It is a truism, annoying as it may be for White House officials, that when the TV comics make the president an object of derision, the president is in trouble. Such ribbing is confirmation that whatever spin the White House is using to conceal a misstep hasn’t worked, and the entire country knows it, making it fodder for jokes.
The debt-ceiling deal is a case in point. Jon Stewart, the most intellectually astute of the left’s comic darlings, went after President Obama in hilarious fashion:
Very funny — unless you work in the Obama White House and are scrambling to defuse the contempt, anger and disappointment oozing from every pore of his liberal supporters.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The president seemed not to anticipate the depth of Congress’ polarization — between the parties but also within the Republican caucus.
In December, as Republicans were preparing to take control of the House, Obama said that he didn’t expect any unusual drama when the time came to raise the federal debt ceiling. Republican leaders also “have responsibilities to govern,” he said. . . .
Some Democrats also question Obama’s negotiating skills, grumbling that he gave up weapons he could have used in the battle. In particular, many believe he should have left open the possibility of using the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which holds that public debts “shall not be questioned,” to override the congressional limit on the federal debt. Even if Obama never actually used the 14th Amendment, the threat would have strengthened his negotiating position, Democrats say. . . .
“It was a mistake to publicly take that off the table,” said another Democratic lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the negotiations. “I don’t know why you would do that.”
Given the acrimony and the high-stakes deadline, the impasse posed a severe test of Obama’s negotiating skills. On the fly he sought to improve his relationship with Boehner, inviting the speaker to play a round of golf early in the talks. But White House officials believe that personalities aren’t at the root of congressional paralysis. . . .
[Some Obama allies] are more critical, comparing Obama unfavorably with presidents who made broad use of their executive powers in times of crisis: Harry Truman, who nationalized the steel industry in 1952 in the face of a steel strike, for example, or John F. Kennedy, who denounced steel executives for price increases and threatened them with an antitrust investigation.
“I am just sorely upset that Obama doesn’t seize the moment,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said as the final deal was coming together. “That’s what great presidents do in times of crisis. They exert executive leadership. He went wobbly in the knees.” . . .
Obama knows he has to make up ground, and fast. Even before he signed the bill in a low-key private ceremony in the Oval Office, he appeared in the Rose Garden and sought to change the subject. He made the case for a jobs agenda consisting of trade deals, road and bridge construction, and a patent overhaul.
Annoyed Democrats are racing to the media to express their dismay. Bloomberg reports:
“Come on, got any other jokes?” cracked Representative Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, when asked if Obama bargained hard in negotiations with congressional Republicans.
After Obama backed off his demand for new revenue in the deal that passed the House last night to raise the debt ceiling and cut the deficit, several lawmakers said they don’t know whether he can be counted on to stand firm on raising taxes on the wealthy and protecting programs such as Medicare.
“There was caving this time,” said Representative Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat. “Why don’t you think there would be caving next time?” . . . .
The loss of confidence in Obama by Democrats in Congress comes after the president backed off a series of demands during negotiations, clearing the way for a vote to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
At various points, Obama insisted that raising the debt ceiling and cutting the deficit not be linked and that new revenue must be a part of a deal — both positions he abandoned when Republicans refused to comply. Obama also surprised his allies when he put Social Security and Medicare temporarily on the table.
All of this has very immediate implications for the 2012 race. First, at a time when Obama should be courting independent voters he instead is working feverishly to reassure his base. That in turn (especially his pleading for tax increases and a bevy of new “investments”) will make his job of recapturing independent voters even tougher. Second, his weakness invites Republicans to revive questions about his leadership and competence.Those queries will have more resonance with the public and the media now that Democrats are in essence complaining about the same thing. And finally, Obama’s assurance that tax hikes, regulation and “investment” remain part of his agenda can only further worry and paralyze employers. You can understand why they might not be rushing to hire more workers.
Considering all this, I’d say Stewart went rather easy on the president.
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