Well, We've Answered This Question (Chess Master v. Pawn Dept.)

Last month in four installments -- one, two, three, and four -- I posted readers' views on how we should understand President Obama's negotiating stance during the (unnecessary and abusive) debt-ceiling "showdown." Was he thinking eight steps ahead of the opposition, playing multi-dimensional chess while they were playing tic-tac-toe? Or was he a fatal step or two behind, playing patty-cake while they were playing Mixed Martial Arts? Chess master? Or pawn?

I think we know the answer, at least about this encounter. Pawn, and captured pawn at that.

The Republicans, with control of only one house of Congress, succeeded on virtually every point that mattered to them, especially to their most intransigent members. The Democrats, in control of the presidency and the other, "senior" house, succeeded on nothing that should have mattered to them, starting with implicitly legitimizing the conversion of the debt-ceiling vote into a hostage-taking exercise -- and ending with embracing a "compromise" that in the short term depresses hopes for dealing with our one genuine economic emergency, the unemployment crisis, and that in the long-run is likely to be as bad for our political system as for our economic prospects.

There will be time to parse all the details. And it's still a long time until the 2012 presidential election. It was four three months ago today that a triumphant-seeming President Obama announced the killing of Osama bin Laden; it is 15 months until Election Day. The point is, a lot can change in politics very fast. For now, just two notes of commentary. From Greg Sargent at the Washington Post yesterday (emphasis in original):

Anything can happen, but it apppears the GOP is on the verge of pulling off a political victory that may be unprecedented in American history. Republicans may succeed in using the threat of a potential outcome that they themselves acknowledged would lead to national catastrophe as leverage to extract enormous concessions from Democrats, without giving up anything of any significance in return.

Not only that, but Republicans -- in perhaps the most remarkable example of political up-is-downism in recent memory -- cast their willingness to dangle the threat of national crisis as a brave and heroic effort they'd undertaken on behalf of the national interest. Only the threat of national crisis could force the immediate spending cuts supposedly necessary to prevent a far more epic crisis later.

And from Tom Tomorrow last month, at Daily Kos. When I posted a link to this the first time, I said it was the "most biting" assessment of the Administration's negotiating stance. Now we see (as Joshua Green said at the time) that in fact it was the most prescient.


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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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