Monday, April 26, 2010


Over at Ballon Juice, mistermix says it's hard for the president and the Congressional Democrats to find a way around the inevitable filibuster threats, and thus the need to try to placate whichever Republican has hinted at cooperation but is now throwing a hissyfit.

In response to this, Atrios writes:

One way to get Republicans on board is to enable them to be divas, flatter them, let them bask in the media spotlight as they play Hamlet for 6 months, and keep offering compromise after compromise while getting nothing in return, on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, Lindsey or President Snowe or whoever will get on board. Another way to do things is to propose popular pieces of legislation and then make the Republicans eat shit every day they fail to pass it, go send out your charismatic leader to give speeches and hold rallies in their states, mobilize your massive community of supporters to take various actions in support of the legislation, etc.

Generally speaking, that's correct -- but it doesn't take into account the nature of this presidency.

Barack Obama came into office wanting to take on big issues -- health care, climate change, the post-petroleum energy future, and so on. He decided he wanted to stick with his agenda even when the economy cratered. And, compounding matters further, he wants to take on transformational issues, but he wants to do most of this stuff in a way that is way too far to the left to please wingnuts but is too corporatist to please liberals and lefties -- and is too complex to be graspable by most swing voters.

So his plan was to use his awe-inspiring popularity and his big congressional majorities to tackle big issues in a left-centrist (or, if you prefer, right-centrist) way. Even he knew, I think, that that wouldn't be tremendously crowd-pleasing. But it would put him in the history books.

Right now, for once, he's pursuing a big item -- financial reform -- that happens to be crowd-pleasing ... and it's almost as if he had to be dragged to the issue kicking and screaming. He let a year go by without prioritizing it; the press kept telling us the "momentum" for reform had ebbed. He couldn't have guessed this would be popular? He couldn't have guessed that it would increase his credibility as he pursued other goals? Apparently not -- or apparently he wasn't even thinking that way. He wanted to pursue what he wanted to pursue (or what he felt he had to pursue, i.e., the stimulus and bailouts), and he didn't think he had to concern himself with staying in the public's good graces.

For a guy who plays so much basketball, he's not very good at reading the defense -- that is, assessing what obstacles he's actually facing and adjusting his game plan to reality. And as soon as financial reform is over, he's going back to stuff that's not very popular: immigration and energy. He should "propose popular pieces of legislation" and "mobilize [his] massive community of supporters," but he just doesn't want to.

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