More on Obama as Chess Master or Pawn


In three previous installments, readers weighed in on whether the evolving shape of the debt-and-deficit "negotiations," and President Obama's larger management of his domestic agenda, should be seen as brilliantly subtle strategy on his part, or sheer haplessness in the face of a more ruthless and disciplined opposition. For the most biting (and hilarious) version of the "hapless" assessment, see this "Middle-Man and the Debt Ceiling Debacle" cartoon by Tom Tomorrow. (Update: I figured it was wrong not to have a sample of Tom Tomorrow's view, at right.)

Today's group of reader dispatches mainly takes the opposite view: that Obama is playing the wily, effective, and mature long game. [And all this is pending the breaking news of a possible budget deal, which I'm hearing about just at this moment. More on that later.]

First, from reader DS, "the GOP is trapped":

>>I vote Chess Master.  One thing that seems pretty obvious to me, but appears to get lost on both sides of the political spectrum is that whatever gets agreed to today can be undone by some future Congress.  Call it "The GOP's Democracy Happens Problem."

Republicans seem to understand this in part, but want to paint it as an Obama double-cross when all he is really doing is acknowledging reality, something with which they have a hard time.

Maybe deep down they understand they're using a bogus argument about deficits to achieve their dream of drastically undercutting the social safety net to the point that whatever remaining Social Security and Medicare programs are meaningless both in cost and effectiveness.  Yes, structural deficits are a problem, but not now, and just like before Republicans would quickly ignore the deficits if Romney were to capture the Whitehouse.

Whether conscious of it or not they seem to sense that a deal based on a bogus argument has a slim chance of holding up over time.  They want to cement a permanent cutback in social programs, but to do that requires constitutional changes or a different electorate (and demographics) hence the desperation dripping off every thing they say and painted all over their faces.

But, one thing would never change if they accepted Obama's deal; their vote for tax increases.  I see several end results if Boehner rounds up enough Republicans to support a bipartisan deal; 1) the GOP will tear itself apart all the way to extinction; or, 2) the head of the monster that is Grover Norquist will explode and the GOP will be free again to act like a party capable of governing as grown-ups.  Yeah, definitely #1 *with* Grover's head exploding.

Obama's jujitsu has trapped the GOP at a fork in the road; either way is hell for them.  I can't imagine a scenario more poorly played (from the GOP perspective.)<<

From reader LS, "all that matters is a second term":

>>I think Obama is aiming for one goal: a second term. He is positioning himself for 2012 as the calm, reasonable centerist while the Republicans candidates dash their hopes on the rocks of Tea Party extremism. I think he's baiting the House Republicans to act crazy. He could be so lucky as to see some sort of uprising in the House against Boehner if he keep hugging him.

If he's really lucky, the Republicans will nominate Bachmann. When reelected, he can then let the economy slowly heal itself after a financial caused recession, let the Bush tax cuts die with a only whimper, and protect the Affordable Care Act from Republican ravages. <<

From reader NP, "he's getting what he wants":

>>Talking about whether or not Obama believes we can save ourselves out of a recession is pointless. He has clearly stated his goal to balance the budget even before the crash as candidate Obama. It's not about job creation or saving the country from recession, balancing the budget for him is an end in it's own right and he's using the right's rhetoric to try to get some serious movement on that issue....

He's using this debt ceiling discussion as an opportunity to pass massive legislation that wouldn't be able to get passed otherwise. He's using the Republicans taking the economy hostage to get his party to agree to cuts in entitlements and he's called the right's bluff on the deficit by trying to get them to agree to defense cuts and revenue increases.

I think most people can agree that the long-term future of our country would be improved by the closing of tax loopholes and subsidies and cuts to entitlements and defense. The only real argument is about the short-term damage done by cutting discretionary spending. My guess is, just like the budget deal, that those cuts wouldn't be nearly as intense in the fine print and that they'd try to sneak in some extra stimulus like in the Bush tax cut deal, but then again maybe I have too much belief in Obama. Then again, those last two cases shows he's very good at getting the things he wants in the end of the deal.

The left loves to criticize Obama's negotiating prowess, but he's been very good at getting what he wants in the end. Here it seems like he's using our current crisis to get what he wants once again, a balanced budget resulting from real reform that will be deeper and more effective long-term than other modern efforts.<<

After the jump, one more argument for the long-term strategic view.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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