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:

Commentary November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm

Shaky Foundations

The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.

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

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

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2016

Don the Realtor

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Atlas Aggregated

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Origins of Speech

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Verse

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Sigh and a Salute

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Four in Prose

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Martin Amis on the rise of Trump, Tom Wolfe on the origins of speech, Art Spiegelman on Si Lewen, fiction by Diane Williams, and more

In Havana, the past year has been marked by a parade of bold-faced names from the north — John Kerry reopening the United States Embassy; Andrew Cuomo bringing a delegation of American business leaders; celebrities ranging from Joe Torre, traveling on behalf of Major League Baseball to oversee an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team, to Jimmy Buffett, said to be considering opening one of his Margaritaville restaurants there. All this culminated with a three-day trip in March by Barack Obama, the first American president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. But to those who know the city well, perhaps nothing said as much about the transformation of political relations between the United States and Cuba that began in December 2014 as a concert in the Tribuna Antiimperialista.

Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Don the Realtor·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"If you have ever wondered what it’s like, being a young and avaricious teetotal German-American philistine on the make in Manhattan, then your curiosity will be quenched by The Art of the Deal."
Photograph (detail) © Polly Borland/Exclusive by Getty Images
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
A Sigh and a Salute·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Si told me that various paintings had spoken to him, but he wished they had been hung closer together 'so they could talk to each other.' This observation planted a seed that would come to fruition years later in his mature work."
Artwork (detail) by Si Lewen
Article
El Bloqueo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Amid the festivities and the flood of celebrities, it would be easy for Americans to miss that the central plank of the long-standing cold war against Cuba — the economic embargo — remains very much alive and well."
Photograph (detail) by Rose Marie Cromwell

Estimated temperature of Hell, according to two Spanish physicists ‘ interpretation of the Bible:

832°F

The ecosystems around Chernobyl, Ukraine, are now healthier than they were before the nuclear disaster, though radiation levels are still too high for human habitation.

A TSA agent in Seattle was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of women in the airport, a Maryland police officer was arrested for taking up-skirt photos of an off-duty colleague, and the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that taking up-skirt photos is legal in the state.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today