Covering the period from the mid-term elections of 2010 to, more or less, the present, David Corn offers readers a look inside the Obama Administration through a host of battles. The overall takeaway is that Obama seriously wants to be the adult in the room in DC and tries his best to fulfill that mission. There is a lot of difference between campaigning, in which you can say whatever you like, stake out whatever positions you prefer and not have to temper your rhetoric to accommodate opposition, and actually having to run the federal government. Once in office, your opponents, who might not be able to keep you from talking, can prevent you from enacting your desired legislation unless you play ball.
I am of the opinion that the president has staked out initial negotiating positions that were not nearly far enough to the left. At least propose
single-payer. At least propose
a public option. While Corn’s look into the administration thought process may not go far enough to remove that dissatisfaction it does offer very concrete reasons why Obama chose to do what he did in all the battles explored in this book. The item that stands out the most for me is how Obama was willing to take on considerable political risk, and go against the advice of many of his advisors, in deciding to go ahead with the Osama Bin-Laden mission. Major guts there. Hardly the no-brainer that it was portrayed as being by Mitt Romney. Also, how he approached the Libya uprising, seeing to the core of what was needed tactically and having the ability to maneuver the international politics towards that end. Obama is a much tougher and slicker character and deft political player than I had realized.
Corn looks at several of the budget negotiations the administration entered into with Republican leadership. One thing that stood out very clearly is how much control John Boehner did not have over his barrel of Tasmanian-Devil Tea-Baggers. Whatever deal he made with the administration he was constantly back-tracking, denying he had said what he had said and basically proving to be an ineffective leader. Of course he always had to worry about House Whip, and full time reptile, Eric Cantor, trying his best to insert sharp objects between his ribs from the rear. It is remarkable that any deals were made with the Republicans at all.
There are plenty of instances in which reasonable people might ask simple questions
…had Obama allowed the Republicans to turn the national debate into nothing other than a debt seminar? “We can be faulted for this,” Axelrod said later. “Nobody anticipated the degree of Republican obstreperousness and implacability. We knew there would be strident voices, but the degree to which that tail would wag the dog—we didn’t assume.”
Really? Don’t you guys read the papers, watch TV, check out internet sites? Yes, the administration most definitely can
be faulted. They paid no attention at all to the thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of us who were sending the white house e-mails wondering why he could not see the obvious. This is a prime example of how politicos slip inside the DC bubble and fail to appreciate what is going on in the world beyond.
Regarding an administration decision to scale back public statements critical of Republican opposition during budget negotiations:
Axelrod subsequently explained. “The decision was made to go out and talk about jobs and the economy and allow the negotiations to proceed until the president needed to intervene.” And as Robert Gibbs put it, “It’s difficult to put out your right hand to shake their hands and then strike them with your left hand.“
Why the hell not? The other side has no such compunctions. They never stopped accusing Obama of being an alien, never stopped claiming he was a secret Muslim, never stopped accusing him of being an anti-American, even a terrorist. Are they so completely lily-livered that they can dish it out but they can’t take it? Well, yes they clearly are, given their hysterical reaction to any criticism, but why should Democrats give these nut-job hypocrites an inch? They did not exactly soften their stance at the negotiating table because Obama kept the gloves on. The arena of public opinion counts, and it was, and remains important for progressives to not allow the fear-mongering and divisive hatred of the right to blare unchallenged. Bad call, Mister President.
It is clear that when two parties at the negotiation table do not share core values there is trouble. Here, the president was determined to see that the American economic recovery suffered as few hits as possible, while the Tea-Bagger-driven Republicans would be more than happy to cause global economic chaos in order to get their way.
So one comes away impressed, maybe less dissatisfied when one sees what the president is up against. It certainly increases our appreciation for the damage that might be done to our nation by the barbarians at the gate. The prospect of putting in charge of the country the same drivers who landed the national vehicle in a ditch is daunting enough. Now we have to worry about a party heavy with ideological Thelma and Louises, unwilling to wait for a bathtub drowning, who are champing at the bit to drive the country off a cliff. It is a lucky thing that we have an administration that can steer the ship of state away from such peril, and knows when to step on the brakes when needed. This is an enlightening read.