Beltway Bob Rationalizes Obama’s Blunders, while Michael Tomasky Sees a “Scared President”

Beltway Bob

Okay, I realize that is a silly title, but after reading Beltway Bob’s Ezra Klein’s latest post and then reading the transcript of Barack Obama’s Rose Garden speech from this morning, I was feeling a little bit punchy.

Dakinikat recently called Ezra Klein “Beltway Bob,” or the Bagdad Bob of the Beltway. That’s a perfect name for Klein, who is apparently way too young to remember anything about politics before about 1990. The guy is naive beyond belief. Lately he seems to see his role as explaining away all of Obama’s blunders, usually by arguing that the President is just too good and moral for the rough and tumble of politics.

This morning, Klein set out to explicate the “deficit reduction plan” that Obama announced in his speech this morning. Specifically, Klein wanted to explain “why the White House changed course.”

President Obama’s deficit-reduction plan (pdf)
is most interesting for what’s not in it. It does not cut Social Security by “chaining” the program’s cost-of-living increases. It does not raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67. Nor does it include any other major concessions to Republicans. Rather, the major compromise it makes is with political reality — a reality that the White House would prefer not to have had to acknowledge.

Since the election, the Obama administration’s working theory has been that the first-best outcome is striking a deal with Speaker John Boehner and, if that fails, the second-best outcome is showing that they genuinely, honestly wanted to strike a deal with Speaker John Boehner.

That was the thinking that led the White House to reward the GOP’s debt-ceiling brinksmanship by offering Boehner a “grand bargain” that cut Social Security, raised the Medicare age, and included less new revenue than even the bipartisan Gang of Six had called for. It was also a theory that happened to fit Obama’s brand as a postpartisan uniter and his personal preferences for campaigning on achievements rather than against his opponents. But though it came close to happening, the “grand bargain” ultimately fell apart. Twice.

The collapse of that deal taught them two things: Boehner doesn’t have the internal support in his caucus to strike a grand bargain with them, and the American people don’t give points for effort.

Very likely you’re asking yourself, “What the heck does that mean?” I certainly was when I first read it. Is this guy trying to tell us that no one in the White House understood until recently that Boehner had a bunch of looney-tunes tea party reps to deal with? Is he really trying to convince us that–after all those years in Illinois politics and his admittedly short time in national politics–that Obama and/or his advisers actually did not understand that voters expect results, not “just words?”

The answer is “yes.” Beltway Bob does expect you to believe that. The rest of his column is devoted to explaining in great detail that Obama and his advisers actually believed that voters would be thrilled if he made nice with Republicans even if it meant selling out every Democratic ideal–that if the President “looked like a nice guy,” the voters–especially Independents, I guess–would rush to the polls to reelect him.

But now, according to Beltway Bob, the White House staff and the President understand that they made a huge mistake: “the second-best outcome isn’t necessarily looking like the most reasonable guy in the room. It’s looking like the strongest leader in the room.” So that’s why Obama threatened to veto any plan that cuts Medicare or Medicaid and he has for now supposedly taken Social Security off the table. It’s all so sad, according to Beltway Bob–poor Barack has had to go back on all his ideals (those ideals apparently being that he wanted to a great compromiser, while caring nothing about the effects of his compromises) and accept “politics as usual.” Boo-hoo-hoo.

Rather than emphasizing his willingness to meet Boehner’s bottom lines, which was the communications strategy during the debt ceiling showdown, he’s emphasizing his unwillingness to bend on his bottom lines.

That isn’t how the White House would prefer to govern. It’s not how they would prefer to campaign. It is, let’s admit it, politics-as-usual. It’s the triumph of the old way of doing things, an admission that Washington proved too hard to change. But it’s also the only option they have left.

Ezra Beltway Bob can’t seem to recall the hundreds of times that Obama has vowed to draw lines in the sand and then quickly backtracked–not to mention all the Campaign promises he went back on. But why on earth should anyone with a functioning memory believe this hogwash?

Frankly, IMHO, if Obama has in fact taken Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid changes off the table–which I strongly doubt–it’s probably because he’s scared silly that Americans are finally seeing through his lies.

If you read the transcript of Obama’s speech, you’ll see that he sounds defensive, hesitant, scared of his own shadow. This morning he called for the wealthy to pay at least 20% of their income in taxes. We are supposed to buy that that is a tax increase. Yet under Bush, the wealthiest Americans were supposed to pay 35%, already an unconscionably low rate–why not make them pay that much at least?

Michael Tomasky

Because our President is a scaredy cat, that’s why! I think the change–if it’s real–has everything to do with the news that has come out about Ron Suskind’s new book Company Men, which will be released tomorrow. The news reports about the book make Obama sound like a weak, passive, detached executive who lets his underlings push him around. Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast calls him “The Scared President.”

Tomasky notes that he was persuaded by what Suskind wrote about the Bush administration in a previous book.

I’m on record as taking Suskind at his word in such matters. In early 2004, when Suskind and Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill produced The Price of Loyalty, I reviewed it for The New York Times and found it persuasive.That book was the first to confirm what everyone knew anyway: that the Bush White House was run according to politics, not policy. Confidence Men also confirms what we knew about Obama’s White House: that the president appointed the wrong economic team from the start, failed to crack down on the banks, and was Solomonic to a fault when formulating responses to the financial crisis (oh, and news flash: Larry Summers is hard to work with!).

That would be interesting without being shocking. But the indictment goes one mortifying step deeper: Geithner and Summers and Rahm Emanuel, and perhaps others, sometimes ignored Obama, refused to carry out his orders, and, in Summers’s case, mocked him, saying at one point to then-Budget Director Peter Orszag that “there’s no adult in charge” in the White House. And while I don’t yet know whether Suskind emphasizes this point, let’s carry the critique one step further: They did so, as far as we know, without suffering any consequences at all.

No matter how much the White House tries to deny the details that have come out on Suskind’s book, the overall takeaway is that Obama is weak and indecisive. And that is the impression that most Americans have about him already, so why should they disbelieve it? Tomasky:

That’s the problem the book reveals. Adam Moss and Frank Rich of New York magazine did get an early copy and read it, and in an online dialogue posted over the weekend, they home in on what Rich calls Obama’s “intellectual blind spot.” Obama even recognized it himself, telling Suskind he was too inclined to look for “the perfect technical answer” to problems; Rich quotes Suskind as writing that Obama always favored policies that were “respectfully acknowledging opponents’ positions, even those with thin evidence behind them, that then get stitched together into some pragmatic conclusion—but hollow.”

That sounds awfully apt to me. Obama was afraid to be the president. He listened to a dozen viewpoints and tried to come up with something that made everyone happy. Unfortunately, “everyone” included people on his team who were looking out for the banks more than for the public (or for their own boss), and it included people on Capitol Hill whose clear agenda was Obama’s political destruction. It’s the central—and depending on how the next election turns out, possibly decisive—paradox of this president: In trying way too hard to look presidential in the sense of “statesmanlike,” he has repeatedly ended up looking unpresidential in the sense of not being a leader.

Obama wasn’t ready to be President in 2008, and he still isn’t. Tomasky claims to have hopes that Obama can turn it around, but I think it’s just too late. There have been too many lies, too many betrayals of campaign promises, too many sellouts to Wall Street and the Republicans, and too many reversals of supposed lines in the sand.

Perhaps if Obama were capable of followingJames Carville’s advice and fired most of his staff and stood up to Wall Street and the Republicans, as Tomasky hopes. But Obama simply can’t do it. He’s too weak and inexperienced.

Whether you look at Obama through the eyes of Beltway Bob and conclude that this President is just too good and holy for “politics as usual” or through the eyes of Tomasky and conclude that Obama is scared of his own advisers and of Republicans in Congress, this man is simply not qualified for the office he holds. Obama must go. There is no other realistic solution to the country’s problems.