What the President Knows (and When He Knew It)

By James Fallows

Early this morning I quoted reader DM's argument that, despite appearances of President Obama being pushed around and treated like a doormat by more aggressive Republicans, his debt-and-deficit policy actually reflected a shrewd, progressive, long-term strategic view. Here are words of accord from reader DF:

>>You quote your reader who believes he knows what Obama is doing.  I agree with his assessment.  But perhaps more importantly, I think that Obama knows what he is doing.
 
I believe that, when we elect a President, we should be voting for someone who (1) shares one's general political philosophy and orientation and (2) has the intellectual ability, judgment, discipline and personality to make decisions which are as good as they can be under the circumstances.  In other words, we should elect someone who we believe has good judgment, not someone who we would like to share a beer with (GWB), whose personal history we like (John McCain) or whose stump speech touches the right bases (John Edwards).    It's a truism of national politics that the issues and problems the President has to deal with are largely going to be issues not debated during the election.
 
By this measure, I fully support Obama, even if I don't like some of his actions.  It may sound naïve and childish, but I trust him.   Despite some of the yahoo comments we read from right wingers on blog sites, he is obviously really, really smart--perhaps one of the smartest guys on the national political scene in years.  Based on all we read, he has put together a team which is capable and works well together; there appears to be relatively little of the infighting and drama that has afflicted prior administrations.  Decisions seem to be made in a thoughtful, analytic way, with an opportunity for all views to be heard.  While political considerations are inevitably taken into account, unlike the prior Administration, this Administration appears to make decisions based on policy and principle, rather than politics, as the primary concern.  (It doesn't hurt that Obama was fortunate in being able to draw upon a reserve of competent Democratic talented men and women who gained valuable experience during the Clinton Administration.)  The man obviously has a healthy ego (what successful politician doesn't), but it seems to be under control.
 
Let's also bear in mind that Obama has had to govern in the face of two unprecedented difficulties:  the worst recession since the Great Depression and a ferociously obstructive, hyper-partisan and hyper-ideological Republican Party.  Both of these have made governance nearly impossible and, since the Republicans regained a majority in the House, essentially impossible at the legislative level.<<

The last few sentences do highlight what is a long-term problem for the country -- the shift of a checks-and-balance system toward one of frequent dysfunctional paralysis -- and a huge near-term tactical challenge for the Obama Administration. By next year, we'll have a chance to judge whether the President's (apparent) negotiating strategy has "worked" in terms of arresting an economic downturn and thereby making his re-election possible. Within five or six years, we'll see whether it's had the progressive effect these two readers envision. As a reminder, here was the best-case forecast in the previous note:

>>If he succeeds in his big picture deficit plan, he'll go into 2012 having tamed the long term deficit.  He'll be in a position to lambast the Republicans and hopefully, gain more control of Congress, and, when he's reelected, he'll have a powerful mandate to pursue his more adventuresome and long-term beneficial programs. It'll take a few more years, but he's  a long-term strategic thinker, and I think he'll get us there. The Republicans look like a lot of power-addled men who are really out of touch with the electorate.

I'm now very optimistic; and, particularly if he succeeds, then with his 2nd term programs, perhaps the economy will recover to the extent that he can re-instate the things he cut before such time as the cuts actually take effect. Because, as we all know, with the long-term structural deficit fixed, if the economy were back to the size it was before 2007, we could have our cake and be eating it too.  You go, Barack. Sir.<<

Judge for yourself. I'm highlighting these messages because they're interesting and because the "Obama is a strategic 18-dimension chess-game genius" theme is not exactly conventional wisdom right now.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/07/what-the-president-knows-and-when-he-knew-it/242032/