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Saturday, September 08, 2012

Nothing More Than Feelings...

From a review of Bob Woodward's new book at the Washington Post:  

...The mystery of who blew the grand bargain — Obama says Boehner did it, by caving in to his caucus; Boehner blames Obama, for insisting on more tax revenue — matters less than what the whole abasing episode tells us about the state of self-government in the United States. To the extent that Woodward broaches this, he does it through the prism of personality. In the book’s final few pages, he places a pox on both houses, Obama’s and Boehner’s, for failing to “transcend their fixed partisan convictions and dogmas.” He chides Boehner for failing to win the loyalty or respect of House Republicans or even just to rein in his first lieutenant. “He could have called Eric Cantor in and had the conversation of a lifetime,” pressing the majority leader to fall in line, Woodward suggests.
But Woodward reserves his most damning indictment for Obama, whom he sees as well meaning but often stumbling, and cocky and remote — a cold fish with a high hand who needlessly alienates potential “friends.” Woodward recounts that in early 2009, after every last House Republican voted against the administration’s stimulus package, Cantor told Emanuel that “you really could have gotten some of our support”— if it weren’t for the president’s “arrogance.”Woodward seems to take this claim at face value, along with similarly self-serving statements by Rep. Paul Ryan and others. They inform Woodward’s final, blistering judgment. Yes, he acknowledges, Obama inherited a “faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition. But presidents,” he says, “work their will — or should work their will — on the important matters of national business.” Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton largely did, he concludes. “Obama has not.”
It is hard to argue with this, but it is important to understand why. Obama, to be sure, has made missteps and misjudgments. He has placed too much trust in the power of reason and too little value on the power of personal relationships. He has often succeeded despite all that. But his failure to consistently work his will on Congress surely has less to do with his individual failings, as Woodward suggests, than with larger forces, chief among them the radicalization of the GOP — a party that actually seems to believe its depiction of a moderate, pragmatic president as some kind of wild-eyed collectivist, a party whose members, in their loathing for government, were willing to risk, in some cases to welcome, the economic armageddon of a debt default as an opportunity, a catharsis, a shock to the body politic. In Woodward’s book, “the caucus” and the tea party are little more than bit players, but for Obama — and no less for Boehner — their rigidity is the central, unalterable fact of political life. The manufactured crisis over the debt ceiling was their proud creation, and their zealotry has extended it right to the edge of the cliff. Congress is one thing — how does a man work his will on a crusade?

It's important to view Woodward's statements through a "Very Serious" lens that assumes a particular kind of grand bargain -- one that is tough on social programs for one thing -- is highly desirable. His idea of good and bad outcomes - e.g. whether standing up for certain principles in a negotiation is honorable or obstructionist - must be seen in this light.

As for Republicans blaming the troubles on Obama's "arrogance," that's just silly. I know Republicans like Boehner and Cantor are perfect in every way, no reason for Obama to have any problems with them (despite the fact that, according to Woodward they were very childish during the negotiations, "throughout the talks, Boehner and Cantor undercut each other, their animosity so obvious that a White House staffer 'felt awkward being in the same room with the two of them,'" and despite other behavior such as "Boehner screens Obama’s calls and shuns his requests to come back to the White House for yet another meeting. Obama is left to complain — publicly — that 'I’ve been left at the altar.'"). Sounds to me like there's an argument for personality issues on the Republican side -- some of it within the Party -- that's at least as strong as the silliness about "arrogance."

But really, what is it with Republicans and their hurt feelings? They tell us that the CEOs of major corporations stopped investing, stopped maximizing profit for their investors because the president hasn't honored them enough. They'll show him! -- all the while losing money for their investors? Republicans complain endlessly about the debt, it was a theme of their convention, but given a chance to do something about it they walk away because the president didn't treat them exactly as they expected and demanded? Apparently, their feelings got in the way. They show no respect to the president whatsoever -- quite the opposite -- and then break off negotiations they believe are crucial to the future of the country because he didn't show them the respect they think they deserve? Cry me a river (well, everyone but Boehner).

    Posted by on Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 12:09 PM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (25)

          


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