Wednesday, April 13, 2011


As I said in the previous post, the president's debt speech had some inspiring passages. I'd love to think that he'll hold the lines he's drawn in the sand, though I fear he won't. According to Glenn Greenwald (in a post that, naturally, is just about half as long as the president's speech), all that apparent failure is deliberate.

Greenwald writes about

a spate of negotiation advice from the liberal punditocracy advising the President how he can better defend progressive policy aims -- as though the Obama White House deeply wishes for different results but just can't figure out how to achieve them....

Does anyone believe that Obama and his army of veteran Washington advisers are incapable of discovering these tactics on their own or devising better strategies for trying to avoid these outcomes if that's what they really wanted to do? What evidence is there that Obama has some inner, intense desire for more progressive outcomes? These are the results they're getting because these are the results they want....

Greenwald summarizes the thinking: If Obama tacks center or center-right or right, Democrats will support him because, well, they support whatever he does.

Why would Obama possibly want to do anything different? Why would he possibly want a major political war over the debt ceiling where he looks like a divisive figure and looks to be opposing budget cuts? Why would he possibly want to draw a line in the sand defending Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from any "reforms"? There would be only two reasons to do any of that: (1) fear that he would lose too much of his base if he compromised with the GOP in these areas, or (2) a genuine conviction that such compromises are morally or economically intolerable. Since he so plainly lacks both -- a fear of losing the base or genuine convictions about this or anything else -- there's simply nothing to drive him to fight for those outcomes.

Anyone see the flaw in this argument? This standard strategy that's supposedly helping him avoid "a major political war" regularly plunges him into major political wars. Or did Greenwald somehow fail to notice all those angry pitchfork-rattlers in various village greens and town meetings over the last two years? Did he possibly overlook the multiple efforts to nullify, neutralize, defund, repeal, and overturn the health care law? If Obama is so freaking smart, and he's done this so he won't be embattled, why is he embattled?

According to Greenwald, faux-incompetent Obama fails (or, rather "fails") to deliver on liberal promises because it (a) wins him centrist votes and (b) doesn't lose him liberal votes.

Conventional D.C. wisdom -- that which Obama vowed to subvert but has done as much as any President to bolster -- has held for decades that Democratic Presidents succeed politically by being as "centrist" or even as conservative as possible. That attracts independents, diffuses GOP enthusiasm, casts the President as a triangulating conciliator, and generates raves from the DC press corps -- all while keeping more than enough Democrats and progressives in line through a combination of anti-GOP fear-mongering and partisan loyalty.

Isn't that exactly the winning combination that will maximize the President's re-election chances?

So, um, why does it seem from where I'm sitting that Obama gets attacked for being a liberal even after these sellouts (or "sellouts")? Why does half the country think he's a liberal? Why is he struggling in reelection polls against Generic Republican, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney? And why is he -- as Greenwald himself notes -- doing worse in polls among liberals than George W. Bush did among conservatives?

Alienate enough liberals to give Nader a healthy vote in 2012, while failing to persuade centrists that you're a centrist -- that's Obama's brilliant reelection strategy? That proves he's conducting a highly successful campaign of deception that's evil but brilliant? Give me a break.

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