I feel the force of these by-now-longstanding laments about Obama's lack of negotiating skills. I feel them every time we go through this ritual - over Bush tax cuts in Dec., over 2011 budget. Thing is, each time he has come away with a somewhat hard to absorb but arguably surprisingly good deal. Perhaps we'll be surprised again by the debt ceiling negotiations - though all reports suggest otherwise.To widen the perspective a bit: Kevin Drum recasts an argument he made when Obama was negotiating the 2011 budget -- and once again, I think he's on point:
Looks like there will be no significant concessions from GOP on raising tax revenue. That leaves a final backdoor stimulus, traded off of long-term cuts and spending targets. Perhaps, as in the 2011 negotiation, O will settle on spending cuts that look big but are structured the way he wants them and in line with his own proposals -- along with payroll tax cut extensions and maybe a surprise or two.
Greg Sargent, in turn, takes it back to Obama's lifelong M.O. In the wake of the legislation flood of 2009-2010 that Republicans blockaded, and the subsequent GOP tsunami:
For what it's worth, I continue to think that this probably wasn't a bungle. More likely, during his first two years in office Obama had gotten enough deficit religion from the likes of Peter Orszag and Tim Geithner that he actually welcomed the opportunity to put in place some long-term spending cuts. He couldn't very well admit that publicly, of course, since his base would go bananas, so instead he punted on the debt ceiling, knowing that Republicans would then use it to "force" spending concessions out of him. Mission accomplished: long-term spending is reduced, and Republicans get all the blame. Democrats mostly forgive him because everyone knows Republicans are crazy, and as a bonus, Republicans don't even get much of a boost from their own base out of this since any real-world spending cut won't come close to the demands of the tea party crowd.
Obama and his team decided the best way to recapture his central political identity — even at risk of weaking Dems in negotiations — was to re-emphasize his role as a conciliator who simply refuses to accept that Washington needs to be the way it is and who won’t ever abandon his faith that differences can be bridged. This was his original vision of the presidency in any case, and it was only confirmed for him and his team by the lift he got in the polls after the Bush tax cut deal. Obama doesn’t draw hard lines because he doesn’t want to be seen drawing hard lines. He doesn’t refuse to compromise because he doesn’t want to be seen refusing to compromise. This simply isn’t how he thinks the presidency, or at least his presidency, should function.And that's true too. In an odd way, Obama's core faith in placation is a mirror image of Reagan's 'peace through strength' mantra. Just as Reagan (according to Robert Gates) was probably the only Cold Warrior who believed that a U.S. military buildup could be prelude to radical arms reduction, Obama is probably the only progressive who believes that good-faith negotiation with the radical GOP of today can yield ultimately progressive solutions to the country's problems.
Like Drum and Sargent, I'm not saying that Obama is right to negotiate with an extremist, uncompromising, bad-faith opposition party. I just hope he proves smarter than those of us who would revert by reflex to what Drum rightly points out is an obvious hard-line negotiating posture. Or as Fallows put it, "We will hope that the qualities we admire in Obama outweigh the ones that make us nervous." Here we go again....
UPDATE: a timely if not-particularly-reassuring caution from Stan Collender: chill! Early reports on what's in process of being agreed upon are always imaginary.