Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pulping the bully approach to presidential leadership, III

Here and here, I've been tracking the evidence that Obama is acting on the theory -- advanced by sitting elected officials and political scientists alike -- that for major bipartisan policy deals, leading with a grand presidential plan is counterproductive.  Just now, in a press conference, Obama came out with it himself:
“If you look at history of how these deals get done, typically it’s not because there’s an Obama plan out there. Its’ because Democrats and Republican are serious about dealing with [these issues] in a serious way,” the president said. “This is not a matter of you go first or I go first,” he said before describing a goal of “everybody…ultimately getting in that boat at the same time so it doesn’t tip over.”
And since it's buried in an update to yesterday's post, let's note once more that Jacob Lew is singing from the same sheet:
By trimming programs dear to his party's liberals, Mr. Obama may improve his credibility as a budget-cutter. Yet the White House budget plan offers little new on one of the nation's most fundamental problems, spending on mandatory programs, which would grow to nearly $3.5 trillion by 2021 from $2.1 trillion next year.

That omission is by design. Jacob Lew, Mr. Obama's budget director, said such proposals had a better chance in closed-doors talks with Republicans.
Kent Conrad, one of Sullivan's "brave" deficit hawks, is also aboard with the presidential soft shoe:
Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and a Democratic member of the fiscal commission, said: “In this highly partisan environment, if the president proposes something, there is automatically some group that is opposed. It may be better for him to play the role of referee.”

Mr. Conrad added: “To get a result, the president has got to be part of a larger process that involves Republicans and Democrats, the House and Senate. How one gets to the table is not just one move, it’s a series of moves. And it’s very, very difficult.” 
And on the same page: Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
...had the budget included a large array of specific proposals for longer-term deficit reduction — ranging from increased taxes to changes in Social Security — that likely would have made it harder, not easier, for the Administration and Congress to eventually reach bipartisan agreement on those matters.  Specific presidential proposals would have invited immediate attacks from lawmakers across the political spectrum and almost certainly led to pledges by scores or hundreds of members of Congress never to agree to them.  That, in turn, would have made it harder for negotiators to reach agreement on large, longer-term deficit-reduction measures.  A goal at this point should be to keep policymakers from taking various specific proposals off the table before negotiations even commence.

That problem occurs even in normal political times. But, these are not normal political times.  The atmosphere is far more toxic, and the tendency to launch immediate incendiary attacks on specific deficit-reduction proposals for political gain far greater, than in the past when successful bipartisan negotiations took place.


  1. the President did the same thing on health care and more or less got what he wanted.

  2. This is generally the problem I have with Sullivan when he lets his emotions go way ahead of his reasoning. I understand he's a polemicist, and that he's sincere, but sometimes he needs to know about the inner workings of the field or topic he's talking about before he really should write stuff that's so strident.

    He's has a tendency over the years to ignore historically major character flaws and questionable political gamesmanship history in people who say things he likes (Mitch Daniels, GW Bush among others), and zero in on people like Hillary or Gore for character flaws that really are less disturbing. It's the double standard he tends to have for character that bothers me because he'll often comment on people like Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan without really looking at what they've actually done.