Sunday, November 11, 2012

I Would Prefer Not To, Part 2

Vast Left kindly gave my earlier post a boost on Facebook, though he disagreed with my remarks about Obama's "competence".
IMHO, the competence argument presupposes things about Obama's objectives, or at a minimum tempts us to do so. I suppose one might reasonably imagine Obama sought some sort of braggable closure in the Grand Bargain negotiations, but even that is speculation. And, importantly, what objective did his incompetence cause him to fail at? It's only a failure if you sought a different outcome.
Two things here.  One is that VL evidently missed my reference to the negotiation, not of the deficit deal, but of Obama's 2009 stimulus package.  Maybe I should have put in a link, and I'll add one later, to Obama's own admission that he hadn't done such a good job on that one:
Now in retrospect, I could have told Barack Obama in December of 2009 that if you already have a third of the package as tax cuts, then the Republicans, who traditionally are more comfortable with tax cuts, may just pocket that and attack the other components of the program. And it might have been better for us not to include tax cuts in the original package, let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts, and then say, O.K., you know, we’ll compromise and give you your tax cuts, even though we had already proposed them.
Yesterday VastLeft tweeted "When the job is fucking over the most vulnerable people, the last topic that interests me is competence."  This is mildly alarming; it seems that VL can't grasp anything but the most direct ("Am too! Are not!") argument.  If what I wrote presupposed Obama's competence, it was only hypothetically, for the sake of argument. What I was getting at was not so complex: it was If X, then Y; if not-X, then not-Y: Even if Obama was trying to engineer an economic stimulus that would help the most vulnerable, he did a bad job of it.  He said so himself.  Just as Obama admitted that he did a poor job in his first debate with Mitt Romney.  Is it necessary to be a good debater to be a good President?  Not as far as I'm concerned; but it was still worth noting that he is not a good debater.  (And this is an easy, safe criticism to make, since almost all of his most devoted apologists agreed with it.)  It is, I think, important for a President to be a competent negotiator; it's a significant part of the job.

But it also follows from what I wrote in that post (that the principles you stand up for must be good ones) that it's not enough to be a competent negotiator, one must also be negotiating toward a good end.  If Obama was trying to push through a stimulus deal that would help the majority of Americans, he shouldn't have undermined it by offering tax cuts up front that would undercut its effectiveness.  (If not-X, then not-Y.)  This suggests that improving the economy for the 99% was not his goal, which seems likely, given his record.  This involved the real risk that an underperforming economy would hurt his chances of re-election, but Obama wouldn't have been the first president to run such a risk: Bill Clinton did just that by pushing through NAFTA in 1993, the Democrats lost control of Congress as a result, and Clinton might not have gone on to a second term; like Obama last week, Clinton won his second term by a relatively narrow margin.  Obama's re-election wasn't a foregone conclusion either, and the limping economy worried his partisans. On the other hand the economy was going well for the ultra-rich, with record high profits, but that crucial part of his base was strikingly ungrateful, despite the yeoman service he'd rendered them.  Fortunately for Obama, the Republicans fielded a stellar ticket of fools and bigots -- but even so, the popular vote was a close thing.  The gap between Romney and Obama in the Electoral College was much more dramatic, which is no doubt why those numbers have gotten so much display.  (Not that American Presidents ever need to worry for their well-being when they're turned out of office.)

Now that Obama is in the catbird seat, we'll see him negotiating a Grand Bargain to keep us from going over the Fiscal Cliff.  There's been talk of how good Obama's position is now, compared to 2009 or the debt ceiling battle of 2011.  But by now his goal is pretty clear, a destructive one, so it doesn't matter whether he's a competent negotiator or not.  Whether Boehner or Obama emerges the victor in the Grand Bargaining, most Americans (and most of the world) will lose.  But don't worry: Neither Obama nor his lovely wife nor his beautiful little girls will ever miss a meal, and isn't that what really matters?  What Obama fan wouldn't be happy to go hungry to keep them comfortable?

It's also odd that VL is still hammering away at a point that isn't central to the post he praised so generously; but now I've devoted too much attention to it myself, so on to other matters.  The elections are finally over, and America's best minds can turn their attention to really important subjects: football and basketball.