Honest to God, Republicans must all be sitting in their back rooms and just cackling like hell right now. Think about it. They developed a strategy to hamstring the president completely — a strategy that's bulletproof thanks to our country's Constitution — knowing that it would rally their base but also hoping that it would cause moderates and lefties alike to become disgusted with Obama's weakness even though we all know who's really responsible for what's going on. And it worked! In fact, it's worked better than they could possibly have imagined. They can probably barely keep from spitting up their beers right now.
We are such chumps.
I think this is mistaken. Obama does bear some blame for the post-debt ceiling mess we're in, and the left would be wrong to keep silent about it, even though complaining does run the risk of devolving into a circular firing squad.
Obama seems to have made the classic negotiating mistake that the Ashermans document in their Negotiation Sourcebook. Obama is a cooperative negotiator who makes fair, objective statements of the facts, tries to behave reasonably, makes unilateral concessions, and ignores bluffing or intimidation from the other side.
On the other hand, the Tea Party rump that's calling the shots in the House negotiate aggressively. Aggressive negotiators make high demands, play a bit loose with the facts, want not just to win but to humiliate the other party, and freely use intimidation as a tactic (agree to our terms or we will destroy the full faith and credit of the US government).
According to the Ashermans, when cooperative types are confronted by aggressive tactics, the classic mistake they make is to double down on cooperation. But the aggressive negotiator interprets this as weakness and presses his/her claims even harder. The result is either capitulation or no deal, the latter case due to the aggressive negotiator's attitude of "Stop me if you can" abetted by the cooperative negotiator's unwillingness to do just that.
So as soon as it became clear that the GOP caucus really was committed to default, Obama's proper response should not have been going to the public to beg them to beg the Tea Party Congressmen to be reasonable. He should have responded in a tit-for-tat fashion.
Here, tit-for-tat would have amounted to meeting brinksmanship with brinksmanship. "If you won't raise the debt ceiling I will do it myself based on an esoteric interpretation of 14th Amendment that some liberal pundit wrote about the other day." Or, "If you won't raise the debt ceiling I will order the Treasury Secretary to mint two, one trillion dollar platinum coins and write checks off of those coins."
The first option would have precipitated a constitutional crisis. The second option just sounds crazy but is apparently legal. Either are nauseating for cooperative, reasonable people. But for the sake of a fair deal that doesn't amount to capitulation, something like that needed to be laid on the table.
But Obama didn't play tit-for-tat. Because that's not his style. So what he did instead was capitulate:
We got short term cuts to discretionary spending--a fresh wound to an already traumatized economy. We did not get any tax increases or entitlement reform--which we do need to address the nation's long term debt. And we got some super-duper Congressional committee who's supposed to come up with extra cuts by year's end, lest a sword of Damocles fall on the Pentagon and Medicare. The upshot is that we'll keep talking about debt over the next few months, not job creation. All this plus the European debt crisis is a recipe for a double dip recession, which adversely affects Obama's re-election chances.
Obama's defenders need to ponder that last point. Yes, Obama has advanced the progressive agenda more than any President since LBJ. And yes, in the aftermath of this debt debacle, the polls do seem to favor him over Congressional Republicans. But come next year Obama won't be running against "Tea Party House Republicans." He'll be running against a Republican, possibly Mitt Romney, who's handsome, who has a track record of accomplishments, and can say, "It's time for a change." And voters in a double dip recession are likely to give him a chance, and that means the undoing of Obama's legacy.
Obama has won a public relations fight but lost a policy fight and demoralized his base in the process. That's bad. Are liberals wrong to say so?