Posted by: mutantpoodle | March 8, 2011

The World of Professional Politics

I expect the Andrew Sullivans of the world to excoriate Barack Obama for failing to “lead” on cutting the budget deficit, which is, all of a sudden, ZOMG the MOST IMPORTANT CRISIS IN HISTORY.

I’d be disappointed if various Republicans didn’t do the same. That is, after all, their bread and butter, right after “Barack Obama is a thuggish dictator who fails to lead boldly.”

And then there’s Joe Manchin.

I didn’t expect much from Robert Byrd’s replacement – or rather, I expected he would be a Lieberman-esque poseur. He has not disappointed. Today, he faulted President Obama for not providing “tough leadership” on last year’s budget.

And I have two thoughts.

First, he’s proposed a budget. The GOP didn’t like it, but it’s out there.

Second, as I have mentioned before, Republicans would filibuster apple pie if Obama cooked it, so anything he proposes will be, by definition, a failure to the GOP.

For people paying attention, Obama’s style is to hang back and let the legislative process work. That style nearly caused millions of Democrats to overdose on valium during the health care debate, but the end result was a signed bill – and for all that the GOP and Fox News call it Obamacare, it was crafted through House and Senate Committees and has, essentially, a thousand fathers – including some on the GOP who didn’t end up voting for it.

And that’s what he’s doing now. If Obama big-foots his way into negotiations now, then it behooves the GOP to “beat” him. There are people in the Senate who are capable of representing his position, and his absence is, I’d argue, an asset.

Of course, I could just be so far in the tank that I’m cutting him too much slack. But I don’t think so.

I actually think people aren’t used to a President whose ego doesn’t require he be front and center all the time. He sets boundaries (some, like the earmark veto threat, are just plain silly, but still…) and then steps back.

The dynamic is pretty simple. The GOP can’t afford to be seen as compromising with Barack Obama. It’s not great, but it’s marginally better, if Republicans create a legislative compromise with “moderate Democrats” that they “force” Obama to “accept.” Or at least that’s what they’ll say to their base.

The “leadership” that Senator Manchin wants would look like this: Obama would state a position on a budget item, and then it would be necessary for the GOP to make sure that, whatever else happened, they made sure Obama didn’t get what he wanted. Perhaps that would satisfy Manchin’s need for “leadership”, but it wouldn’t necessarily lead to the best possible result.

Aaron Sorkin, of course, nailed it over a decade ago. It’s a different context, but the point is the same: if the President focuses his attention on an issue, then everyone focuses on that issue, too – which isn’t always a good thing.

Perhaps the extremely freshman Senator from West Virginia should watch more television.


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