And I have the answer, or rather Andrew Ross Sorkin did. This administration tried to have it both ways, placate the Wall Street elitists who identified with the President (Columbia, Harvard etc) with Summers and Geithner, and also appear populist by ratcheting up anti-Wall St rhetoric.
However, the time of reckoning is on hand. The president has to make a choice. McClatchy reports today that the so-called moderate Democrats want to extend all of the Bush tax cuts. Which brings up the important question, what are they for? If these people are serious about deficits, then extending tax-cuts with borrowed money will be the biggest fraud to be perpetrated on the American people. If they are serious about job creation in a bad economy then extending the same tax-cuts that did nothing to increase employment, while at the same time opposing a large stimulus which did increase employment and stop this economy from sliding into depression, will be an insult to all intelligent people.
Which then brings me to the President. If he is serious about pay-go then he will veto any bill that extends the Bush tax-cuts with borrowed money, because neither the Senate nor the House will have the votes to override the veto. He will gain the trust of his base, but more importantly he will be fiscally responsible. If however he decides to side with Robert Rubin (who incidentally wants to extend these tax-cuts) and his acolytes, the god help him, or rather god help all of us because this economy will be on fast track to disaster.
You will get speeches like this. Or maybe the President himself does not like confrontations, who knows? But when faced with near obliteration of historic majorities in both the House and Senate (which this administration mismanaged terribly), we get this speech: half-hearted, reluctant to put the blame where it is due and even more reluctant to throw a punch. This is what happens when you follow bipartisanship as a policy.
Doug Schoen is exactly the kind of person who is advising Obama right now. He and Pat Cadell (the man who advised numerous disastorus presidential candidates) recently wrote an op-ed piece called "Our Divisive President", filled with the usual crap. The fact is these people look at the tea-party and identify with them, same 60+ white demography. If anything Obama and his team has alienated the left and embraced an elusive center. These types of book/op-eds just paves the way for what is inevitable, a full-scale rejection of the base and sharp move to the right (as if he wasn't to the right already). It's quite obvious now that this administration diluted the bills that were signed to placate the right, if the Republicans win congress expect nothing to get done. We will have two parties staring at each other, like two pieces of turd in a bowl, like always, in perfect ennui.
Well for Gore and GHWB, the Presidents were both larger than life personalities. Moreover, both Clinton and Reagan had war-rooms and they never shied away from a full-on confrontation. But being the guy succeeding Dick Cheney, Biden has been exceptionally quiet, either because of his personality or by design. Whatever it might be, given the general demeanor of the President, his advisers and his VP we have a pretty non-confrontational and largely uncharismatic administration. So they shouldn't blame the base for lack of enthusiasm.
Let me reiterate, I don't want to get into the speculation if Obama has shown leadership or not, but given his legislative accomplishments and his falling ratings, one has to ask why this disconnect? Part of this is self-inflicted. The job of surrogates in any administration is to fight for the administration. Obama does not have surrogates. Biden just lacks the charisma required for his office, and his political adviser Axelrod is more concerned with maintaining the "brand Obama", which means bipartisanship at any cost . So in the face of stiff, intransigent and mindless Republican oppostion, he has staked a centrist position which means triangulating on every contentious issue, whether it be immigration, abortion, gay rights, religious rights etc. Alter in his very sycophantic way calls it "no distractions", but triangulation by any other name will still mean triangulation.
To this you can add the extremely misguided idea of consolidating all organizations into one, and the WH basically dictates to its big donors who they can and can not donate to. So during the Health Care debate when progressives decided to pressure vascillating Democrats into supporting the public option, we had the WH calling them "f-ing retards", while behind the scene they gave up the public option to the insurance industry without a fight.
Similar concessions were made for all other legislations without a fight. We have a credit card bill of rights, but the credit card companies can still increase their rates as much as they like without consequences. We have a financial reform bill that does not breakup big banks, or reinstate Glass-Steagall, but rather enshrines too big to fail. We had a stimulus package, which everyone and their grandmothers said was too small, but in a misguided effort to get a few Republican votes, the WH decided to keep it small; and guess what we find out that while it did stem the bleeding, it did not quite achieve it's objective, which was kick start the economy and create new jobs.
So here we are another August. Last August while Axelrod was tending to brand Obama, Rahm and Geithner were assuring the Wall Street donors that they won't be punished, a narrative took hold that this administration is partisan, profligate and unprincipled. The OFA was missing in action and now that narrative is what's guiding this fall's election. So in retrospect with an apathetic base tired of being kicked around by the people whom they worked to get elected, a President who seems oddly aloof, a dismal economy and a narrative that has attached itself to this administration (however unfair that may be), it is time this President got some new advisers and ditched his current Chicago group, who are really out of their depths in Washington.
The problem with his advisers is that they believe that independents embrace someone who is bipartisan, someone who governs from the center. Thus, Obama has steadfastly refused to take a principled stand on contentious issues, refused to take on the Republicans head on and instead has triangulated every issue to oblivion. You have the independents, a big chunk of whom are Republicans who were embarrassed to identify with that party after Bush, leaving him in droves, while the real Independents are being turned off by his triangulation. Among the Democrats, the continuous penchant of this administration is to kick the base to the curb (professional left anyone?), while at the same time demanding money and time. Well not this time. Clinton might not have always done everything the way the base demanded, but at least he had a good outreach program and took pains not to alienate the base. As for this administration, their outreach is Jonathan Alter, a sycophant columnist in a magazine that no one reads.
The dynamics are strange here. Old Washington hands don't want her, which includes Chris Dodd. Among the Senators pushing for her are Kerry and Franken. Tim Geithner has been equivocal, he has leaked attack points about her while at the same time praising her. The WH at least nominally supports her, even though they are exploring other options. However because the progressives are her staunch supporters and the arrogant WH insiders hate catering to progressives, it might just be that they will let this play this one out and at the first sign of Republican opposition nominate someone like Sheila Bair.
The inner circle is too arrogant to acknowledge that the "professional left" were right. We have billions of bailout dollars unaccounted for as Elizabeth Warren testified (needless to say that's the reason the WH inner circle hates her, because she has guts), a mandate that no one likes and will likely face multiple legal challenges (and may even fall to that), a stimulus that was too small and filled with goodies for Republicans (none of whom voted for it anyway), a stagnant economy with booming Wall Street profits, an interior department that is just as incompetent and corrupt as it was under Bush, broken promises to gays and latinos, and a WH inner circle that still caters more to the right than to its base. I guess they are so insulated in the echo chamber reading glowing reports by professional hacks like Jonathan Alter, that they don't realize that there is a discontent base that might not turn out for them anymore. They can blame the professional left all they want but if the Democrats lose in 2010, it's because the professional left did not spend their time, money and effort like they did in 2008, while the center right that this administration caters to just gave them a big fat middle finger.
As for Robert L. Gibbs, he belongs in a striped clown suit and not in the WH, but hey stranger things have happened.
A lot of commentary about the anti-left outburst by Robert Gibbs points out, correctly, that it was really dumb from a political perspective; criticism from the left is not a significant problem for Obama, while annoying the base is.
But I think people are missing an important point: what’s good for Obama is not necessarily good for his aides.
Think about it: Complaints that the administration should have pursued a bigger stimulus, or fought harder for the public option, or taken a different position on Afghanistan aren’t going to matter in the midterms. But they might hurt White House aides who argued against a bigger stimulus (to the point of not even passing the option on to the president), or argued against a harder push on health reform (perhaps even calling for retreat after Scott Brown), or have argued that continuation of Bush foreign policy is a political winner. The point is that the president might actually take those criticisms to heart, and rethink who he listens to.
It is obvious that a lot of the very serious people are scared at how badly they messed things up for political expediency. A bloodbath in November will only go to drive home that point.
Gibbs is a smarmy, thoroughly dislikable know-it-all, who just represents the inner circles of this administration (Rahm, Jarrett, Axelrod, Gibbs), so obviously they see themselves beyond reproach especially when the deals the cut are falling flat.
What's the scorecard:
1. Credit cards: The professional left wanted hard caps on credit cards because they will eventually raise their interest rates. The administration cut a deal. End result credit card companies can raise rates and fees despite the so called credit card bill of rights.
2. Healthcare: PL wanted a public option with strongly worded legislation that prevented insurance companies from raising premiums. Instead we got a mandate and insurance companies are raising premiums and the plan is unpopular with both the left and the right
3. Bank bailout: PL wanted no bailouts but a temporary receivership of big banks. Admin gave us a huge bailout, how big no one knows. The corruption is staggering and profits of Wall Street have soared but with no impact on employment and lending is anemic
4. Stimulus plan: Professional left wanted a larger stimulus plan knowing the reality that there would be only one chance to go at it. Instead Admin gave an anemic stimulus with 25% tax cuts in them. We have a stagnant economy, unemployment hovering at 10%, the very real threat of a double dip recession despite Admin's happy talk
And we can add the Afghan war, the aid to Pakistan, the increased surveillance, DADT, DOMA, etc etc etc, in short the list is too frigging long but the PL comes out as more prescient than the admin, whose only words for the coming elections are VOTE FOR US BECAUSE THEY ARE WORSE. In the end David Frum summarized it best:
More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base.
So let's see if the centrists and the conservatives come out and campaign for this admin in 2010 and 2012. Insulting the base won't suddenly energize them.
It's a controversial issue, a hot-button issue, and issue that requires leadership, so of course Obama will stay clear. Have you heard the NBC interview of Axelrod, his reasoning is this, Obama is against gay marriage, but he is also against voters weighing in against gay marriage. Tortuous logic? Pretzel logic? Yes to both. I would also add that this is a lame way of the President trying to have his cake and eat it too. I thought that having Ted Olsen fighting for gay marriage would give him enough "bipartisan" cover to come out for the ruling. Pity!!
This administration to run away from every substantial fight, they have cut every shady deal and blessed every backroom negotiation, to deliver a health care bill that nobody seems to like (without the progressive caucus and Nancy Pelosi this bill would have been worse, but that's another story). So here we are today duking it out in the courts.
1. The disastrous decision to shift resources to Iraq just when things were getting under control. It was an incredibly stupid decision then and we are reaping the dividends now.
2. The inability to recognize that the war from the beginning was a proxy war against Pakistan. US leaders deluded themselves and in the end we are fighting a proxy war waged against us with our money. Really as incredible as the last sentence may sound it is absolutely true. We are fighting against our own money. How stupid is that?? Even now the administration spins the findings and regurgitates every lie disseminated by the Pakistani government.
I have written about the stuck on stupid US policy towards Pakistan here and here. Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism, it's just that simple. Everyone knew that their intelligence service is aiding the Taliban and in all likelihood sheltering senior al qaeda leaders. Yet the US government is a bipartisan fashion decided to give them 7 billion dollars in non-military aid, that is over and above the military aid and arms sold to them. That kind of frees up 7 billion of Pakistani money to fund the Taliban and kill US and NATO soldiers. This policy of throwing money at a rogue state makes ZERO sense.