The Essential Obama
On the post immediately preceding this one, I quoted Gene Sperling, economic advisor to President Obama, as having written in an e-mail to Bob Woodward
The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after; it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations.
Credit for highlighting that statement, in an e-mail which has become much more famous for the controversy over an alleged threat to the author and Washington Post reporter, must go to Firedoglake's Jon Walker. On Thursday, Walker captured the essence of President Obama's budget strategy; in a larger sense, his economic strategy; and in a still larger sense still, his entire Presidency. The following is the full post, verbatim:
The way Obama has handled basically every manufactured crisis from the debt ceiling, to the Bush tax cuts expiration, to the sequester has been about trying to force both Democrats and Republicans to embrace his version of a “grand bargain.” While it is clear this has been the driving force behind Obama’s decisions, if you pay close attention to his actions is is rare than an administration official will directly admit this. This is actually what I think it most interesting about the recently leaked email exchange between Bob Woodward and Gene Sperling up on Politico. Sperling wrote:
But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really. It was assumed by the Rs on the Supercommittee that came right after: it was assumed in the November-December 2012 negotiations. There may have been big disagreements over rates and ratios — but that it was supposed to be replaced by entitlements and revenues of some form is not controversial. (Indeed, the discretionary savings amount from the Boehner-Obama negotiations were locked in in BCA: the sequester was just designed to force all back to table on entitlements and revenues.)
Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Obama also wants to raise taxes, but he only wants to do these unpopular things if he can get bipartisan cover to destroy basic democratic accountability. If everyone is to blame than no one is to blame.
What has sometimes been viewed as incompetence on the part of Obama during negotiations is actually Obama trying to weaken Democrats’ hand to “force” them to accept entitlement cuts while being able to blame it on the mean Republicans.
That is why even now Obama isn’t calling for the sequester to be simply repealed or delayed. Obama still wants to use this manufactured crisis to force congressional Democrats to betray their base by adopting Social Security cuts and get Republicans to accept revenue increases.
Walker has described, with more elegance and substance than I, a President who looks at a chessboard and sees three and four moves in advance.
When Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, U.S. Senators with their eye on the White House, voted to support President Bush's invasion of Iraq, Barack Obama knew to speak out against it. When Hillary Clinton in 2007-2008 believed one candidate would grab the momentum and run away with the nomination, Barack Obama sent David Plouffe out to work on delegates one by one in both primary and caucus states. And a few years earlier, Senator Obama sensed the mood of the nation for bipartisanship, vague religiosity, and freedom from overreaching government when he declared before a nationwide audience
The pundits, the pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
It takes quite an historic President to maneuver members of the party of (F) Roosevelt and Truman to vote to cut Social Security and Medicare. But he has gotten Democratic congressmen (of both houses) to vote to make permanent tax cuts for the wealthy, to overhaul a health care system without offering even a public option, and to go silent on a regimen of spying and prosecution of whistle-blowers which should make George W. Bush figuratively blush. And a cut in Medicare and Social Security benefits probably lies down the road unless Democrats recognize what is happening to the country, and to them.