Sunday, November 07, 2010

Liberal Reagan -- not

Garry Wills was right. Obama's default mode is "endless placation." When it doesn't work, he keeps doing it.  He did it nonstop on 60 Minutes tonight.

A few days ago, I linked to a Times story relating some statements by Ronald Reagan in January 1983, when his approval rating hit its nadir of 35%.  The words sounded superficially like Obama's, since the situation was so similar -- an unemployment rate stuck in the 10% range, a large loss in the recent Congressional elections.  But the differences were more telling than the similarities.

Reagan was unequivocal: his policies were working and would continue to work.  To the extent that they hadn't worked fast enough, it was because of compromises forced by the Democrats.

In the 60 Minutes interview tonight as in his Nov. 3 press conference, Obama validated Republican lies about his policies and the legislation passed by the 111th Congress. The healthcare reform process somehow tainted the result.  The bank and auto bailouts and stimulus gave the appearance that he was a proponent of big government.  He took too harsh a tone or somehow damaged the interest of the business community.  He failed to change the tone in Washington.

He never called out Republican mendacity or asserted that the reason he wasn't able to work with Republicans was because they made a bad-faith decision early on to stonewall his entire agenda and malign policies that in any sane era would have been bipartisan -- stimulus, bank and auto bailout, a health insurance program that leaves the private insurance industry intact and flourishing.

Worse, he never defended his own record with any vigor.  It's easy to ventriloquize a "liberal Reagan" defending the accomplishments of the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress. We created or saved 3 million jobs and added 3 points to GDP.  We saved the U.S auto industry from destruction. We saved the U.S. banking industry from destruction. We've got the states literally racing to enact meaningful, measurable education reform.  We've made unprecedented investments in alternative energy.  We ensured that banks could not entice and defraud consumers as was their practice last decade. We ensured that there will be no more megabank bailouts.  We've ensured that every citizen will be able to afford health insurance within five years and at the same time instituted healthcare cost controls that the CBC conservatively estimated will save $1.34 trillion over twenty years.  We closed the donut hole while eliminating Republican giveaways to insurance companies that balloon Medicare costs. We ended the corporate welfare system of student loans and ensured cheaper, fairer loans for all college students. We enacted the most stringent emissions controls on cars and trucks ever. We wrung $20 billion in restitution from BP. We did and we did and we did -- we accomplished more on behalf of working Americans in 2 years than our predecessors have done in the last 50.

Of course there's another side to many of those claims. But they could be made with more veracity than 90% of the claims made by politicians, very much including Reagan's on the domestic front.

Now it's time to defend this legacy. The Republicans are baying for blood, promising to tear down the PPACA, gut Dodd-Frank, stymie all further stimulus, and make Obama a one-term President. Obama will have to face them down, budget after budget, as Clinton did -- expose their cruelty, their bad faith, their crocodile tears over deficits, their demagoguery over any proposed entitlement cuts.  How can he do any of that if he won't make the case for the rightness of his own policies?

Yes, the American people say they want compromise. Yes, they believe in large numbers that Obama is more willing to compromise than the Republicans.  He can't lose that perception -- it's hard-wired by now.  His ability to move the Republican stonewall -- say, to eventually force some spending on infrastructure, or to agree on tax cuts that are likely to actually stimulate rather than sit on the ledgers of the super-rich -- depends on exposing Republican mendacity and self contradiction, not on further proving his own sweet reasonableness.

I retain tremendous faith in Obama's ability to craft good policy and considerable hope that he will deal with a Republican House as effectively as Clinton did with a Republican House and Senate. But his early post-election performances are not boosting my confidence.

To take a breath: as with most people, Obama's greatest strength -- his willingness to work with people of all views, his confidence that he can win over antagonists -- is his greatest weakness I would not want him to be a 'liberal Reagan.' Reagan had the endless certainty of the second-rate. But Obama needs once again to prove -- as he did in the healthcare reform endgame -- that he knows how to fight.


  1. Again, patience. The fight will come. This is the set up for the counter punch. The (partial) electorate has handed you a brow beating. People elected you because you were reasonable. After taking an a$$ kicking, rattling the sabre at the other side, especially after slipping before the election and calling them "enemies," is not going to look reasonable. So you mouth platitiudes about working with the other side, knowing that they won't do it. Before, the other side could argue that you had majorities in both houses, and so they could not stop you from doing what you wanted to do. Now, they cannot.

    The economy is showing signs of turning. Last week's jobs report was extremely positive. There are still naysayers out there, but if we know anything about economists, it's that they are very bad at predicting what will happen. They are only good at telling you why things happened in the past. And you and I both know who will get credit for the turn around. The same office that got the credit over two and a half decades ago when Congress had basically the exact same make-up: a 4-6 seat majority in the Senate for the President's party, and a decided majority for the opposition in the House.

    The GOP is going to overplay their hand. They are forced to because they have to pander to the far right in their party. When the other side has all the power, that pandering is easy. When you have some, you will be asked to deliver, and then you have to make a choice: continue to pander and turn off the center, or sell out the center and demoralize the whack jobs who elected you.

    Let's be honest. No amount of communication was going to stop what happened last Tuesday. No amount of fighting was going to change the equation. All that would have accomplished is throwing away the strength that got you elected: looking like the only adult in the room. The economy sucks, and there's nothing that can be done about it. If health care wouldn't have been tried, the economy would still suck. If more stimulus would have been tried, the other side would have spun it as more useless spending that doesn't work, and despite the White House's all out blitz to show that the stimulus did work, people would not believe it because the numbers are still bad. And the GOP would make the argument that adding more to the deficit means tax cuts in the future, which causes uncertainty. More stimulus was not politically possible. (more)

  2. Let's keep in mind here that the "endless placation" theory is bull $hit. Both you and I have read enough about Obama to know it's false. Does an "endless placater" challenge signatures that would have got an opponent in his own party on the ballot? Would an "endless placater" have called the Republicans "enemies" before the election? Would an "endless placater" have run the Medicare ads that he did against John McCain, or attacked Hillary for the individual mandate that he later passed? Would an "endless placater" have needled Bill Clinton, a beloved member of his party, in the primary the way that Obama did? If we know anything about Obama, it's that he can be a ruthless politician. Occam's Razor would imply that he did not forget how to be one now.

    Keep in mind two things. First, in all of the interviews, Obama never comes out and says that the electorate rejected his policies. He said that when the economy is bad people get "frustrated," and it made it easy to brand him as a tax and spend liberal, which he believes (and so do I) that he is not.

    Second, look at the exit polls of who the electorate is compared to 2008. Much older, much whiter. Young people and minorities stayed home. Toomey barely eked out a win in PA. Does anyone in their right mind think PA will have 9% black turnout in 2012 with Obama on the ballot? Not a frigging chance, and since the GOP underwhelmed out west do the Latino vote, which is growing, there is Obama's firewall: traditional liberal states on the coasts and the upper midwest+Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico+Pennsylvania.

    I don't have as much confidence in the electorate as you do. My rules on the electorate are simple.

    1. When times are bad, they punish the party in office, whether it is their fault or not.

    2. When times are good, they almost always reward the President's party, whether it is responsible for the good times or not.

    The good times will return in the next two years, and Obama will reap the benefits.

  3. One of the great mysteries of the present political era, for me, has been Democrats' unwillingness to defend, even their most successful programs and decisions. Obama is hardly alone in this, though during the 2008 elections I did allow myself to believe that he might prove to be an antidote to it.

  4. I can not imagine why any of this still surprises anyone.

    The REAL power behind both parties is the same corrupt group of internationalist wealth determined to destroy America (they already have).

    Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, Obama - all work for the same people.

    Obama does not vigorously defend as he does not want to vigorously win.

  5. Excuse me Anon this is bullshit. Obama wants to win, vigorously if possible. However, he is constrained (as all are) by the enormous money sloshing about Washington. He is as beholden to the power centers in this country as everyone else in DC is. However, the notion that if he just does this or that, and a huge liberal wave will carry him through is not realistic. I think 2008 was as large a Democratic wave as we'll ever see and the midterms show that the coalition that won him the WH broke apart immediately in electoral terms.

  6. All the examples of Obama "fighting" that Ted V gave are for things that only directly benefitted Obama personally.

    There are no examples given where Obama is fighting for something other than himself. Like on behalf of the voters or electorate or liberals.

    Just saying.

  7. "Again, patience. The fight will come. This is the set up for the counter punch." -Ted V

    Oh god not this again. We've been told for two years now that Chessmaster Obama was setting up his opponents for the moment he would turn and fight them.

    I suppose being on the receiving end of the most devastating midterm loss (in the House, at least) since WW2 was all part of the plan.

    Obama is not playing Nth dimensional chess. He is not a canny strategerizer. He has no idea what he's doing.

  8. I don't see why you see fit to compare Reagan in January of 83 with Obama in November of 10. Its apples and oranges. What was Reagan saying in November of 82?

  9. Check this out-

  10. "I suppose being on the receiving end of the most devastating midterm loss (in the House, at least) since WW2 was all part of the plan."

    Not part of the plan, but unavoidable with the economy the way it is. Unless you're one of the few geniuses who think that 300 billion more in stimulus would have by now turned around a 14.3 TRILLION dollar economy.

    Obama's quick career rise and 2008 tell us that your comment "He has no idea what he is doing" is not based in reality. Good politics doesn't mean winning all the time. It means doing the best you can with the circumstances that you have.

    If the economy is going to sink the congressional gains you made anyway, what good is throwing away your strength just so that liberals will feel better about themselves? That sounds distinctly like the neocon arguments of why we should be in Iraq forever. To show how tough we are. Yeah, that's productive.

    To the other "anon," Obama didn't fight for heath care? The passage of that bill benefited him, but no one else? On what planet? Just because some of you liberals live in Candyland where the President need only use the bully pulpit and the votes for a public option will magically appear doesn't make it so.

    What I wrote was merely the idea that what Mr. Sprung is arguing for is not a politically sound strategy. Nothing more.