Monday, March 19, 2012

Obama's choice: politics over accomplishment

The Washington Post has a tick-tock story
on the failure to reach a debt-ceiling increase deal. And they basically support the narrative of the Republicans. There was a definite opportunity for a "grand bargain" but Obama walked away, preferring a partisan attack storyline over actual accomplishments.
Secrecy would be essential as the details came together, the president told everyone. He spoke openly with Boehner about how the two sides might sell the emerging plan to their respective parties, an imposing task from either end.

“How soon can we get this drafted?” the president asked, according to notes taken during the meeting by a top Republican staff member. When Obama left, the negotiations rushed forward, staffers on both sides now energized by the prospect of a deal.

Three days later, the grand bargain was cold and dead.

What happened? Obama and his advisers have cast the collapse of the talks as a Republican failure. Boehner, unable to deliver, stepped away from the deal, simple as that.

But interviews with most of the central players in those talks — some of whom were granted anonymity to speak about the secret negotiations — as well as a review of meeting notes, e-mails and the negotiating proposals that changed hands, offer a more complicated picture of the collapse. Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner — already facing long odds — to sell it to his party. Eventually, the president tried to put the original framework back in play, but by then it was too late. The moment of making history had passed.
So why did Obama back down? Wasn't he the guy who got his start on the road to White House talking about how there was no red America, no blue America? Didn't he promise to bring everyone together in order to accomplish great things? Somehow we just haven't seen that man since January 20, 2009. Dare we conclude that those were "just words"?
A president who promised to bring the country together, who confidently presented himself as the transformational figure able to make that happen, now had his chance. But, like earlier policy battles, the debt ceiling negotiations revealed a divided figure, a man who remained aloof from a Congress where he once served and that he now needed. He was caught between his own aspirations for historical significance and his inherent political caution. And he was unable to bridge a political divide that had only grown wider since he took office with a promise to change the ways of Washington, underscoring the gulf between the way he campaigned and the way he had governed.

In the end, that brief effort, described by White House officials as the most intense and consequential of Obama’s presidency, not only illuminated pitfalls in the road he had taken during the previous three years but also directed him down a different, harder-edged, more overtly partisan path that is now defining his reelection campaign.
Though the Democrats tried to blame the Republicans for the collapse of any grand agreement, the Post's reporting makes it clear that the House GOP was willing to go along in order to get a deal and had dropped several of their key demands.

And once the deal collapse, Obama turned to running for reelection and bashing the Republicans while ignoring that he was the one who walked away from a chance to do something big on the debt.