Washington Babylon — December 16, 2009, 12:06 pm

Obama’s Strategy for Victory: Defeat

I mentioned in a post yesterday that liberal bloggers tend to exempt President Obama for blame over the failures of his administration. Some times it’s said that Obama inherited a gigantic mess and it’s not fair to expect him to quickly solve the country’s problems. But most presidents inherit a mess (admittedly not often as big as the one handed off to Obama) and the man did run for president. If the job was too big for him, he shouldn’t have placed his name in nomination.

Even less convincing is the argument that Obama can’t get anything done because of a weak Democratic congress. Fine, it’s a lousy congress, but the president sets the tone and signals his priorities. As I noted yesterday, Obama was a big backer of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) when on the campaign trail (when he needed union votes). He’s barely mentioned it since taking office, and so that central demand of labor has gone nowhere. That’s not all the fault of Congress.

Just look at some of today’s headlines. The Washington Post reports that the government “quietly agreed to forgo billions of dollars in potential tax payments from Citigroup as part of the deal announced this week to wean the company from the massive taxpayer bailout that helped it survive the financial crisis.” Steven Pearlstein adds this in his column:

There’s the president of the United States, sitting in the Cabinet room at the White House, cameras rolling, talking with the heads of the country’s biggest banks, each one of which had benefited from an extraordinary government effort last year to prevent the financial system from collapsing…At the same moment, officials next door at Treasury are putting the final touches on agreements that will dramatically reduce the legal and political leverage the administration holds over those very same banks by allowing them to repay the bailout money they received.

Hello? Is this what passes for political arm-twisting and bare-knuckle negotiation at the Obama White House?

Over at Politico we hear that Obama believed banking executives when they told him Monday that they would restrict their lobbyists from working to undermine financial reform. “But on Tuesday morning,” the story noted, “there was little evidence that the major Wall Street firms planned any changes in their approach to lobbying on financial regulatory reform.” No one but Obama was surprised by that.

But the kicker came in this Politico piece:

But it’s not just the liberal base that’s feeling unsettled. Obama has also proved frustrating to moderates, who simply wanted to know where Obama’s core principles on health care stood, all the better to cut a deal to the president’s liking.

Time and again, he rebuffed Democrats’ requests to speak up more forcefully about what he wanted — a strategy that allowed Obama to preserve maximum flexibility to declare victory at the end of the process, no matter what the final bill looked like.

All this is because Obama has a weak congress to work with? God, bring back that old waffler Bill Clinton. Next to Obama he looks like a man of hardened principle.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2015

In the Shadow of the Storm

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Measure for Measure

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Israel

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Camera on Every Cop

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Part Neither, Part Both·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Eight months pregnant I told an old woman sitting beside me on the bus that the egg that hatched my baby came from my wife’s ovaries. I didn’t know how the old woman would take it; one can never know. She was delighted: That’s like a fairy tale!”
Mother with Children, by Gustav Klimt © akg-images
Article
What Recovery?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Between 2007 and 2010, Albany’s poverty rate jumped 12 points, to a record high of 39.9 percent. More than two thirds of Albany’s 76,000 residents are black, and since 2010, their poverty rate has climbed even higher, to nearly 42 percent.”
Photograph by Will Steacy
Article
Rag Time·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

From a May 23 commencement address delivered at Hofstra University. Doctorow died on Tuesday. He was 84.
“We are a deeply divided nation in danger of undergoing a profound change for the worse.”
Photograph by Giuseppe Giglia
Article
The Trouble with Israel·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“We think we are the only people in the world who live with threat, but we have to work with regional leaders who will work with us. Bibi is taking the country into unprecedented international isolation.”
Photograph by Adam Golfer
Post
Greece, Europe, and the United States·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A progressive Europe—the Europe of sustainable growth and social cohesion—would be one thing. The gridlocked, reactionary, petty, and vicious Europe that actually exists is another. It cannot and should not last for very long.”

Photograph by Stefan Boness

Percentage of Americans who believe that the population of the United States exceeds one billion:

28

Scientists explained why breast milk does not turn breasts to bone.

A pit bull was shot in Milwaukee after being mistaken for a lion.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Subways Are for Sleeping

By

“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”

Subscribe Today