Ezra Klein tweeted “lots of props” to David Brooks this morning for his column today on “Our second adolescence.” In it, the New York Times scribe admits his Friday column on the Obama administration having no plan to avoid sequester “was unfair.” Yeah, I give him mad props for that, too. A columnist unafraid to say he was unfair to someone or wrong on a subject earns more of my trust.
But where I part company with Brooks’s lament about the dysfunction gripping Washington and his hopes for a “dream Obama” is the blame he places on President Obama. It’s a common complaint that completely ignores the planned recalcitrance of congressional Republicans.
My main complaint with Obama is that he promised to move us beyond these stale debates, but he’s, instead, become a participant in them. My dream Obama would take advantage of the fact that only the president can fundamentally shift the terms.
Yes, Obama most certainly did make that promise. He was even preachy about it in his first inaugural. “On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics,” he said in 2009. “We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”
And Obama most certainly did try to keep that promise — to the deep annoyance of his base. To entice Republicans to a deal, the president included tax cuts in the stimulus package; he dropped the public option during negotiations of the health-care bill, and he kept all of the Bush tax cuts in 2010. This penchant for compromise continues to drive Democrats and liberals nuts and makes them wary. Former labor secretary Robert B. Reich told the New York Times last month that Obama is “still the same President Obama who wants a deal above all else and seems willing to compromise on even the most basic principle.”
But we know from two books — one by Robert Draper and another by Michael Grunwald — that no matter what the president did to enlist Republicans in the lost art of governing the GOP would refuse to go along. There was a 2009 dinner on Inauguration night where the leadership devised its plan for legislative gridlock. There were the senators who told then-Vice President-elect Joe Biden, “[W]e can’t let you succeed in anything.” In short, Republicans have been complicit in the failures they rail against.
As I wrote last August, “Republicans had it in for Obama before Day 1.” That’s not to excuse any of the miscalculations made by the president and his administration in trying to deal with the obstruction. But to ignore the solid wall of opposition Obama faced in one’s assessment of his leadership is also “unfair.”
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