The Post’s must-read report on the panic coursing through liberal ranks provides a vivid picture of the jumble of advice descending on the White House from freaked-out Democrats:
Growing numbers of Obama’s allies, beyond the liberal activists who have expressed disappointment in the past, contend that he has trimmed his sails too much since the party’s electoral defeats last fall. This sentiment has sharpened in the wake of the negotiations over the debt ceiling, when the president accepted Republican demands for spending cuts without obtaining guarantees of tax revenue increases, which he said were necessary for a “balanced approach.”
Kevin Madden, Mitt Romney’s 2008 communications director (he remains a Romney supporter although is not officially on the campaign), e-mailed me: “We’re now three years into the Obama presidency and even members of his own party are now panicked that the president doesn’t have a record he can run on. Hope has gone from being their campaign slogan to their re-election strategy.”
When a presidency is in trouble, some familiar patterns emerge. First, the call goes out to get “tougher,’ no matter how partisan, nasty or confrontational the president has been. (“Don’t call my bluff, Eric!” By the way, that may prove to be the signature quote of this administration, thereby assuring House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s place in the history books.) It reminds one of an American tourist in Europe, convinced that if he just speaks LOUDER everyone will understand him.
Moreover, the call for boldness (Peter Fenn: “There has got to be a willingness to get tough with the Republicans, especially the tea party wing”) lacks substance. What exactly is he to do? It is the sort of “More cowbell!” advice that had Obama going on five Sunday talk shows on a single day to persuade people to like ObamaCare. (They still don’t.) The Democrats say Obama should have insisted on a “clean” debt bill. Did they really think the GOP would blink, or were they willing to send the country into default? (This is the mirror image of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s insistence on not raising the debt ceiling at all.) Did they think S&P would like a spending-cut free bill even more?
The “bolder, please!” advice also runs head into several economic and political realities. First, the economy stinks, and yelling at Republican isn’t going to change that. Second, buck-passing and hollering at opponents will make the SEIU and Peter Fenn feel better, but they are very likely a turnoff for independents whom Obama needs to win back. Obama needs, by his own reckoning, to make progress on legislation:
White House officials say the president has a broad set of challenges: to prove that he can tame the deficit, to push for what is actually achievable under a divided government and to lay out a more ambitious vision of what he would try to accomplish in a second term. They dismiss the suggestion that these goals present any contradiction as they map their electoral and legislative strategy.
But of course they do. If the president is going to roll out “additional ideas in the coming weeks geared toward creating jobs, helping the middle class,” how is he going to get them passed if he spends time excoriating the Republican House? And if he is “guiding lawmakers on a ‘balanced’ way to cut deficits, raise taxes on the wealthy and adjust entitlements,” isn’t this just a retread of his failed efforts to get tax hikes included in the debt-ceiling bill?
From a policy standpoint, very little of what the Democrats and White House are saying makes sense. But one thing is certain: The most concrete action by Obama to date is to resort to more political hackery. “Obama’s campaign flew a number of Democratic political consultants to Chicago on Monday for a day-long roundtable session with campaign manager Jim Messina and political strategist David Axelrod” The Post said. I’m sure the credit-rating agencies will be impressed.