Even as the American mainstream turned against congressional Republicans during the recent crises, there were quite a few Beltway pundits who urged President Obama to give in to GOP demands. We talked earlier about what lessons Republicans may have learned from this fiasco, but I can’t help but feel curious about what, if anything, commentators learned, too.
Let’s take National Journal’s Ron Fournier, for example, who argued just last week that Obama “must negotiate” with GOP leaders. He said it was necessary as a “matter of optics,” adding that Republican “obstinacy” is “no excuse.” (Remember, in context, “negotiating” with Republicans meant exploring what concessions the president was prepared to offer – in exchange for nothing – because GOP lawmakers said it was a precondition to their willingness to complete their basic responsibilities.)
Obama ignored the advice, showed some real leadership, and prevailed. A week later, with the benefit of hindsight, Fournier’s advice appears rather misguided.
Which is what made the National Journal writer’s new column that much more interesting.
Just as he did to John McCain in 2008 and to Mitt Romney in 2012, President Obama defeated a lame Republican political team. The GOP’s right wing foolishly shuttered the government and threatened default in exchange for an unreasonable and unattainable concession: Scrap Obamacare. He refused. The GOP caved.It was all so predictable.
Hmm. If it was all so predictable that the president would stick to his guns and Republicans would cave, why did Fouriner argue – literally just last week – that Obama should stop sticking to his guns and start making concessions to Republicans?
The rest of Fournier’s argument is somewhat confusing. He wants to know, for example, if Obama can “lead.” Didn’t Obama just prove that he could “lead” quite well by winning this fight? In this case, Fournier suggests “lead” means “making Republicans do what they refuse to do,” which doesn’t seem like an altogether fair definition of the word.
The column goes on to ask if Obama “has the guts to anger liberal backers with a budget deal on Social Security and Medicare,” failing to mention that Obama has already angered liberal backers by offering a budget deal on Social Security and Medicare. Fournier also asks, “Is he willing to engage sincerely with Republicans?” overlooking all of the efforts the president has already made to do exactly that.
The columnist also wants to know if Obama wants “a legacy beyond winning two elections and enacting a health care law,” overlooking the Recovery Act, ending the war in Iraq, decimating al Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden, rescuing the American automotive industry, reforming Wall Street safeguards, advancing civil rights, and scoring several major foreign policy victories.
Fournier says there are “any number of conservative Republicans with a pragmatic streak,” overlooking the fact that each of them have already rejected the notion of a balanced compromise on the budget. Fournier says facts about the shrinking deficit are “both technically wrong and selectively misleading” when they are in fact both technically correct and objectively true.
Fournier also uses words like “governing” and “success” as synonyms for “a center-right debt-reduction deal that most credible economists consider wholly unnecessary.”
The piece goes on to argue, “There is already a lack of seriousness in the air.” On this, I heartily agree.
Update: Fournier believes the item above takes his post from last week out of context. I disagree, but I’m eager for fair-minded readers to consider the relevant pieces and reach their own conclusions. Here’s his piece from last week, in which Fournier argues that Obama “can’t cave,” while also arguing that Obama “must negotiate” with Republicans who were demanding he cave. Here’s his piece from this morning, in which Fournier argues that the president’s posture against negotiation led to a “predictable” victory.
I continue to believe a fair and informed reading supports the observations published above, but I would encourage interested parties to read further and evaluate the arguments on the merits.
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Remember the pundits who urged Obama to cave?