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Obama's Predictable Strategy in Debt Ceiling Crisis

In an online article for The New Republic, Michael Kazin unintentionally reveals why Pat Buchanan is probably right about the debt ceiling negotiations. For the last two days, Buchanan has argued on Morning Joe that “President Obama will fold,” settling for a short-term extension and giving Republicans another victory. He bases this view on the belief that Republicans have the upper hand politically, but his evidence is mainly speculative. Kazin, on the other hand, provides an overview of the Obama Presidency that grounds Buchanan’s analysis.

In “Man Without A Plan: Obama’s Short-Sighted View of US Politics,” Kazin argues that the President’s so-called "pragmatism" is undermining the progressive movement:

For all his talk about “winning the future” (and his undeniable intellectual gifts), Obama seems to think that solving immediate problems is the key to political victory. . . But the recipe for extended political success has proved quite durable: a compelling vision of what kinds of policies Americans need and a set of powerful institutions that can motivate and mobilize voters. To date, Obama has yet to use this recipe.

This is a well rehearsed theme in progressive circles. Yet, while the argument over-reaches at moments (starting with the title), it remains important because of the moment at which it is being published.

The debt ceiling crisis is a familiar battle. Only a few months ago, congressional Republicans demanded spending cuts and lower taxes, and the President tried to leverage public opinion to defend vital public programs from Republican deficit hawks. The result: the country narrowly avoided a government shutdown by cutting a record $40 billion from the federal budget.

And a few months before that, the President and GOP-led Congress struggled over tax cuts and social programs. The result: the Bush tax cuts were given new life in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. In both cases, there was a widespread sense that Democrats gave up more than Republicans. Will the same be true at the conclusion of this crisis?

If the President’s strategy is the same, then yes. Politico’s coverage of the President reveals that he is moving away from his aspirations of being a Reagan for the Left, embracing “a strategy focused on hitting singles and doubles.” This is just the kind of Clintonian politics that Obama rejected during the 2008 Democratic Primary – and for good reason. Triangulation gets you welfare reform and NAFTA, and it helps to explain why Obama might even be considering “$2 trillion in reduced spending [for] about $400 billion in increased revenue.”

Kazin asks that the President to try something new: "show confidence and execute a strategy that clarifies what is at stake in our politics.” Of course, as is typical with these calls-to-action, Kazin is short on meaningful advice, but his general point is well taken: The President needs a new well defined strategy that involves persuading Americans to think differently.

Perhaps this is Pollyannaish, the ramblings of the “professional left” who expect President Obama to be as brave as President Bartlett, but the President’s Obama’s current trajectory is unsustainable. Republicans expect the President to “fold” and so they will press for more, avoid the President’s call for balance, and the country will be worse for it.