As I see it the endless debate over Obama's leadership skills breaks down to three theories: 1) Obama's a weak President, 2) Obama's getting the conservative policies he's wanted all along, or 3) Obama is getting the best results possible considering the circumstances.
To those who support option number three, that Obama has gotten all that could be expected of a Democractic President right now, I would say we just had a traditional marriage republican vote in support of gay marriage in New York. Republican townhallers angry over their representative's support of the Ryan plan showed the right can be made to see the light if someone bothers explaining republican policies to them. Jon Stewart took less than 30 minutes to shame the right over the 9/11 Responders Bill and the President has a pretty big audience himself. And Michael Moore managed to find a Wisconsin mic and tell the nation "America's not broke" without ever bursting into flames.
And let's not forget people like this:
And nearly three-quarters of those who favor smaller government said they would prefer it even if it meant spending on domestic programs would be cut.
But in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security — the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on “waste.”
Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.
Others could not explain the contradiction.
“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”
All it took was one sentence for her to turn her brain on. Think she's alone?
What I've come to realize is that even if those things weren't true I would still disagree with those who suggest that in these situations the outcome would have been the same. What would have been different if Obama had tried harder is that you wouldn't have a bunch of Dems pissed at him for not trying harder. Does rallying the base mean nothing? If it wouldn't have changed anything then what's there to lose? It may not have changed policy but it sure would have changed politics. What a nice change for the Left to wake up energized instead of pissed off for once. It's the difference between losing a fight and refusing one.
That's why Obama's capitulations sting so much - it's the way they're done. By going into these behind the scenes secret negotiations with McConnell and Boehner he is denying the Democratic party the right to have their debate, to argue their positions. [Update: this would be tolerable if Obama didn't keep coming back with compromises that piss off his base when left to his own devices.] But it wasn't until after the secret talks on the debt ceiling fell through that Obama took his case to the people - and it was a case of a Democratic President arguing for why we should cut entitlements instead of why we shouldn't.
Obama says he wants to do the big things but that's not the same as doing the right thing. The validity of a policy should not be based on how much it pisses off your base. Otherwise you're basically saying the more Democrats want something less likely they are to get it. However much Obama loves being President he seems to have no interest in his role as head of the Democratic party. He wants all the perks of the former and none of the responsibilities of the latter. And with the right wing so crazy he can get away with it. The biggest threat to Obama right now is a sane republican. And that's great - unless you're a Democrat.
I distinctly remember 2006, when the political debate on Iraq started swinging the Dems way towards the mid-terms. The late Tony Snow had been going out and pushing the Bush Administration's argument to "Stay the Course." Then one day he suddenly came out and said "We've never been for stay the course", prompting Jon Stewart to mock "don't these guys realize we're recording this stuff?" My point is that it wasn't the bodies or the lack of WMD's that motivated the Bush Administration to change course on Iraq. It was only when Iraq started hurting them politically that they considered change. I don't know what that says about Obama, but doing in the name of the Democrats that which the Left has spent 30 years trying to keep republicans from doing is not what I signed up for. We are told to stop complaining and do something, and we did. Among other things, we voted Democratic. And now we get to do it again. Did we vote for the man, or the ideal?
Sun Tzu said sometimes you have to sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal. The republicans understand this. That could be an argument in Obama's favor, or against him. I haven't decided which yet.