The Tough New Obama Isn't So Tough—and That's Why He's Winning
One thing puzzles me about the prevailing line of analysis on the new Obama. The Republicans are in full retreat, according to this view, and it goes to prove that Obama was right to get tough and refuse to compromise. So long as the president grows enough of a spine to confront the GOP, he'll win and keep winning.
It is clear that he is consciously changing his leadership style heading into the next four years. Weeks before the November elections, his top advisers were signaling that he intended to be a different kind of president in his second term.
"Just watch," they said to me, in effect, "he will win re-election decisively and then he will throw down the gauntlet to the Republicans, insisting they raise taxes on the wealthy. Right on the edge of the fiscal cliff, he thinks Republicans will cave."
What's your Plan B, I asked. "We don't need a Plan B," they answered. "After the president hangs tough -- no more Mr. Nice Guy -- the other side will buckle." Sure enough, Republicans caved on taxes. Encouraged, Obama has since made clear he won't compromise with Republicans on the debt ceiling, either.
Or John Dickerson.
How should the president proceed then, if he wants to be bold? The Barack Obama of the first administration might have approached the task by finding some Republicans to deal with and then start agreeing to some of their demands in hope that he would win some of their votes. It's the traditional approach. Perhaps he could add a good deal more schmoozing with lawmakers, too.
That's the old way. He has abandoned that...
Obama's only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition's most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray.
What am I failing to understand here? Obama compromised during the fiscal-cliff fight, and the GOP didn't -- and that's why he's emerged with the upper hand. Instead of insisting on an income threshold of $250,000 for raising top marginal tax rates, he accepted a threshold of $450,000. Instead of going over the cliff rather than yield on anything, he behaved reasonably. Republicans refused to give an inch on their own hardline position and then allowed a sufficient number of their votes in the House to defect. Thus the GOP disowned the very compromise it had been forced to accept--defining itself as the loser (even though the deal entrenched almost all of the Bush tax cuts). This is a good kind of opponent to have.