Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Debt ceiling process: it was all about Obama

One more thing about the debt ceiling debacle: the process reminded me, once again, that Barack Obama, like most politicians of our era, is not a political party builder. His brand is personal and those who might be his allies have to know that he'll do whatever he needs to do to maintain his own brand, without any concern for what his actions may do to the Democratic Party at large.

When I read Eric Foner on Abraham Lincoln, I was struck by the extreme lengths to which Lincoln was willing to go to build his party. During the 1850s, he stood down from running for the Senate to maintain a fragile party unity. As President, he knew he had to keep the irritating, moralistic abolitionists from completely bolting -- and this necessity forced him to into situations where he met with Black leaders and gradually came to be able to imagine ending slavery.

But major U.S. politicians don't have to do that kind of party-building/coalition-enhancing work anymore. Any major politician employs his own political consultant or guru, think GWB's Karl Rove or BHO's David Plouffe. The consultant's job doesn't derive from the party; it is dependent on the individual he/she is selling.

Moreover, at root, it is not the party that pays for campaigns. Campaign contributions are gifts (sometimes bribes for access) to the candidate, personally. The Party may matter in down ballot campaigns, but it is marginalized in presidential, senate, gubernatorial and even high profile Congressional contests. In modern campaigning, elections are all about individuals.

Obviously an African-American who managed to become President of the United States knows this in his bones. The Democratic Party was certainly not much there for him in his early days in Hyde Park or even running for the Senate from Illinois -- until he proved he could use charisma to overcome his natural (Black) negatives. There's nothing in that experience that would be likely to make him think that protecting the Party brand mattered at all in fights with the Tea Party Congress.

The reporter Elizabeth Drew, in one of her typical exhaustive and well-sourced explications of DC process, -- titled "What were they thinking?" -- offers several tidbits that reinforce the picture of Obama's actions being determined solely by his personal re-election strategy. She asserts:

The President argued that it’s critical to make cuts that will “get our fiscal house in order,” so that the American people and the politicians would accept the idea of new programs leading to growth and more jobs. But there are numerous indications that the public is ready for such programs now, and serious analysts see no reason why he should not also be taking such steps now, even if this increases the deficit in the short run. But that would be at odds with Obama’s current self-portrayal. People who are looking for work, or worried about their unemployment insurance, or getting their kids to college, may not be impressed with the argument that they must be patient while the President adjusts his fiscal image in time for the 2012 election. ...

“Everything is about the reelect,” [an] observer says—”where the President goes, what he does.”

Plouffe’s advice to the President defines not just Obama’s policies but also his behavior. Plouffe tells the President, according to this observer, that the [independent voter] target group wants him to seem the most reasonable man in the room.

Considering how utterly implausible and downright wacky the Republicans running for President are, this just might work -- though then again, rising unemployment may doom Obama regardless of what he does. If so, the poor, the young, and the elderly -- everyone who needs government -- will pay the price for his image burnishing. Meanwhile, the premises of his re-election campaign will only make it harder for candidates who hope to draw a contrast to Republican ignorance and greed in the 2012 cycle.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails