My thoughts are simple: the man is a political idiot. He wanted to be a transformative figure and being the first Black man elected President gave him a huge leg up on the project. But he has never apparently understood that policy options that satisfy "experts" and mollify centrist opinion mongers merely make a President mediocre. Transformative Presidents build the political force to sustain their achievements.
Abraham Lincoln is generally thought the country's greatest President. His policy choices saved the integrity of the country and ended slavery -- that's greatness alright. But we forget that he accomplished this while somehow building a new political party out of northern businessmen, urban workers, small farmers on the frontier -- and the unruly, noisy chorus of moralist abolitionists. He knew he needed the absolutists, even if they were the most fractious bit of the potential ruling coalition. And somehow he held all these tendencies together, won the war, and won the future by launching the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. Now that's transformative. (See here and here.)
Obama simply doesn't seem to understand that nothing he does -- Obamacare, any "grand fiscal bargain" -- will survive if he doesn't leave behind an organized constituency (a Party) to defend his policies. Maybe if Obamacare ever gets off the ground it will develop a constituency, but a Rube Goldberg machine like this seems more likely to be picked apart before people form any attachment too it. The "there that is there" is too opaque. And by abetting Republicans at picking away at the structure of Social Security -- that's what chained CPI does -- he's throwing away whatever allegiance his Party commands as the defender of middle class citizens. (Another Democrat, Bill Clinton, kicked poor women under the bus a couple of decades ago.) Sure, he might even achieve some slight of hand that means that the cuts aren't as harmful as they seem on first glance -- the former Obama budget director is peddling this line today. But he's putting himself and his party on record against the fundamental wish most citizens have of government -- that it provide some basic security. This is a prescription for seeing even the good he's done washed away in his wake. The spectacle is sad and infuriating because the people need to the government to do its job. That's why we have it. And watching Obama fumble the politics is getting boring; we saw all this in the 2011 debt ceiling debacle. Nothing much has changed.
We're thrown back to the truism: if (organized) people lead, maybe the leaders will follow.