Barack Obama has spent two years playing tennis with nobody on the other side of the net. Now, after caving in on the Bush tax cuts, it's time to ask: What part of n-o don't you understand when you hear it and what part of it do you find impossible to pronounce?
"The deal," reports the New York Times, "appeared to resolve the first major standoff since the midterm elections between the White House and newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill. But it also highlighted the strains Mr. Obama faces in his own party as he navigates between a desire to get things done and a retreat from his own positions and the principles of many liberals."
Getting things done was an understandable goal in the early months of economic crisis, but the phrase has become a euphemism for giving in to an intractable opposition at the expense of butchering any legislation at hand, culminating in the health care debacle that helped spawn the Tea Party.
Bipartisanship was a noble goal after his inauguration, but this brilliant President has been slow to learn that you can't negotiate with nobody and that the bully pulpit allows you to do the bullying, not the other way around.
From the start, there were questions about Obama's "toughness." During the campaign, Maureen Dowd had asked him, "Do you worry that you might be putting yourself on a pedestal too much? Because people also want to see you mix it up a little.”
“When I get into a tussle,” he answered, “I want it to be over something real, not something manufactured. If someone wants to get in an argument with me, let’s argue about how we’re going to fix the health care system or where we need to go on Iraq.”
Back then, I explained Obama this way: "Critics of all persuasions will have to learn to live with the style of a President who doesn't puff himself up as the Decider but actually goes about the hard work of making decisions by consensus if he can but unilaterally when he must."
Now I doubt that judgment. As Katrina vanden Heuvel writes in the Washington Post: "This isn't about conventional politics. This is simply about the fate and future of our country. This president has a clear and imperative historic mandate. If he shirks it, he risks more than failing to get reelected. He risks a failed presidency."
Time is running out.
Update: The President spends a press conference defending himself against his own supporters rather than confronting those who are hijacking his presidency.
Calling the Bush tax cuts for the superrich a "holy grail" for Republicans (an elegant term for ransom), he defends his deal with them, noting that it's "tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers unless the hostage gets harmed."
But Obama has it backwards. Long before it came to this, he could have thrown down the gauntlet and let McConnell, Boehner et al know that, rather than give in to their intransigence, he would call them out before the American public, which does not support their position, and force them to justify the damage that would follow on January lst if the tax cuts expired.
He could still do that, but the President seems to prefer peevish complaints that his backers ask too much of him rather than engaging his sworn enemies head on.