Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rescuing Obama: I generally defer to Eno and Razor's political instincts, and I think Eno makes a great argument for how Obama can sure up his reelection chances by going moderate, a la Clinton. Middle of the road will bring some independents back to him and that may be enough. After all, the Republican primary campaign stands to be pretty brutal over the next 18 months, and he'll look a lot better against Romney after he's been savaged as everything from Obama-lite to a Mormon Billy Graham (or is it Scientologist? Can't remember sometimes, and believe me, nobody else can either). But I'll offer another tack for Obama, one he's probably more comfortable with.

This is a man who is clearly more skilled as a campaigner and advocate than as a manager or policy wonk. He'd much rather stand atop the barricades and rail against the corporate flacks that make up the Republican House majority and relegate actual policy agendas to Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, his bulwarks in the Senate. I think he moves even further left and stirs the base to a frenzy, basically telling them if they don't turn out they'll have failed the cause. This means a full throated defense and expansion of health care reform, playing hardball with the deficit commission's report next month, and pushing for another stimulus package, one targeted to "shovel ready projects" to create jobs directly. The fact that he's already acknowledged that these don't exist won't matter much because he'll be able to pin that on the Appropriations Committee or Ways and Means, aka feet-dragging, partisan Republicans.

I don't know if this is a better strategy than triangulation or not, but I just can't see Obama settling for trifling little legislative victories while his credibility on the left goes to tatters. This is where he differs from George W. Bush (or one way, at least). Bush was willing to take half-a-loaf on No Child Left Behind or expanded prescription drug coverage under Medicare and anger purists on both sides while winning the center. Obama proved unwilling to take the same kind of deal with health care reform and I think he's pot-committed to it and the rest of his domestic policy agenda. Better to go all in, rally the base and hope the public is distracted by the food fight that is sure to unfold on the right.

The same will hold true in foreign policy, and it's already playing out with North Korea. Compare and contrast these statements on the North/South dustup the other day.
“These latest brazen provocations demand a firm response from the United States, our allies, and the broader international community,” Lieberman said. ”The unprovoked shelling today of Yeonpyeong Island will only strengthen the resolve of the United States to stand alongside and defend our ally the Republic of Korea, as well as reaffirm our security commitments throughout the region. I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the families of those killed and injured in this outrageous and deplorable attack, and express full support and solidarity with President Lee for his strong and steady leadership.

“I am likewise deeply concerned by the revelation that Pyongyang has constructed a new uranium enrichment facility. This latest nuclear provocation fits into a broader pattern of North Korean behavior, which must not be rewarded or appeased. Rather, all responsible countries must take additional steps to increase the pressure on the regime in Pyongyang, by cracking down on the arms trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting, smuggling, and other illicit activities that sustains its nuclear and military programs.

“I am particularly alarmed by any possible linkages between North Korea’s nuclear activities and foreign countries. We must redouble our efforts to bring any such linkages to light, and any country that either provides or receives nuclear or other proliferation-related assistance from North Korea must be subject to crippling punishments — as must North Korea itself.”

"This is a -- just one more provocative incident in a series that we've seen over the last several months, and I'm going to be talking to the president of Korea -- South Korea this evening and we'll be consulting closely with them in terms of the appropriate response," the president said. "We've strongly condemned the attack...We are rallying the international community once again to put pressure on North Korea."

The first one is from Joe Lieberman. The second is Obama's. I don't see a president looking to kick ass and let the world know you better not wake the tiger. Now it's not a simple situation, and his ability show teeth here is very restricted by China and the fact that we are up over our knees in Afghanistan and Iraq still, but he sees the U.S. as just one player in the international community, and not necessarily the most legitimate. He's not going to alter this kind of core philosophy to score some votes. I don't think that kind of political maneuvering is in him, and he sure didn't have time to develop it in the Senate.

Of course how all this plays out is up in the air. It'll be telling to see who steps up as the dominant advisor as Rahm Emanuel goes back to Chicago, and maybe Eno's right that Obama's desire for a second term will force him to target middle American centrists. Maybe we need somebody in an actual swing state to give us their take. Raz?

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