Home National Politics Paul Begala on “Barack’s Blunder,” and Possible Salvation?

Paul Begala on “Barack’s Blunder,” and Possible Salvation?


The past few days,  weeks actually, I’ve been thinking about writing a Blue Virginia diary expressing my deep frustration, exasperation, even anger, at President Obama for making the same mistake vis-a-vis the Republicans, over and over again. That mistake is to assume that today’s Republican Party is in any way, shape, or form a normal, reasonable, responsible, even sane party, when it categorically is not any of those things. It’s bad enough when the cowardly corporate media perpetuates the mindless “both sides at fault” false equivalency, and it’s maddening when Democrats like Mark Warner do it (without any results, by the way, for his “gang”). But when President Obama himself keeps making the same mistake, again and again, it really starts getting old fast. In the end, I come back to the expression, “fool me once, shame on YOU; fool me twice, shame on ME!” And how about if you get fooled not once, or twice, but a dozen times, two dozen, whatever? What does that say about YOU?

The latest case is the sequester, but really we can go back to the end of 2012, when a recently-reelected President Obama had pretty much all the good cards in his hands. Not the least of these was the fact that if Congress and the White House simply did nothing, then the Bush tax cuts would have expired, and the deficit problem would essentially have been solved. Clearly, that was the time for Obama to hold his ground, go “over the cliff” if need be, and certainly not to kick the proverbial can down the proverbial road yet one more time. Now, we see the results, in a disastrous sequester, and in the prospects of a government shutdown and yet another fight over the debt ceiling. This is utterly absurd, no way to run a great nation, and threatening to consume President Obama’s entire second term if he’s not careful. And, in my view, it all could have been avoided, if Obama had simply played hardball with a bunch of nihilistic, radical, extremist wackjobs, aka “the Republican Party.”

But no… Anyway, here we are, and the question is can Barack Obama recover from his blunder – falling into the trap the Republicans had set for him – and achieve (political) salvation? I’m dubious, and I believe I have good reason to be. For another view, here’s an excerpt from Paul Begala’s latest column. Let’s just put it this way: Begala’s a really smart guy, politically experienced and astute, so let’s just hope that he’s right and I’m wrong.

Barack Obama is a remarkably gifted politician. But his cardinal political error has been that at times he seems to lack the imagination to even conceptualize how truly nihilistic, irresponsible, partisan, and, yes, crazy his Republican opponents are. The last Democratic president saw the Republicans shut down the government, squander millions on partisan witch hunts-including taking 140 hours of sworn testimony investigating President Clinton’s Christmas-card list-and drag the country through an impeachment process. Despite that history-and despite that Obama may be dealing with Republicans who are even more ideological and self-destructive than in Clinton’s day-he still expressed a blind faith in their reasonableness. How quaint.

This faith in the reasonableness of others is quintessentially American. We are, after all, a nation born of the Enlightenment. John Locke, the intellectual godfather of the American Revolution, said, “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.” But John Locke was a 17th-century English philosopher, not a 21st-century Tea Party nihilist. Obama, sadly, is not dealing with Mr. Locke-nor with Mr. Spock-but rather with zealous partisans who would, it seems, gladly harm the country in order to hurt the president. Highly illogical, perhaps, but real.

Our president, however, is nothing if not smart. And so he has adapted. Instead of sitting with Boehner and Cantor and McConnell, seeking to appeal to the cool light of reason, which failed so miserably in previous budget showdowns, he is barnstorming the country, basking in the warm glow of popular approval. Whereas once he seemed to prefer the prophet Isaiah’s entreaty, “Come now, let us reason together,” now he seems to be channeling the prophet Ezekiel: “I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes.”

  • Jim B

    Obama seems to be an establishment guy and the establishment can do no wrong plus there are no pit bulls surrounding him that I can see that are pushing him to deal with the republicans. In fact the whole democratic establishment is lacking pit bulls. At the moment I can think of about one, Allan Grayson of Florida.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    I firmly believe that economists had made it plain to President Obama that the expiration of all Bush tax cuts – plus the end of the 2% drop in Social Security taxes (which happened) – would likely have precipitated a double-dip recession. That happened in Britain, albeit from deep austerity cuts in their budget and not so much from tax increases, cuts far worse than the sequester. In that case (everybody gets a tax increase all at once), the President would have been blamed for “not showing leadership.” As it is, he gets blamed for “not showing leadership.” Perhaps he wanted to avoid the mistake made by FDR in 1936 when he listened to those who demanded austerity. Ending the Bush-era tax cuts would have been deep austerity. As it is, the sequester is bad enough and the GOP is getting the blame.

    I do agree that there’s  not enough of the “pit bull” in Barack Obama, not surprising in the first African-American to rise to the top post in the land. He wouldn’t have been elected if he had been a fire-brand, tough guy, for reasons that are obvious.

    One thing I wished he had done was tell his cabinet to target sequester cuts to hurt the most in the districts of the crazies in the House of Representatives. Give them a big dose of their own medicine.

  • Jim B

    I certainly may be wrong, but it looks like Obama is losing out in the sequester since the tea baggers are liking the defense dept cuts which I suppose was Obama’s ace so to speak. Now it looks like we will have to wait to see if he folds before the 27th. Not exactly what we voted for that we have to hope our president doesn’t fold with every deal.

  • YelowDawg

    PBO has fallen for the Boehner and Cantor poker face. Again. Played right into their hands, in fact. How else could these cuts to essential programs for the poor have happened? GOP is thrilled and the affected folks aren’t likely to show up at the polls.