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 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

March 2015

A Sage in Harlem

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Man Stopped

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Spy Who Fired Me

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Giving Up the Ghost

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Invisible and Insidious

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
“The proof of his existence was this brain, and by attaching himself to it, and the power of it, he created a little bit of immortality for himself.”
Illustration by Lou Beach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos
[Browsings]
Burn After Reading·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

William Powell published The Anarchist Cookbook in 1971. He spent the next four decades fighting to take it out of print.
“The book has hovered like an awkward question on the rim of my consciousness for years.”
© JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
Article
The Spy Who Fired Me·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“In industry after industry, this data collection is part of an expensive, high-tech effort to squeeze every last drop of productivity from corporate workforces.”
Illustration by John Ritter
Article
Invisible and Insidious·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Wherever we are, radiation finds and damages us, at best imperceptibly.”
Photograph © 2011 Massimo Mastrorillo and Donald Weber/VII

Percentage change since 1993 in the annual sales of vinyl records in the United States:

+2,590

When Pacific parrotlets fly within a truck, the truck becomes lighter, by an amount equal to the weight of the birds, as their wings rise. The truck becomes heavier, by twice the weight of the birds, on the downbeats.

Zakir Naik, an Indian television preacher who has repeatedly said that 9/11 was an “inside job” orchestrated by former U.S. president George W. Bush, was given the King Faisal international prize by Saudi Arabia for “service to Islam.”

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today