Friday, October 29, 2010

Ron Brownstein on Obama's drama

Ron Brownstein reports on a recent interview of his with President Obama in Agony and Serenity National Journal 10/28/2010.

The Beltway Village press is particularly fond of the narrative of Obama as "No-Drama Obama", cool and unflappable. Which didn't stop them from theater-critic hand-wringing over whether Obama was showing enough anger over the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this year. But favorite scripts die hard in the Village, so Brownstein slots Obama in the no-drama mode:

It was clear that Obama has started to think seriously about how he will navigate a Washington with many more Republicans in it. But nothing about him suggested that he viewed the impending arrival of those Republicans as evidence that he needed to radically rethink his presidency. Obama sounded neither shell-shocked nor defiant. He seemed entirely focused on the practical: where he might work with Republicans, and where he expects confrontation (education, infrastructure, and energy in the first group; taxes, health care, and Social Security in the second).

Everything about the conversation re­inforced the signal of continuity the president sent this fall when he named confidants Pete Rouse as chief of staff and Tom Donilon as his national security adviser. In private, Obama appears just as unruffled, one White House aide said [why anonymity for such and innocuous comment?]. Asked whether the president had displayed angst" over the looming losses, the aide said, "I don’t think that is the right word. He's come to all these challenges with the same steadiness that people saw on the campaign trail in 2008 -never got too hot, never got too cold, but just faced each day and did his best to take it on." [my emphasis]
A quote from Goldilocks and the Three Bears on porridge?!? (Not too hot, not too cold, but juu-uust right). Yes, this is how stars of the commentariat position their analyses. I wonder if it even occurred to Brownstein that his inexplicably anonymous source was tossing out the Goldilocks quote just to see if he would be silly enough to use it.

True to the spirit of High Broderism, the most sacred cult of our star reporters and columnists, Brownstein fondly recalls the wisdom of Bill Clinton after the 1994 elections in which Republicans took control of the House of Representatives and compromise with those nice Republicans while showing his "independence from both parties ":

But eventually he developed a distinct and powerful voice that emphasized his independence from both parties and enabled him to gain strength when he confronted congressional Republicans (over the budget and government shutdowns) and compromised with them (on welfare reform).
But so what if the majority of the public get screwed by disastrous Republican policies and/or by Obama embracing a Social Security Phaseout proposal from his Catfood Commission. What matters is the horse-race!

With Washington even more polarized today than in the mid-1990s, Clinton’s particular model of "triangulation" probably isn't directly applicable to Obama. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, has already told National Journal that his top priority is to make "President Obama ... a one-term president." That doesn't augur many Rose Garden signing ceremonies.
Let's give Brownstein a little credit here. He at least recognizes what the Republicans are saying openly and explicitly, that their purpose is to block Obama's agenda and wreck his Presidency, not to look for ways to compromise with him.

More relevant to Obama after next week is Clinton's willingness to ruthlessly reassess his initial governing strategy, and to accept the internal disruption of importing new advisers to help do so. That process brought its own bumps for Clinton (mercurial consultant Dick Morris, the main import, spiraled from inspired to an embarrassment in near-record time). But, combined with Republican overreaching, Clinton's repositioning allowed him to regain the political initiative from the GOP by early 1996 and comfortably win reelection that November.
And those nice Republicans rewarded Clinton's efforts to compromise with them by blocking a huge number of his judicial appointments so that the next Republican President could pack the federal judiciary with Federalist Society hacks. And by impeaching him over a blow job.


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