Political Animal


May 15, 2013 4:30 PM Obama’s Bad Timing

By Ed Kilgore

In the course of a fine review of yet another book seeking to locate the wellsprings of Obamaism in odd places (in this case, the works of Gilles Deleuze and Baroch Spinoza) in the May-June issue of the Washington Monthly, one of my favorite political writers, Mark Schmitt, offers his own tentative thoughts about how we may ultimately judge the turbulent presidency of Barack Obama. A sample:

Obama’s presidency has been the first real test of a politics focused on reform and democratic participation rather than traditional bipartisan bargaining—and it has failed. Over the last four years, American politics split sharply into the two primary traditions: the first a sort of hyper-Lockeanism represented not just by the Tea Party but even by Mitt Romney’s division of the country into “makers and takers,” the second a demand—driven by circumstances and crisis—for a much more active, expansive government role in the economy. Economic issues, once a natural zone of compromise, began to seem more like social issues, matters of irreconcilable absolutes. There wasn’t much room in the middle, and for a period, Obama’s discursive strategy seemed wholly irrelevant.

Schmitt goes on to suggest that Obama’s distinctive approach to politics might work better in at a future moment when, to quote Obama’s own hopeful phrase, the “fever has broken” on the Right. That moment looks as far off right now as it did in 2010; yet progressives haven’t agreed on any presidential model that would have definitely worked better (though not for lack of trying). It is pretty clear any Democratic president taking office in the middle of a financial crisis and the beginning of a Great Recession, and dealing with an opposition party focused only on ensuring his failure, was going to fall short of progressive expectations. Fairly apportioning responsibility for that disappointment will take a very long time.

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.


  • c u n d gulag on May 15, 2013 4:47 PM:

    The only Democrat who could possibly have handled today's political situation, wasn't LBJ, but FDR.

    Remember, he "welcomed THEIR hatred!"

    An "In-your-face" Democrat might, might, have been more successful in the past 4+ years.

    But, anyone who thinks our nation's first black President could confront Conservatives and Republicans, is naïve at best, delusional at worst.

    They'd have to clone "Black Jack," the horse with the boots in the stirrups the wrong way, for the funeral procession that took JFK to his final resting place.

    There was no, NO, way, our first black Democratic President was going to be anything but a politicians with Center-Right/Left leanings.

    I knew that when I was supporting him, volunteering for his campaign, so I have yet to be disappointed in him.

    President Obama, like President Clinton, is SOOOOOOOOO much better than anyone today's Republicans could put in office, that it's not funny - just tragic.
    Bob Dole, for all of his may faults, would have been infinitely better than W, McCain, or Romney.

  • clarence swinney on May 15, 2013 4:49 PM:

    The House Farm Bill proposes reducing Food Stamps $39.7 B over next ten years.
    Much of this cut comes from food stamps and other nutritional programs.
    No expiring tax cuts for top 2% with incomes As high as $1000 Million.
    Wall Street is staffing with former government employees who have influence in Congress.
    The Big Banks in particular. Ben White at Politico gave a list showing hires by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, IBM, GE,, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan.
    Buying influence.
    The Republicans in the House plan to held another Debt Ceiling Hostage to demanded unspecified tax reform at a future date. The leaders are too chicken to tell their backers that we have to increase the debt ceiling to pay off bills Congress has already voted on and spent.
    We have a $14,000 Total National Income and in 2013 fiscal year we get $2700B Revenue And spend $3600B. We borrow $900B. Shameful that the richest nation refuses to tax wealth to balance the budget. $2700B of $14,000B is a 19% Tax Rate. If we were to tax to pay our budget of $3600B
    it would be a 26% National Tax Rate.
    We rank third in OECD nations As least taxed.
    It is time to tax wealthy estates and top incomes at a much higher Effective rate.

  • Christiaan Hofman on May 15, 2013 4:53 PM:

    The thing is, for cooperation two parties are necessary. For partisanship and non-cooperation, one party can do it all by themselves. And that's what happened. This also means that the responsibility is clear.

  • Rich on May 15, 2013 5:08 PM:

    "politics focused on reform and democratic participation rather than traditional bipartisan bargaining—" What has he been watching (or smoking) for the last 5 years?

  • Jamie on May 15, 2013 5:11 PM:

    It's hard o cure a person who won't admit he's sick

  • Peter C on May 15, 2013 5:13 PM:

    I agree with @CUND. While I'd like Obama to fight more and harder, I understand his reluctance. My disappointment is centered on Harry Reid.

  • Tyro on May 15, 2013 5:13 PM:

    There was no, NO, way, our first black Democratic President was going to be anything but a politicians with Center-Right/Left leanings.

    Yeah, Obama has always been the right person at the wrong time when it comes to presidents, but he was the best possible person available, so we were more or less stuck.

    The odds that your skills that bring you into the presidency will ALSO be the skills necessary for the moment when you become president are fairly low.

  • June on May 15, 2013 5:24 PM:

    Here's what I see as a FAIL -- the first sentence of the exerpt:

    Obama’s presidency has been the first real test of a politics focused on reform and democratic participation rather than traditional bipartisan bargaining—and it has failed.

    A pet peeve of mine is the blaming of Pres. Obama for the disgraceful and despicable behavior of the GOP. This is a President who pulled the economy back from total meltdown and put it into recovery mode; who cut unemployment by half from the time he first took office; who has passed healthcare reform where no president in the history of the country was able to do it, and who has accomplished 1001 other items that have strengthened the country relative to where he found it when he took office. And yet -- he's a 'failure' because he accomplished this in spite of seditious GOP behavior and not in partnership with it? Please. Suffice it to say 'Mark Schmitt' won't be going on my favorite authors list anytime soon.

  • LAC on May 15, 2013 5:32 PM:

    "Fairly apportioning responsibility for that disappointment will take a very long time." Actually it doesn't - for mature, sentient folks. Any adult who has ever dealt with a four year old knows why this process is not working and it starts with a R.

    The whining, conspiracy churning, armchair criticism that passes for progressive thought is corrosive(looking at you Firedogdumbass and DKOS). It is cynical bullshit that only puts money in the pockets of political operatives who play both sides of aisle. Those that sit on lefty blogs navel gazing and playing purity politics (wasn't Bernie Saunders dreamy on MSNBC?) instead of being fully engaged, and encouraging the engagement of citizens in the electoral process are the ones we should be disappointed in.

  • jjm on May 15, 2013 5:40 PM:

    Sorry, but I fail to believe that Obama's is a "failed" presidency in any way, shape or form.

    He has the ear and support of the people on almost all issues; he's destroyed the GOP's beloved strategies, and he has had MAJOR legislative accomplishments, with more to come.

    In the GOP's (and the firebaggers') dreams!

  • Citizen Alan on May 15, 2013 8:06 PM:

    In 2016, I will support the Dem nominee no matter who it is. But in the primaries, my support will go to whichever Dem candidate appears to understand the fundamental truth of our time: that the Republican Party is the enemy of the America people and that it must be destroyed by any means necessary.

  • Doug on May 15, 2013 8:11 PM:

    I echo the sentiments of'gulag, Christaan Hoffman, and June. President Obama has accomplished so much but too many non-Reepers (nicest way I could put it) seem to only focus on what *hasn't* been accomlpished. Half-empty, indeed!
    I haven't been to FDL in ages, so I can't say whether or not they *still* believe it's better to serve in Hell than reign *anywhere* rather than limit by an iota of *any* progressive aim. I do know that DKOS, which I frequent regularly, is basically election-oriented and I support the idea pushed by Kos' and the others there that Democrats should sound and act like Democrats, by God!
    Especially when what we stand for is supported by the voters...

  • DCSusie on May 15, 2013 10:32 PM:

    I forget the name, but a retiring Republican congressional committee staffer gave the most concise, accurate summary of the problem a couple of years ago - the principal policy fight the Republicans have with Obama is about his policy of being black. I can only hope that in another 20 years or so when the millenials being to be ascendant, we can finally beginto be purged of our racial poison.