The below is a piece I wrote in March 2009, reproduced almost in its entirety, entitled "Did Obama lay bare his agenda to David Brooks?" I have considered republishing it for many months, but withheld doing so because the evidence was not unequivocal. In his press conference yesterday, however, Barack Obama crossed the Rubicon, making it clear that he supports cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Was it abysmally poor negotiation, or did Obama create the political environment to obtain the exact result he always wanted? By the time you finish reading the below, you will understand exactly why I have republished this, because the answer becomes clear.
Here it is: Did Obama lay bare his agenda to David Brooks?
Over at Open Left, diarist Frankly0 appears to have uncovered political dynamite. S/he makes a strong circumstantial case that President Obama himself was one of "4 senior Adminstration officials" who visited David Brooks at the beginning of this month after he had written an article harshly critical of Obama's budget.
If Frankly0 is correct, then the agenda David Brooks relayed in his next column has to be regarded as coming from Obama himself. And that economic agenda is, I submit, explosive.
Did Obama lay bare his agenda to David Brooks? [continued]:
.... H/t to FranklyO who says, "A rather remarkable, and accidental tidbit [is] found in the Newsweek Krugman article:"
...in February, after Krugman's fellow Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote a critical column accusing Obama of overreaching, Brooks, a moderate Republican, was cajoled by three different aides and by the president himself, who just happened to drop by.
Now I have to believe that the February date mentioned here is not correct. Almost certainly, the "critical column" that is being referred to is this one, which came out Mar 3.
This is partly because it was by far the most critical that Brooks had written about Obama to that date, and certainly is accurately described as complaining about Obama overreaching in his budget. But it is also, almost certainly, the column intended because Brooks very next column, here, is devoted to the pushback Brooks received from the Obama administration over his previous column -- pushback, according to Brooks, from "four senior members of the [Obama] administration".
Could it possibly be a coincidence that there were four senior members described in that column, and that the Newsweek article mentions three senior members and Obama himself? Not, I think, in the actual universe.
Obama's being among these four officials ... is remarkable because it makes it nigh impossible to assert that the Center-Right point of view ascribed to Obama in that column could be a serious misrepresentation of Obama's true views.
I think Frankly0 makes a persuasive case that Obama himself visited Brooks. If so, that makes Brooks' column relaying those remarks all the more explosive:
On Tuesday, I wrote that the Obama budget is a liberal, big government document that should make moderates nervous.... Within a day, I had conversations with four senior members of the administration and in the interest of fairness, I thought I’d share their arguments with you today.
In the first place, they do not see themselves as a group of liberal crusaders..... They’re not engaged in an ideological project to overturn the Reagan Revolution....
The White House has produced a chart showing nondefense discretionary spending as a share of G.D.P. That’s spending for education, welfare and all the stuff that Democrats love. .... The White House claims that it is going to reduce this spending to 3.1 percent by 2019, lower than at any time in any recent Republican administration. I was invited to hang this chart on my wall and judge them by how well they meet these targets. (I have.)
Third, they say, ... [t]he Medicare reform represents a big cut in entitlement spending. It amounts to means-testing the system. It introduces more competition and cuts corporate welfare. These are all Republican ideas.
Fourth, the White House claims the budget will not produce a sea of red ink..... He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security
as well as health spending....
As I have said above, I believe that Frankly0 makes an excellent circumstantial caee that the representations above can be attributed directly to President Obama himself.
Digby has stated the obvious as to the debt ceiling talks:
Who knows what the final deal will be? But keep in mind that whatever it is, it's a deal that both sides wanted. After all, there's nothing on the books or in the constitution that says there needs to be a deal at all. All they ever had to do is vote to raise the debt ceiling. And the leadership on both sides has said repeatedly that that will be done.
I think it's now finally time to stop pretending that Obama has miscalculated, or blundered, or been out-negotiated, or somehow forced into a bad position. Rather, everything he's done for at least the past six months is consistent with the idea that he considers the long-term deficit a problem, he wants to address it, and he views the debt ceiling talks as an ideal opportunity to do so with bipartisan cover. Obama isn't doing this because he has to. He's doing it because he wants to.
In the two years since the piece republished above, Obama convened an "entitlements summit" featuring the Peterson foundation, supported a mandatory Entitlements Commission under Conrad-Gregg, when that bill failed to pass appointed his own "catfood commission," and when that failed to come up with the requisite agreement, he nevertheless adopted the recommendations of co-chairs Simpson and Bowles, and yesterday he finally declared that "tough votes" must be taken on Social Security and Medicare.
I submit that it is now beyond reasonable dispute that Obama himself did visit David Brooks in March 2009 and told him that "He [Obama] "is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending," and that is exactly what he has done. Turning what should have been a perfunctory debt ceiling vote, taken last year, into the drama of a "Grand Bargain" has given Obama the "politically feasible" cover he needed to do what he intended to do all along.