Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The people damned the process: damn it too, Mr. President

It’s blindingly obvious that the vast majority of Americans didn’t approve of the climate of blackmail and crisis that drove the debt-ceiling debate to resolution.
CNN and Survey USA asked about how Americans felt about the overall debate:
More than three out of four respondents said elected officials in Washington that have dealt with the debt ceiling debate have behaved "mostly like spoiled children" (77 percent) rather than "responsible adults" (17 percent).”
The poll, less surprisingly, confirmed that Obama is stuck with a 45% approval rating and that Congress has slipped to 14%. A majority of respondents don’t like the deal while readily admitting that they don’t yet understand it.
Since the crisis was a national embarrassment, the wise thing would seem to be to delete the incident from the talking points of Democrats as well as Republicans. Obama’s first instincts, indeed, were to move on and talk about jobs. That’s a waste of time and rather awkward. He just surrendered all significant fiscal flexibility to do anything meaningful about the problem.
Weak presidents don’t impress by talking about what everyone else is talking about. His empathy gap with liberal activists is nothing compared to his growing effectiveness gap with the public at large. His stature problem is in Washington and needs repair there. Fortunately, Obama is less exposed on the debt-ceiling issue than his adversaries and he should exploit that advantage immediately.
This doesn’t mean chasing the Tea Party—they are a minority, they represent a constituency that won’t grow, and are lost to the President anyway—and it would leave his mainstream Republican adversaries free to look presidential. Furthermore, fighting with those who are less clever than you doesn’t make you anymore more interesting.
The brat in the class who should be called out is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
He’s Obama’s intellectual match and his most powerful political enemy—and his politics are inherently unattractive nationally.
McConnell is a master of intrigue who sees frustrating Barack Obama as his highest calling. He’s as transparent as he is unlovable—but he does make mistakes when he’s winning.
McConnell’s boast about using the debt-ceiling as legislative blackmail should be challenged:
What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.”
Sure, Obama went along. But he agreed to a fiscal framework that he can defend. He, along with a majority of Americans and business leaders, is free to reject the idea that playing chicken with America’s legal obligations can become a normal legislative tool.
McConnell is no Ronald Reagan Republican. He doesn’t want a strong president, black or white.  By challenging Americans to reject both McConnell’s legislative tactics and the balanced budget constitutional amendment—an initiative that would hamstring the capacity of the federal government to govern—Obama would be standing up for an American federal government still capable of leading internationally and at home.
Obama’s been bullied around but he’s still in a better position than McConnell to stand for strong leadership.

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