo. Unless we want to guess about what Obama really means when he talks about Gitmo, we will have to wait for more interesting articles and memos to be released, or for a result on Gitmo to be achieved.
posted by kithrater at 6:33 PM on January 24, 2012


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