Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 6, 2011

GIVING POTUS A LITTLE LEEWAY (BUT ONLY A LITTLE).... At yesterday's impromptu White House press conference, a reporter asked President Obama if he could "respond to the budget plan that the House Republicans unveiled today." Obama largely took a pass.

"[W]e'll have time to have a long discussion about next year's budget, as well as the long-term debt and deficit issues, where we're going to have some very tough negotiations," he said.

A few hours later, WH Press Secretary Jay Carney went a little further. After tepid praise for the GOP plan's goals related to deficit reduction, the White House statement said, "Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan's plan fails this test. It cuts taxes for millionaires and special interests while placing a greater burden on seniors who depend on Medicare or live in nursing homes, families struggling with a child who has serious disabilities, workers who have lost their health care coverage, and students and their families who rely on Pell grants."

That's good, but I think it's safe to say many of the left are looking for a far more spirited fight. Greg Sargent noted this morning "the left's increasing frustration with Obama's absenteeism."

When it suits him, Obama has proven willing and able to take on big arguments with a level of ambition and seriousness of purpose that suits his status as one of the leading public communicators of our time. Republicans are initiating an argument over the role of government and the nature of our national social contract that demands -- and provides an opening for -- a big response. Will Obama deliver?

There's no shortage of lefties asking this question. Dionne, Meyerson, and Drum have pressed the point in recent days, and I had an item on Monday explaining that this is an opportunity for Democrats, and it's incumbent on President Obama to lead the charge.

But here's the reason I'm inclined to be patient: first things first.

We are, unfortunately, still fighting over the details of last year's budget. Indeed, as everyone now knows, it's extremely likely the federal government will shut down the day after tomorrow, and it's a problem the White House is trying to avoid.

When it comes to the new House Republican budget plan, its radicalism, and its intention to eliminate Medicare, I have high expectations for the president and his team. I want to see a forceful, unapologetic response. I want a hearty defense of government. I want officials explaining why Paul Ryan's plan is dangerous and ridiculous. I want Democrats drawing lines in the sand, vowing to never go along with such extremism.

But if Obama and his team want to figure out a way to avoid a government shutdown, and go on offensive over the new GOP budget plan next week instead of this week, I'm OK with waiting.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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People should be marching in the street at what our Galtian Goobers have planned for us. We need more than Obama's Vulcan detachment. We need to push back hard and body slam these thugs. I'm beginning to think liberalism's fatal flaw is its inherent passivity in the face of evil.

Posted by: walt on April 6, 2011 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

It's pretty odd to see an anti-Union ad featuring Rand Paul on this site.

Posted by: Jamie on April 6, 2011 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Nah, let's have the big fight now. There's no point in avoiding a government shutdown, because we're going to do this all over again in June over the debt limit - unless we bloody the right's freakin' noses right now.

That means joining the big argument, in spades, doubled and redoubled, right here, right now - then once the shutdown has begun, using that argument as a justification for moving the goalposts back our way.

It's important that the wingnuts come away with nothing from this shutdown - except maybe a missed Social Security check or Medicare reimbursement, or a closed national park that they were planning to visit.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on April 6, 2011 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

"Obama's leadership" on this is an oxymoron. But we've been here before, e.g., on health care. It's embarrassing.

Posted by: sjw on April 6, 2011 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Enough, enough, I say, of this tepid whining, "why can't we all just get along?"

Where is Foghorn Leghorn, pounding the lectern and saying in stentorian tones, "Enough! Enough, I say, of this unprincipled attack on the American Way!"

-like "you lie!", that is what becomes a sound bite on the evening news.

We need some Teddy Kennedy bombast!

Posted by: DAY on April 6, 2011 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

Look, the Republicans are ready for 3 fights:
This budget.
The debt ceiling.
Next years budget.

The Democrats have already given waaaaaay too much in this one.
Does anyone have any faith in Obama and the Democrats finally standing up for something, instead of sacrificing one eye to save the other in any of the remaining two fights?

I think I finally figured out why the Conservatives were so adament about denying stem cell research:

They were afraid someone would grow spines and infuse them into Democrats!

Well, no worries there...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 6, 2011 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I usually don't like it when political campaigns start early as they tend to create partisan rather than practical policies, but in this case, LET THE CAMPAIGN BEGIN.

Posted by: tomb on April 6, 2011 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

It's not a "failure of leadership" on Obama's part-this is the outcome he wants. He actually agrees with much of what Ryan proposes. He's not going to fight it, he's going to enable it

Posted by: HC Carey on April 6, 2011 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

balloon-juice has a very good front page post on all the hand wringing. basically, chill the f*ck out!

Posted by: Alli on April 6, 2011 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

I'm rooting for the long-game here. This Ryan proposal should be the centerpiece of the campaign. We need weeks if not months of the media talking about this, to get public attention focused. And the battle should be deferred as long as possible, to force it into the 2012 campaign. Ideally, things would really heat up next fall, a year out from the 2012 vote. Otherwise, it will fade from people's minds. This has to be what the campaign is about.

I like the broad framework of messaging that the WH laid out yesterday. A lot of specific critiques will fit underneath of it. It can't just be cutting Medicare and spending on Big Oil. That's a good start, but there's a gold mine of material here.

Posted by: Mark on April 6, 2011 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

But hasn't the damage already been done? An easily discredited bunch of zealous Teabaggers were allowed to completely overrun his agenda (investment and stimulus, with long-term deficit reduction) and set their own.

One can write a script in which Obama lets Teabaggers expose themselves for the radicals they are and allows the Republican party to self-destruct -- at which time he comes sweeping in and saves the day.

The romantic in me finds that storyline attractive, but the realist tells me it's not going to happen.

Posted by: beep52 on April 6, 2011 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

This is a long term fight. One piece of the puzzle no one notices is the redrawing of the political map in the Middle East and N Africa and the ousting of the C Street darlings, dictators throughout the world. You don't think this is going to revise some of the plans of the oil companies over time? (And oil companies ARE behind each and every anti-Obama move, from the Exxon Mobil funded Heritage Foundation that 'budgeted' Ryan's proposal, to the Koch Brothers and their insane tea party)

It's largely Obama versus big Oil; the culture wars and the silly abominable cuts proposed by Republicans are just there to distract from the real issues of a remade world map and a remade energy policy throughout the oil rich regions.

Posted by: jjm on April 6, 2011 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is who he is---a center-left politician who has regularly coopted Republican ideas and politicians to advance Democratic goals (see keeping Liberman, flipping Specter, passing health care for examples). Also, a politician more comfortable and more effective as a counterpuncher than as an attacker. Also, a politician more prone to take the long view and with ambitions of being remembered by history as doing for progressives in the early 21st century what Reagan did for conservatives in the late 20th century---end a long period of opposition dominance and initiate an era of political, social and economic dominance for his side.

All this bears repeating because for too many of us, it's easier to bemoan Obama's past failings (and assumed future failings!) than it is to do the hard work of building progressive power that moves not just Obama, but the entire political spectrum, to the left.

Posted by: massappeal on April 6, 2011 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Well said, massappeal.

Posted by: Jon on April 6, 2011 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

Except you can't avoid the shutdown. Unless they had a deal by last night, they can't ram it through in time. The government is going to shut down.

Posted by: Raptor on April 6, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm OK with waiting"

Ah yes, waiting as in "Godot, Guffman and, now, unfortunately, Obama".

Posted by: berttheclock on April 6, 2011 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Here's the problem I have with the "all in good time" approach.

While the WH focuses on governance, and patiently sorts through one issue at a time, and carefully crafts and delivers finely calibrated messages, and behaves like a rational, sober adult, and all that other good stuff, the Republicans are winning the political battle.

The media narrative is being fixed. The few simple memes that will form the public's understanding of the issue are being imprinted on their brains, and repeated and reinforced. The Republicans have coordinated their attack -- in plain daylight, with lots of warning -- and now they are executing it, like the well-oiled Panzerbrigade they are, and the Democrats are sitting on the sidelines while the first quarter is played!

For crying out loud, the WH can walk AND chew gum at the same time, can't it?

Posted by: bleh on April 6, 2011 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but I can't chill out...these are the same folks who said, "what? nah, no shutdown...chill out, it's highly unlikely; why, the chances are only about 20%" when this budget nonsense first started. Personally as soon as the idea came up, I was resigned to its inevitability.

I'm really, really, genuinely scared of these people and what they are capable of.

Posted by: ajw93 on April 6, 2011 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Yes. Let's be patient. IF we just wait long enough, these political monkeys will surely bang out some political Shakespeare.

Posted by: square1 on April 6, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Fortunately for me, I live in BipartiXanadu. Everybody and their teabagger, racist grandmother is large and in charge! Nobody wins in BipartiXanadu, except the Koch brothers! Yea! Can't we all just get lost?

Posted by: Trollop on April 6, 2011 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Just to be clear, I'm not in the "just wait, everything will be fine" brigade. I'm in the "let's be realistic about the president we have, his strengths and weaknesses, and how we can best fulfill our roles in ways that take advantage of his strengths and minimize his weaknesses" brigade.

I'm also in the brigade that was pulling out its hair when Max Baucus was delaying health care reform with the "gang of 6", but is thrilled with his strong statement ("Not on my watch!") in response to Ryan's proposal.

Posted by: massappeal on April 6, 2011 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

I think it's reasonable to wait until we see if they can avert a gov't shutdown, first. Why alienate the Republicans while you're trying to compromise? (Granted, I know, *they* never care if they alienate Democrats or not...but unfortunately, the Democrats are the only adults in this fight...) However, after the shutdown either occurs or not, it's time to come out and denounce that "plan" for what it is -- a naked ideological crusade, NOT a fiscally responsible plan. Pound that theme to death!

Posted by: Jill on April 6, 2011 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

While the children are outside throwing insults and playing the blame game--"You did it!"..."No, you did!"..."It was you!"--mom and dad are inside cleaning up the house and fixing dinner. Kids come in... "What? No steak?" "But I don't want to eat my vegetables!"

Like they say, somebody has to be the adult. Thanks, Barack.

Posted by: chi res on April 6, 2011 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm in the "let's be realistic about the president we have, his strengths and weaknesses, and how we can best fulfill our roles in ways that take advantage of his strengths and minimize his weaknesses" brigade." - Massappeal

Which is why I'm putting all my time and $$ into fielding the strongest liberal primary opponent available. We need Dem leadership to fear us more than GOP leadership fears the teabaggers.

We've tried the carrot with this guy. Time to take out the stick.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 6, 2011 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Why alienate the Republicans while you're trying to compromise?" - Jill

Please list the common policy elements between the GOP and Democratic Party that are available for compromise.

GOP: Cut all social programs, cut taxes for the extremely wealthy, don't even think about cutting defense or corporate subsidies, privatize all government services and sell all federal lands to corporations to pay for the deficit.

Have I missed anything? Which one of those policies do you want to find middle ground on?


Posted by: bdop4 on April 6, 2011 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I have to disagree with you, bdop4. Shocking, I know!
"We need Dem leadership to fear us more than GOP leadership fears the Teabaggers."
Really? You want Democratic politicians so fearful of being primaried, or else so ideologically enraptured by their version of "progressivism", that what we're now seeing with the GOP would be replayed by politicians with a "(D)" after their names instead of an "(R)"?
Just what the country needs, a leftwing version of the Tea Party...

Posted by: Doug on April 6, 2011 at 8:53 PM | PERMALINK
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