President Obama famously said that his policies were exactly right, but he had failed to tell the voter a convincing “story” about his successes. In the glare of the campaign, we have learned that two such “stories” are more fictionalized than even his memoirs.
Most dramatically, Obama’s narrative of the debt ceiling talks has collapsed. Since the failure of the grand bargain, up through today Obama a pointed fingers at the Republicans. But after news reports from The Post and the New York Times refuted that view, Bob Woodward’s new book “The Price of Politics” seems to have smashed that narrative, as ABC News reports:
“Gaps” in President Obama’s leadership contributed to the collapse of a “grand bargain” on spending and debt last year, with the president failing to cultivate congressional relationships that may have helped him break through Republican opposition, author Bob Woodward told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer.
Woodward’s reporting in his new book, “The Price of Politics,” reveals a president whom he said lacked the “stamina” in turning personal relationships with congressional leaders into action the way some of his predecessors have done.
“President Clinton, President Reagan. And if you look at them, you can criticize them for lots of things. They by and large worked their will,” Woodward told Sawyer.” On this, President Obama did not.”
Ouch. This is deadly to Obama’s “story” that it was the GOP’s fault we don’t have a deal, and if given four more years, the president could get things done. Woodward’s documentation strongly suggests Obama is simply not capable of the high-stakes negotiations essential to resolve our major challenges.
The second “story” failure for Obama is on Medicare. He has been telling us Romney-Ryan are radicals who will destroy the system while he is the fearless defender of grandma. His problem is three-fold: Even the mainstream media recognize that he has no long-term fix for Medicare; he did take $716 billion out of Medicare (cutting providers and tossing out 25 percent of Medicare Advantage users); and that his claim that Romney-Ryan’s plan would cost seniors thousands is flat-out wrong.
There is a deeper problem for Obama on Medicare, however. Romney-Ryan’s plan is identical to or more generous than a number of moderate Democrats’ ideas over the years that have attempted to slow the growth of Medicare costs. In 1998, the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, co-chaired by former Ways and Means chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), recommended a premium support plan. In 2010, the Debt Reduction Task Force, headed by former Fed vice chairwoman Alice Rivlin and former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), also made a premium-support proposal.
Romney’s plan is not “radical”; in fact, it is arguably less stringent in cost containment. (Rivlin-Domenici proposed a backstop cap of GDP plus 1 percent on Medicare cost increases; Romney leaves it to the competitive bidding process to bring down Medicare premium costs.)
Rather than revealing Romney to be the radical, the Medicare debate has highlighted just how reactionary Obama is. He has adopted the worst of all possible approaches — across-the-board cuts with no reform, appointment of an Independent Payment Advisory Board to exact even more cuts (squeezing care and thereby rationing services) and a dogged refusal to engage responsibly in structural reforms that could preserve the system for future generations.
The unraveling of two of Obama’s favorite stories is potentially a serious one for the president. As we learn more, it is harder for Obama to cast blame elsewhere. Moreover, the unraveling strongly supports the argument that Obama is neither temperamentally nor ideologically suited to tackle our problems. Oh, and he says a lot of things that simply aren’t so.