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November 14, 2012 2:59 PM Obama’s Presser: Misplaced Anger?

By Ed Kilgore

There wasn’t anything particularly surprising in the president’s first post-election press conference, which focused on fiscal talks, the Petraeus mess, Benghazi, and (briefly) even Syria and climate change. But the big “news” will probably be his angry response to threats from Sens. McCain and Graham to oppose a hypothetical nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State on grounds of her remarks on a Sunday show about the GOP’s little red wagon of Benghazi.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with Obama showing up these bully-boys who are making it plain that GOP obstruction of nominations isn’t going to lapse for a moment (barring implementation of filibuster reform!). But the contrast in tone between his blast over Rice and his handling of the fiscal questions was pretty obvious and troubling.

The president bought the Republican/MSM “fiscal cliff” framing entirely, suggesting (incorrectly) that allowing current law on taxes and spending to prevail beyond January 1 for a single day would be a recession-threatening calamity. He seems to be all in on a strategy of publicly demanding early lame-duck-session legislation restoring the Bush tax cuts on income up to 250k, whether or not it’s part of a broader package. This is precisely the strategy Democrats pursued in 2010 without success. I suppose he had to make a choice between calming everyone down on the “fiscal cliff” scare and augmenting his leverage via the option of productive inaction, or pile onto the panic in hopes of utilizing it to pressure Republicans out of taking middle-class tax cuts hostage this time around. Now we know he’s taking the latter approach.

On a related issue, the president conspicuously passed up an opportunity to say that higher tax rates on the wealthy were essential to any fiscal deal. He did, at least, make it clear he wasn’t going to buy the pig in a poke of a “tax reform process” that would count hypothetical revenues from some loophole-closing exercise without identifying them.

More generally, Obama fell prey to “both sides must compromise” rhetoric that did not acknowledge the total GOP obstructionism of his first term (particularly noticeable in his answer to the cringe-inducing question about how he could improve his relationships with Congress), or set down markers for what he would consider “compromise” from the GOP. And if he felt it important to slap down McCain and Graham, he could have certainly extended his contempt to include not just their treatment of Rice, but the whole Republican witch-hunt over Benghazi, which has already become the foreign-policy equivalent of last year’s GOP frenzy over “Fast and Furious”—an invented “scandal” mainly of to Obama-haters.

The president may well know what he’s doing, and he conveyed a sense of total self-confidence throughout the presser. But this wasn’t the sort of aggressive post-election opening shot on the large and immediate issues that most progressives hoped for.

UPDATE: Meant to mention that I thought Obama’s handling of the silly question about whether he’d scheduled the meeting with Mitt Romney he ritualistically suggested on Election Night was hilarious. Seems he wants to offer Mitt a chance to run some reinventing-government initiative or efficiency study, not negotiate with him as “titular leader” of the GOP on the big issues facing the country. He knows the idea of Romney being anything other than yesterday’s news—to Republicans as much as to Democrats—is too absurd to even consider.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • TCinLA on November 14, 2012 3:16 PM:

    Newsflash: Obama still has an Obummer problem.

    In other news, sun continues to rise in the east.

  • c u n d gulag on November 14, 2012 3:24 PM:

    I liked the way he responded to what John "Ol Blood and Nuts" McCain and his groupie, Lindsey, had to say.
    FECK THEM!

    But yeah, I winced every time he said "Fiscal Cliff."

    The only measurable effect after January 1st that I know of, is that almost everyone who works in the country will get a tax increase.
    NOTE: This is, AFTER the Holiday Season, so it shouldn't have any impact on sales and profits. Now, paying off the bills for that in January and February may be be impacted.

    The pressure will be on the Republicans in the House! President Obama should WELCOME that!
    THAT'S what he can negotiate with, while the Congressmen are being barraged with calls from angry constituents.

    But, in typical Obama fashion, it looks like, instead of starting off negotiation way above what he really wants and thinks he can get, he starts around the middle, and gets suckered.

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, who at least had the sense to have a bunch of other guys sorrounding him who weren't Judas, why doesn't the President listen to some economists like Krugman, Dean, Reich, etc...?

    OY!!!!!!!!!!

  • c u n d gulag on November 14, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Ooooh!

    Look at Lindsey acting all butch!

    From TPM:
    'Sen. Graham has already responded with a written statement that reads in part: ďMr. President, donít think for one minute I donít hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.Ē'

    Lindsey, YOU SAVAGE!!! RAVAGE ME!!!!!

    What a fatuous old @$$hole.

  • bleh on November 14, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Whaaat? I don't think it's Obama who had it backwards.

    Regarding Susan Rice, he did 4 things: he pushed back hard on the Benghazi non-troversy, he looked presidential in the way he described how he's handling it, he stood up and made McCain and Graham look like silly school-kids, and he scored yet another point with women, who know perfectly well that Rice's sex is one of the reason she's been singled out as a target. (See under Clinton, Hillary, for further reading.) It was exactly the right tone. If he had been Mr. Nice Guy, the attacks would have redoubled.

    And regarding the budget negotiations, he sounded patient knowledgeable, fair and firm, even as he politely told the House Republicans to pound sand. If he had got angry, he would have been painted as partisan and unwilling to negotiate.

    I'm all for the progressive media being the "voice of the president's backbone," but this kind of criticism is completely wrongheaded imho.

  • Josef K on November 14, 2012 3:38 PM:

    Okay, so maybe Graham and McCain are now going to lead the charge to impeach the President for failing to pacify Libya into total slavery, thereby "allowing" the attacks on Benghazi to take place. Much like Carter "allowed" our Embassy and Consulate in Tehran to be seized back in '79 by...whatever it was it didn't do.

    Dear gods, this is all we can expect from 1/2 of our political establishment? Seriously?

    As for his bad choice of phrasing, I can live with him playing the GOP's own game. After all, they're the ones pushing the whole "fiscal cliff" meme. Is it too hard to believe that rhetoric can be turned on them when Congress fails to actually act this time around?

  • Vicki on November 14, 2012 3:50 PM:

  • LAC on November 14, 2012 4:03 PM:

    I am with you, bleh. I am glad I watched the press conference then came here. That way, I don't have to rely on the "progressive" media and their tired response to everything Obama does: "That's not iiiiiiiiiit!"

  • T2 on November 14, 2012 4:09 PM:

    I'm with bleh too..
    My ears heard the president specifically say that taxes on the rich were going up. And that was what he campaigned on before the election and what he intended. I didn't see any waffle there.
    As for Bengazi/Petraeus......do I smell the groundwork for impeachment being laid?

  • NCSteve on November 14, 2012 4:15 PM:

    The problem with the theory that Nothing Very Bad Will Happen Right Away theory of the Fiscal Cliff/Stairway/Gentle Incline/Yawning Abyss thing is that if people start preparing for it now it will be recessionary without even happening. And no matter what Paul Krugman says, all the consumer economics journalists, like the asshats at Planet Money, are telling people to do stuff like up their savings and lower their spending and put off big purchase. Right before Christmas, the helpful consumer journalism asshats are telling people to cut spending.

    It's a pretty textbook example of how what people think is best for them from a microeconomic standpoint is terrible for them, and everyone else, at the macroeconomic scale.

    Obama can't jawbone people out of being afraid of this, not after the last three years. And any signals he sends the easily panicked folks in the stock markets and in half-informed business journalism circles that it is more likely, rather than less likely, to happen are more likely to make a recession happen even if we get the Fiscal [Insert Metaphor Involving Some Kind of Descent Here] whatsis resolved before Christmas.

    As for the tough talk to the Sunday Show Presidents, I really think he's trying to provoke them into a fight to both make a point to the Senate Democrats who are resistant to filibuster reform and because picking an easily-won fight with a couple of unpopular, got-nothing bullies now will set the tone for the tax and budget negotiations nicely.

  • Napoleon on November 14, 2012 4:16 PM:

    Ed,

    Maybe he made sure the angriest part, and therefore the part that will get them most play in the press, was something like Rice purely for the very small audience of whatever Democratic Senators there are who may not be onboard with reforming the filibuster. He is basically shoving their noses in the fact that starting day one they are going to be back to complete gridlock with getting nominees through (let alone laws) unless they do something about their rules.

  • Dave on November 14, 2012 4:17 PM:

    I thought he struck an assertive stance, not an aggressive one, and I think that was exactly the correct stance to take. Republicans are guaranteed to over-reach and posture for their primary voters in the coming days and months (see: McCain and Graham on Benghazi). Let them. It's going to happen no matter what the President does. As long as he doesn't take the wrong bait and remains consistently assertive on the issues he sounded out today, he wins the long-term policy battles and sets things up nicely for 2014 and 2016.

  • Joe Friday on November 14, 2012 4:18 PM:

    The smackdown of "dynamic scoring" from the RightWing Tax Fairy was GREAT !

  • Mike on November 14, 2012 4:21 PM:

    I would have to go back and re-read the transcript, but sitting and listening to the news conference, I don't recall my ears perking up at any statement which said that having no deal on January 1 would automatically "be a recession-threatening calamity".

  • Ron Byers on November 14, 2012 4:57 PM:

    Ed, I know that a lot of progressives agree with Dick Cheney that our debt isn't a problem, but at some point we do have to deal with it. I am a member of the 1% so you can be assured I realize my taxes are going up, but from what I have seen the proposed increase taxes on people like me aren't going to be enough. If the President won't let taxes on the middle class go up as well the least we can do is acknowledge that spending cuts will also be necessary. As usual our president was being the adult in the room.

  • Anonymous on November 14, 2012 5:10 PM:


    The Republican play on Benghazi is pretty clear. Like Whitewater and other hearings they don't need to actually come up with any real malfiesance at all. Hearings would give them four benefits.

    1, The theatrics of questioning top officials with the implicit "guilty until proven innocent" framing.


    2. A platform for demagogic posturing like Graham's "I hold you (Obama) responsible for Benghazi"

    3. A platform for implying that there is some hidden secret to be discovered, possibly worthy of impeachment.

    4. A platform for implying that "had the truth been known" Romney would have been elected.The GOP base is dying to latch onto a myth such as this.

    In short, the GOP would see no downside to this BS and lots of upsides -- and can therefore be counted on to pursue it.

  • Jim Stuart on November 14, 2012 5:30 PM:

    Ed,

    I've read a zillion of your posts and this is the first one that has made me scratch my head, and moan out loud: "What in the hell is Ed talking about?"

    I'm with bleh. He was patient, firm, exceptionally clear, relaxed, confident, strong. It was a gorgeous performance! Here's what he said:

    1. Taxes are going up on the wealthy on January 1.

    2. We might well go over the fiscal cliff on January 1. If so, look to the GOP.

    3. I don't think the math works, but if the GOP wants to layout a tax expenditure reduction plan that raises the same $850 billion from the rich over 10 years, I will look at it.

    4. Middle class tax cuts should be extended now, so folks can plan for Christmas.

    5. My mandate: support, protect, nurture, expand the middle class. We will not solve the debt/deficit problem on their backs.

    6. Going over the fiscal cliff is an avoidable calamity. My marker is down: $1.6 trillion in new taxes on the wealthy. GOP-your move.

    No anger in the cliff discussions. Lots of it with Susan Rice. GOP MUST STOP THINKING THIS GUY IS A WUSS!

    Not misplaced anger: anger placed perfectly.

    The President has a winning hand. The game is already over. He wants GOP to realize that he will ABSOLUTELY let us go over the cliff. If they realize this, they MAY bargain.

  • bdop4 on November 14, 2012 5:41 PM:

    Ron,

    The economy has to recover first, then pay down the deficit. Every dollar that first goest to deficit reduction delays the recovery, and the biggest threat to our national credit is continued economic weakness. We need more taxpayers!!

    That said, as a 5-10%er, I would accept a tax increase if the tax revenues went to infrstructure and job creation. Money spend on deficit reduction now is a complete waste.

    Lastly, I, too, wish Obama would abandon his deficit reduction framing. He talks about jobs, but we cannot afford a "balanced" approach right now. It should be all about jobs.

  • bdop4 on November 14, 2012 5:52 PM:

    "He seems to be all in on a strategy of publicly demanding early lame-duck-session legislation restoring the Bush tax cuts on income up to 250k, whether or not itís part of a broader package. This is precisely the strategy Democrats pursued in 2010 without success."

    My take is that he called on the House to pass the Senate tax cut bill. No grand bargain. No quid pro quos. Just pass it. Maybe I got distracted and missed his call for lame duck legislation on sequestration.

  • SYSPROG on November 14, 2012 6:09 PM:

    I watched the 'presser' and I thought it was fine. Don't like 'fiscal cliff' but does he REALLY need to school the PRESS? Maybe he's saving it for the AMERICAN PEOPLE. The irritation with Dr. Demento (McCain) and his trusty sidekick (Graham) is because the President, the UN AND these same dickish Congressmen THE EXACT SAME REPORT. For Stupid and stupider to PRETEND they knew anything DIFFERENT is something EVERYONE needs to know. THEN we can get on to the questions of Benghazi.

  • Hue and Cry on November 14, 2012 7:18 PM:

    I thought the president fared beautifully. Just handled each question with thoughtful output. That was all off the cuff. I watched it twice. Thought Ed Henry was a bit more respectful with him altho the question was tough and on the gotcha side. But Chuck Todd impressed me with fairness quotient and with his reporting later on.
    I liked the firmness the president demonstrated and how he called out detractors Graham and McCain--two under-achievers who are chronic complainers. They remind me of my old college roommates bitchin' at dinner: reflexive contrarians.
    I thought the president handled the last, gotcha- shouted -out question with admirable grace, humor and cleverness.

  • Quaker in a Basement on November 14, 2012 11:43 PM:

    C'mon Ed. You've had four years to figure out how Obama operates. He's not ever, ever going to take a hard line at the start of a negotiation. He's always going to leave all options open.

    Stop being disappointed every time he acts like himself. You'll live longer.

  • castanea on November 15, 2012 7:58 AM:

    Ed Kilgore takes the same sort of path here as he did when he live-blogged the debates.

    "Obama missed an opportunity to mention my favorite issue!" "Obama should have mentioned Romney's blah-blah-blah!" Etc.

    Come on, Ed. Obama did fine. Expectations that any politician exists to match perfectly your desires as a blogger far removed from modern elected politics is a recipe for eternal disappointment.

    The rightwing has no ideas in its collective head, and so as we see now, both the media and the rightwing are in Contrived Controversy mode.

    Realizing this, criticisms from the left need to be measured and realistic, not bitchy and trivial.

  • biggerbox on November 15, 2012 10:04 AM:

    The President should offer Mitt Romney a post as the head of a task force studying the spread of innumeracy.

  • G.Kerby on November 15, 2012 12:10 PM:

    @biggerbox: at first read I thought you were saying that The President should put Mitt Romney's head on a post. On second thought, maybe that's not such a bad idea..