"I think the College Republicans here would say I'm a pretty liberal President but if you read the Huffington Post you think I was some right wing tool of Wall Street. Both things can't be true. - President Barack Obama
I came across that video at Hullabaloo and she points to d-day's reaction to it. I want to share my own before I react to d-day's. It is in my title - some things are true. For example, it is true that:
(1) the 2009 stimulus was inadequate for the problems in the economy; (2) HAMP was a failure; (3) the Bush tax cuts were extended in December 2010 without an agreement on the budget or the debt ceiling; (4) the debt ceiling deal Obama seems on the verge of making will not be good for the economy; (5) Democrats were walloped in the 2010 elections; (6) the 2012 election looks like it is gonna be close, much closer than the 2008 election.
Let's assume for the moment that the truths described above are not what the President intended. What is his explanation for these results? Do these truths justify his approach to politics and the Presidency? If so, why? After all, the president is basically justifying himself in that video. Perhaps he could explain why the truths I list occurred if his approach was the right one.
In the whole of his public life [. . . Obama] has [. . .] defined compromise as the necessary element of the most important thing a politician can do, which is to get something done. To “do big things,” as he has been saying throughout the debt limit fight. And you cannot separate the appearance of this last lecture, produced four months ago, on the heels of his efforts to engineer a grand bargain, a compromise that would include major cuts to the social safety net.
I think that this particular criticism is off on the Grand Bargain. Here's why -- for once the President seems to be fighting for a policy he believes in "strengthening" Medicare and Social Security and reducing the deficit. I don't think that the President is fighting for compromise on this issue. Instead I think he is fighting for his viewpoint on that issue.
It so happens that I agree with him on some of this (for example, I am for making the rich pay more for Medicare and Social Security, yes at the risk of making more like "welfare.") I do not agree with the timing of this initiative at all. It's the economy, stupid. that's Obama's big challenge. He seems uninterested in tackling it. Which is strange, given its importance to his reelection chances.
And indeed, this to me is where the President went off the rails, both in terms of policy and politics - his failures in terms of economic policy have been huge.
The President does not like that "progressives" disagree with his policy and political approach on the economy. I'm not sure if the President is saying that he needed to "compromise" to achieve his economic policy, but if he is, the missing piece of the puzzle here is the President demonstrating that he in fact was compromising from what he believed was the proper economic policy.
d-day writes that:
[Obama] doesn’t just acknowledge the need for compromise. He glories in it. He sees it as “part of the process of growing up.” It’s juvenile to act on your own beliefs, to draw bright lines that cannot be crossed, to express core convictions. “Don’t set up a situation where you’re guaranteed to be disappointed,” Obama says. [. . .]
This fetish of bipartisanship and compromise would have been the elements of a very good President circa 1954, or maybe 1975. In 2011, with one party that has swore to never compromise on any principle ever again, it’s just a recipe for failure to hear this from the head of the other party. It guarantees bad outcomes. And with an economy in tatters and urgency (the fierce urgency of now, I would say) the order of the day, it has enormous consequences.
Now, some would say that Obama is just reflecting the belief system prevalent in America, where Democrats and independents favor compromise, but Republicans don’t. Is he reflecting that, or is he teaching it? This is his last lecture. A President has an enormous capacity to sway the opinions of the constituents in the party he leads. If we’re talking about which came first, the chicken or the egg, I’d say Obama has been trying to teach this for many, many years. It was evident in his 2004 DNC keynote. It was a feature of his only engagement at Daily Kos in 2005. He’s been telling this story for many years. It’s not a surprise that people predisposed to him are getting that message.
Regular readers know of my disdain for the Post Partisan Unity Schtick. It was a regular feature of my Talk Left writing for the past 5 years, indeed, from my first Talk Left post in July 2006, What Obama Needs To Learn From Richard Hofstadter, Abraham Lincoln and FDR:
Obama has learned nothing from Lincoln and nothing from Hofstadter. As wonderfully talented a politician he is, until he does, he will not best serve the interests of progressives and the Democratic Party.
[. . . .] FDR changed our philosophy of government and the FDR liberal philosophy remains that which we follow today.
How did FDR do it and can Democrats defend FDR liberalism today? Maybe not by calling it FDR liberalism but they surely can and do when they have the courage of their convictions. The most prominent of these instances was the fight to save Social Security Faced with Media hostility, Republican demagogy and flat out lies, Democrats rallied to the FDR liberalism banner and crushed the Republican attempts to roll back the clock. FDR would have been proud of Democrats in that fight. No triangulation. Good old fashioned political populism won the day.
And that is FDR's lesson for Obama. Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.
Nearly 5 years later, I think my critique stands up. The President has a different conception of what works in these times. I disagree. I'll continue to say so.