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Posted on February 22, 2010
Having watched Bill Clinton’s presidency from the vantage point of a Republican on Capitol Hill, I became used to a smart administration that could turn on a dime to reflect changing political realities. If the direction the President was going didn’t work or he was roundly criticized for a decision, a different tack was adopted. More often than not, it seemed that the President consistently got the upper hand on the loyal opposition and maintained high approval ratings for most of his eight years.
Having seen only the Clinton presidency, I used to be under the impression that the Clinton way was simply how Administrations, full of savvy operatives, handled politics. The Bush years disabused me of that notion. For good and/or for bad, the Bush Administration did not have multiple tacks. Call it principled or stubborn, there were simply no adjustments. For the first few years, every time a decision was poorly received by the public, I expected a shift, even if only in body language, from the Administration. Nope. Didn’t happen.
After a while, I came to expect that resilience to public opinion, but I assumed it was a Bushie characteristic. That is, until now. President Obama has seen major political losses in states he carried (New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts) and widespread Congressional backtracking on healthcare. Having considered these events, today he unveiled what was to be a new starting point for the debate. It’s his most detailed proposal to date (one year late), yet not quite detailed enough for the CBO to actually score.
Some were concerned that an $871 billion Senate bill would doom future budgets and darken our economic future. No worries. Obama’s heard the people. The new bill will cost about $1 trillion. The other great irony is that while he is mouthing the words about bipartisanship and preparing for a health care summit worthy of his beer summit, the bill is expressly designed to pass through the Reconciliation process. While he (again) would only need Democrats to pass, success is unlikely due to Senate Chaos Theory.
My father tells a story about a Jesuit professor at his alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross. When a student came and complained about having received a ‘C’ the priest listened patiently to his pupil’s arguments, considered their merits, rescinded the grade and bestowed on the supplicant a ‘D.’ I always get a kick out of that tale, whether apocryphal or not. It’s not so funny in real life.