In her welcome return column in the Globe and Mail today, Margaret Wente takes a fresh look at the race between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. She returns to the issue of Barack Obama’s character and repeats the question Republicans also clung to in the dying weeks of John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008: when the heat’s really on, can the professor rise to the occasion?
Wente turns to the English world’s most prolific big-book political gossip, Bob Woodward.
That’s Bob Woodward’s verdict in his new book, The Price of Politics. As he told ABC News’s Diane Sawyer, Mr. Obama is a “moaning, groaning, whining, demanding, threatening and desperate” president who is seriously deficient in people and negotiating skills. He could have cut a grand debt and spending deal with Congress last year – if only he’d been more like Reagan or Clinton. The conventional wisdom is that a deal was undoable because of the intransigence of the other side. But Mr. Woodward is not so sure. “Some people are gonna say he was fighting a brick wall,” he told Ms. Sawyer. “Others will say it’s the President’s job to tear down that brick wall. In this case, he didn’t.”
Mitt Romney used this line of attack in last week’s debate, and Barack Obama allowed him get away with it.
Obama could have reasonably asked: “Governor Romney, have you negotiated with these Republicans? Did you get any of them to compromise with you in the primaries? Last summer, did you phone any of them up and tell them what would happen if they forced the government to stop serving its debt obligations?”
In politics, as in business, you don’t keep the company of a brick wall for long. In business, you know, Mitt Romney, you sell it off; in politics this year, Mr. Obama, you better ask the voters for help.
Last year was a crazy moment to even try to negotiate a “grand bargain.” Republicans had won a fresh mandate to not raise any taxes. Their “brick wall” was in wonderful shape.
Furthermore, the US economy couldn’t withstand any immediate contraction in the federal budget. The last thing America’s detractors—and its commercial bankers—wanted Washington to do was act like the Germans and solve the deficit problem early in the recovery.
“Professor” Obama didn’t even have the academics pushing him to “go big” and tear anything down.
The "grand bargain" talks between the White House and Congress didn’t take place to help Obama solve another economic problem, but to defuse a political crisis within the elected institutions of the federal government. It wasn’t much more than a dressing room screen behind which Congressional blackmailers were allowed to change back into good-Republican grey suits.
Now, the same Republican elders are whispering that Obama was weak, while at the same time disowning half the $ trillion in cuts they agreed to in exchange for allowing the US treasury to honor it credit obligations.
Maybe you should never negotiate with blackmailers and brick walls in the first place. At the very least, it would be rich to reward them—and the candidate who leads them—in the November 6 election.