Wednesday, July 27, 2011

He's Barack Obama! He doesn't need no stinkin' leadership!

The interchange in the White House press corps yesterday with Jay Carney trying to weasel out of Obama having to actually present a real plan that could be evaluated was both revealing and appalling. Watch this video as Ed Henry and Chuck Todd press Carney to present Obama's plan. This is the first time that mainstream journalists have demanded to know a specific Obama plan rather than just buy into Obama's Olympian rhetoric.
Carney is reduced to trying to give the press a wink and a nod that everyone really knows that canny politicians shouldn't put forth concrete plans.
“The reason why we’ve approached it this way is precisely to make it — to create the optimum circumstances for a compromise,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday when asked why the White House hadn’t released on paper the plan Mr. Obama was negotiating with Mr. Boehner.

“You know how this process works . . . . On difficult issues before a compromise is reached, it becomes charged politically, and your chances of acting getting an agreement diminish significantly,’’ Mr. Carney said at his daily press briefing. “That’s how it works. You know that’s how it works.”

When a reporter suggested perhaps everyone in the press corps didn’t know that, Mr. Carney shot back, “Well, you should. Others do.”
Yup, we're a long way from candidate Obama pushing for transparency in government and claiming that he'd put negotiations for health care on C-Span. Yeah, we saw how that went. And now we're getting this inside-the-beltline approach that it's too dangerous "politically" for him to put forth a plan. As John Podhoretz points out, we're at the Alice-in-Wonderland moment when Jay Carney is accusing an MSNBC reporter and anchor of delivering Republican talking points.

Carney resorts back to all the speeches that Obama has given. Yeah, but as the head of the CBO has said, they don't score speeches.

Guy Benson is very good on how ridiculous Carney's lameness is.
Note Carney's preposterous assertion that the president already has outlined the specifics of his plan. Where, and when, you may ask? At George Washington University in April -- when he presented an unscorable speech filled with imaginary, underpants-gnomes-style "savings" -- and in his subsequent press conferences, during one of which he actually said the words, "I'm not going to get into specifics." Got all that? If you're still a bit bewildered, never fear: NBC's Chuck Todd was, too. So he circled back to this line of questioning a few minutes later, leading to this immortal exchange (scroll ahead to the 5:00 mark):

Chuck Todd: Why not just release it?

Jay Carney: Do you need something printed for you? You can't write it down?

Yes, actually, we do need "something printed." Since his unmitigated failure of a budget was unanimously defeated in the Senate, this president has refused to offer a specific plan of his own on virtually anything at all. Instead, he talks about "visions" and "contours" and "frameworks" -- and tries to blame his opponents when his poor leadership is exposed. Over the last five days, the president has (a) undermined a bargain with John Boehner by introducing an unacceptable eleventh-hour condition, (b) rejected "out of hand" a bipartisan compromise that he found to be politically unpalatable, and (c) delivered a speech that painted his opponents as the intractable extremists. In light of this behavior, it's entirely reasonable for Americans to wonder what, precisely, Barack Obama's proposed solution might be. Today, the White House dismissively waived off that question as a GOP talking point and condescendingly inquired if the journalist who dared to ask it was capable of taking notes. [Links in original]
Then Benson has a bit of advice.
When you're already plumbing new depths of unpopularity, dialing up your arrogance isn't a winning strategy.
Jonah Goldberg is also gobsmacked by Carney's dithering.
I think it may, in a small way, be a watershed moment. No, not for the country. But for the WH press corps. Carney seemed to be providing a real “Hey I guess you’ve just figured out we’re full of shi…nola” moment.

It is an amazing thing that the press corps has taken this long to really pin the White House down on the simple fact that Obama is the one playing political games here, creating rules for others to follow while not following them himself. The public explanation for why he doesn’t want to put forward a plan of his own makes as much sense to me as the Korean-language instructions for a photocopy machine. All I know is that the White House says it doesn’t want to release a plan because it will be held accountable for having a plan, but no one should criticize the White House for not having a plan because they actually offered one verbally that was full of “specifics” nobody will specify and the Republicans are in the dark about.

Oh, and even though the president insists that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling on August 2 — cats will sleep with dogs, disco will come back, Carrot Top will move into the apartment over your garage, the Chinese will put saran wrap over our toilet bowls — he insists that he will veto any plan he doesn’t like should it actually pass Congress. Of course, saying he will veto a plan makes it less likely to pass Congress and hence prevent Götterdämmerung. So there’s that.

Meanwhile, Obama wants Americans to call Congress to express their support not for an actual approach but for some gauzy, poll-tested, bromides about “balance” and “fairness” and whatnot. Wasn’t this the guy who was supposed to be the next Lincoln? Did I miss where Lincoln offered to settle the issue of slavery by having Americans send vaguely written letters to Congress? Did the Gettysburg Address end with the rail-splitter asking for a show of hands?

Imagine you’re in a burning office building. Obama’s plan for getting out alive: “Okay, you guys break up into different groups and come up with a series of proposals about how we get out of the building. I will then negotiate with each of you separately and then together, and then separately. Then I’ll get on Skype and tell the world what I think of your respective plans and criticize you for their lack of seriousness. I will insist that we have balanced approach of applying both water to the fire and opening the windows, which some say will only provide more oxygen for the flames. But my base says window-opening is essential. Oh and I will blame all of the gasoline I threw around on the lower floors of this building on the guy who moved out two years ago. And I will veto any plan that requires we have a new plan should we get stuck on another floor. And, did I mention this mess was created by the former tenant and….ahhh what’s that smell?
Stephen Hayes reminds us of how the White House used to demand specific plans from their critics.
What a difference two years makes. In the spring of 2009, with Republicans in the minority in the House of Representatives, the White House and its Democratic allies were demanding specifics. The House GOP had to produce an alternative budget, the White House demanded, in order to show that they were serious about governing.

On March 24, President Obama complained that the White House and its friends “haven’t seen a budget from the Republicans.” Two days later, after the Republicans presented a 19-page budget framework, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, mocked the plan for its lack of specifics. CNN reported that Gibbs “laughed off the Republican's proposal, joking that their blueprint has more pictures of windmills than charts.”

“It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. I think the 'party of no' has become the 'party of no new ideas,” Gibbs said at the same podium where Carney stands today.

So when the minority party in the lower chamber of Congress puts out a 19-page budget framework, the Obama White House derides it as unserious. But when the president of United States refuses to detail his plan to deal with the nation’s most pressing problem, and to avoid what he says would a global economic collapse, generalities are not only permitted, but preferable.
Yup, that's our beloved leader.

Obama and his aides have been quite frank that the main reason they oppose Boehner's plan is because it would necessitate revisiting this issue before the election. James Taranto exposes their hypocrisy on the idea of a short-term deal.
The president said he rejected Boehner's plan that "would temporarily extend the debt ceiling" because it "would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now." Today the White House issued a written veto threat. Yet last night he praised Congress for raising the debt ceiling 18 times during Ronald Reagan's presidency--once every 5.3 months on average.

In demanding an extension that would carry him through next year's election, Obama is departing from the precedent he cites in support of his position. His anxiousness at the prospect of another such confrontation reflects his political weakness in this one.
As Peter Kirsanow asks,
You, Treasury Secretary Geithner, and other members of your administration have warned that failure to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 will have far-ranging, “catastrophic” effects, including plunging the United States economy into a depression. Nonetheless, you insist that Congress should pass only a debt-ceiling increase that extends beyond the 2012 presidential election; yesterday, you released a statement saying that your senior advisers had counseled you to veto a short-term increase in the debt ceiling. This despite the fact that short-term debt-ceiling increases (i.e., less than a year) are common, having been enacted dozens of times just since the Reagan administration.

Why is a short-term debt-ceiling increase unacceptable now when they’ve been routine and unremarkable in the past?

Presuming for a moment that your veto threat is sincere, shouldn’t Americans logically conclude that you consider winning reelection more important than forestalling an economic catastrophe and throwing millions more Americans out of work?
At this point, Boehner has to rewrite his bill because the CBO
scored it as not saving as much money as promised because of the baseline that Boehner used in his bill. Yuval Levin points out that Obama's OMB director, Jack Lew, defends Boehner by saying that everyone had originally agreed to use a January baseline instead of March. Levin guesses that Reid's bill uses the same baseline as Boehner so Reid is going to have to rewrite his bill also. Levin posits that this could actually help Boehner get more House support for his bill which is apparently facing bad headwinds in his own caucus.
In that sense, this baseline confusion could well strengthen Boehner’s hand. He has another chance here to design the bill in a way that addresses some of the concerns that House conservatives have raised today—that is, in a way that relies less on back-loaded caps, and that more generally just has effectively deeper caps but on its face is the same bill at the same levels that congressional leaders informally agreed to over the weekend. The same structure and the same level of cuts, but using the later baseline, gives him a chance to produce a stronger bill but one that should have no less of a chance of shaping the Senate debate and the ultimate outcome if it passes the House.

Boehner is right to use the opportunity to re-write the bill, and hopefully his team will re-write it along these lines. Reid may have no choice but to follow. And whether he does or not, the debate will have taken a rightward step that makes passage of the Boehner bill even more appealing and important…and perhaps also more likely.
Reid's bill is going to be a nonstarter. It has phony savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A lot of the rest of the Reid cuts comes from defense cuts.

And as always, we mustn't forget that we're in this position because the Democrats ducked solving it last December when they had control of both houses of Congress. Here is what Reid said back in December.
Reid also said that he would like to push off raising the debt ceiling until next year — when Republicans control the House, but that he has not discussed the matter yet with his caucus.

“Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt. They’re going to have a majority in the House,” said Reid. “I don’t think it should be when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”
And don't think that that was a solitary decision made just by Harry Reid. He said that, after having discussed the priorities of the lame-duck Congress with the White House. Even Ezra Klein is remembering that lost opportunity with regret.

So we're still back to the drawing table. Let's hope that Boehner comes back with a bill that cuts more in the near future rather than pushing it mostly off to the off years when future congresses can ignore the provisions. Obama will still not like the proposal. But then Obama has exercised zero leadership and is left with the defense that everyone knows how these things work. That's not leadership and this is not what Obama campaigned on. Real leaders aren't afraid to put themselves out there with possibly unpopular proposals just because he's afraid of being picked apart.

No wonder he wants to get this past the election. He is letting everyone see how the emperor has no clothes but does have a whole lot of arrogance. But arrogant demagoguery is no substitute for true leadership.