We are about to enter week three of the shutdown in which despite the name 87% of the federal government is in operation as “indispensable’. Payments to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for close to half a billion dollars and to a supplier of mechanical bulls for $40,000 were made and the spectacle of World War II veterans in their late 80’s and 90’s being turned away at the World War Two Memorial made Fox News but few other networks.
The president has hunkered down at 1600 Pennsylvania to emerge occasionally to state the he will be happy to negotiate as long as Congress gives him 100% of what he has demanded.
This movie is getting old quickly, though. We have seen it before. In 2011, when there was a dire prediction of disaster, Bob Woodward was the fly on the wall as the President careened towards disaster.
Members of Congress from both sides described the President as arrogant and incompetent in “The Price of Politics”. As one political blog called it at the time, “The Price of Politics is a stark recollection of the collapse of cooperation in government during Barack Obama’s first — and potentially only — presidential term from the inside out.”
The president survived that debacle and was re-elected only to have his administration riven with scandal after scandal. I am sure there are many in the Administration deeply grateful that Fast & Furious, the IRS Scandal, the DoJ/AP Scandal, and the Benghazi Scandal have been driven off of the front pages.
The shut down is a Godsend to Obama. He can remain intransigent and claim to hold the high ground on Obamacare and demonize the Republicans and the Tea Party all the while staving off accountability for his ever-growing record of incompetence, extralegal activities, and malice.
Woodward was very instructive. The President’s arrogance was legend, whether it was one day after promising shortly after his election telling House Minority Whip Eric Cantor “Elections have consequences, and I won” the day after pledging a bipartisan administration or as The New Republic describes:
“The most vivid scene takes place in February of 2009, as Congress is laboring to ward off an economic collapse. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker, is hunkered down in her office with Harry Reid, her Senate counterpart, to negotiate a stimulus bill that can pass both chambers. This is no easy task. The bill must be modest enough to survive a Republican filibuster, but ambitious enough to satisfy Pelosi’s liberal caucus. But, then, these are veteran legislators—born deal-makers at that. They get to work with all the seriousness you’d expect.
At which point the president calls in via speaker phone and starts droning on about “unity of action” and “unity of purpose” (Woodward’s paraphrasing). It’s the kind of blather that can wow a stadium full of college students but means nothing in the power corridors of Washington. Pelosi and Reid thank the president coldly, and yet he doesn’t take the hint. Finally, Pelosi reaches over and hits the mute button. “They could hear Obama, but now he couldn’t hear them,” Woodward writes. “The president continued speaking, his disembodied voice filling the room, and the two leaders got back to the hard numbers.”
Very harsh indeed. The President’s frosty relations with both sides of the aisle are well documented. And today it is doubtful we will have a Boswell like Woodward to document the process. After the publication of his book he was vilified and attacked by the President’s minions. I don’t think he has been allowed back in on this one.
The White House staff have repeatedly been described as an unruly, callow political machine akin to a herd of cats. And now that the “A” listers in the administration have left the building, the cats are a tad more out of their league and unruly. Obama has always been a more successful campaigner than president and governs accordingly.
And yet the vitriol has been directed overwhelmingly against the opposition with the assistance of a supine media that simply takes the president’s dictation. The President’s press conference the other day was an especially low point where no questions that might discomfit a most vulnerable president were asked. Perhaps, like Cristina Kirchner, he is allocating newsprint. Or perhaps the media are simply fellow travelers.
The stories of the incompetence of the Obama Administration during the 2011 budget negotiations are legend. The Republicans have their own share of the burden to bear. It always takes two sides to negotiate.
From Woodward’s description it was wrestlemania with actors jumping in and out of the ring and the Sequester as the primary product. A sequester suggested by the President and never intended to have been executed. It was a stop-gap intended to allow more time for real structural improvements. And here we are at the cliff again.
But today the stakes are even higher. The Sequester has had barely any effect on our economy. Today we face a shutdown of which the primary images are of National Parks and Monuments closed to spite the public.
The debt ceiling is once again the central flash point. The President has refused to address our out of control debt nor his health care fiasco. Every day that now goes by without an agreement is squarely on his shoulders. In the meantime I expect the President to revert to the same “No Pasaran” tactics he has used time and again.
We have seen the movie before, but like many Hollywood movies these days, there alternative endings on the Director’s Cut DVD,. In this case almost none of them good for the American People.