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Sep 29 2011

Obama, Clinton and Racism

Melissa Harris-Perry has an article in The Nation arguing that President Obama is being held to a different standard than Bill Clinton was because of white liberal racism. I think she’s wrong. Oh, I’m sure there may be some white liberals who do hold such a double standard, but I don’t see any compelling reason to believe that this explains why Obama is receiving so much criticism from the left. I think he’s receiving that criticism because he deserves it and that would be true if he was purple with pink polka dots. I also think she’s ignoring the historical record almost completely.

She begins by arguing that Obama’s career demonstrates the lack of overt electoral racism.

The 2008 general election was another referendum on old-fashioned electoral racism—this time among Democratic voters. The long primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Obama had the important effect of registering hundreds of thousands of Democrats. By October 2008, it was clear that Obama could lose the general election only if a substantial portion of registered Democrats in key states failed to turn out or chose to cross party lines. For Democrats to abandon their nominee after eight years of Bush could be interpreted only as an act of electoral racism.

Not only did white Democratic voters prove willing to support a black candidate; they overperformed in their repudiation of naked electoral racism, electing Obama with a higher percentage of white votes than either Kerry or Gore earned. No amount of birther backlash can diminish the importance of these two election results. We have not landed on the shores of postracial utopia, but we have solid empirical evidence of a profound and important shift in America’s electoral politics.

But then she goes on to argue that there is a more subtle form of racism at work among white liberals that operates by judging a black president on a different standard than a white president. And her evidence for this is an alleged difference in liberal reactions to Obama and Clinton in their first terms:

Still, electoral racism cannot be reduced solely to its most egregious, explicit form. It has proved more enduring and baffling than these results can capture. The 2012 election may be a test of another form of electoral racism: the tendency of white liberals to hold African-American leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts. If old-fashioned electoral racism is the absolute unwillingness to vote for a black candidate, then liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors.

The relevant comparison here is with the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. Today many progressives complain that Obama’s healthcare reform was inadequate because it did not include a public option; but Clinton failed to pass any kind of meaningful healthcare reform whatsoever. Others argue that Obama has been slow to push for equal rights for gay Americans; but it was Clinton who established the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy Obama helped repeal. Still others are angry about appalling unemployment rates for black Americans; but while overall unemployment was lower under Clinton, black unemployment was double that of whites during his term, as it is now. And, of course, Clinton supported and signed welfare “reform,” cutting off America’s neediest despite the nation’s economic growth.

Today, America’s continuing entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan provoke anger, but while Clinton reduced defense spending, covert military operations were standard practice during his administration. In terms of criminal justice, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which decreased judicial disparities in punishment; by contrast, federal incarceration grew exponentially under Clinton. Many argue that Obama is an ineffective leader, but the legislative record for his first two years outpaces Clinton’s first two years. Both men came into power with a Democratically controlled Congress, but both saw a sharp decline in their ability to pass their own legislative agendas once GOP majorities took over one or both chambers…

In 1996 President Clinton was re-elected with a coalition more robust and a general election result more favorable than his first win. His vote share among women increased from 46 to 53 percent, among blacks from 83 to 84 percent, among independents from 38 to 42 percent, and among whites from 39 to 43 percent.

President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected.

I think this is sanitizing history more than just a bit. Bill Clinton received enormous criticism from liberals, particularly after the 1994 midterm elections. It quickly became obvious after he took office that Clinton talked like a liberal but didn’t govern like one, much like Obama. And they both established a similar pattern of making very bold, principled pronouncements of what needed to change, delivering far less than promised and then declaring that they’d really made a serious change.

And the reason why Clinton’s percentages went up in his second election was because there was no serious third party challenge. In 1992, Ross Perot was in the race and got almost 20% of the votes and a huge amount of attention. In 1996, Perot was still on the ticket but only got 8%. The Republican candidate’s support also went up among all those groups from 1992 to 1996, so that is evidence of nothing at all.

I don’t know where she gets the idea that Clinton had enthusiastic support on the left. The unions hammered him for his support of GATT and NAFTA. Proponents of stronger regulation blasted him for his support of deregulating much of the financial industry. Progressive advocates were furious at him over welfare reform. On many of the major bills he signed, far more Republicans had voted for those bills than Democrats. He received serious criticism for it and a lot of liberals voted for him while holding their nose — as I’m sure a lot of liberals will do with Obama as well.

David Sirota responds to Harris-Perry:

There’s no doubt that modern racism does translate into White America as a whole often applying different standards to white and black public figures. (As just one example of that troubling dynamic, see this column I wrote during the 2008 election, noting that while Obama was hammered for his relationship with the black pastor Jeremiah Wright, the media ignored the fact that: A. “John McCain solicited the endorsement of John Hagee — the pastor who called the Catholic Church ‘a great whore,’” and B. Hillary Clinton both belongs to the “Fellowship” — a secretive group “dedicated to ‘spiritual war’ on behalf of Christ” — and is friendly with Billy Graham, the reverend caught on tape spewing anti-Semitism.)

However, just because double-standard racism exists, that doesn’t mean it’s the automatic, case-closed explanation for every political problem faced by African American public figures — especially politicians who are serving during recessions and who have made deliberate base-shattering decisions. Indeed, Harris-Perry’s attempt to invoke the very real phenomenon of racist double standards as a means of explaining away President Obama’s electoral troubles in 2012 willfully ignores a number of important facts.

First and foremost among these is the fact that President Clinton was not “enthusiastically re-elected,” as Harris-Perry well knows. When Clinton triangulated against his liberal base with NAFTA, welfare reform and “don’t ask, don’t tell” (among other issues), he faced just asvociferous liberal criticism as Obama does today, and in the very journals like The Nation for which Harris-Perry now writes.

As a result, America saw the opposite of “enthusiasm” in 1996 — that presidential election, in fact, saw unprecedentedly low turnout. Additionally, Clinton — after dissing his base — won a meager 49 percent of the vote in that election, despite running against one of the weakest, least charismatic Republican presidential nominees in recent memory. In short, just as many white liberals were dissatisfied with a white president for abandoning the Democratic Party’s base back in 1996, so too are many now dissatisfied with a black president for doing the same — or, in many cases, worse.

That “worse” part is another issue that goes unmentioned in Harris-Perry’s denialist screed. In many ways, President Obama’s triangulation against the Democratic base has been far more blatant and overt than even Bill Clinton’s was (though again: many progressives – including me – were and remain as consistently critical of the substance of the Clinton record as they’ve been of the Obama record). The key point is that Obama is a president who hasn’t merely tried but failed to achieve what he promised to achieve. He has deliberately and publicly worked to do the opposite of what he promised on key issues.

This is a president who as a candidate railed on adventurist wars and promised to seek congressional authorization for new wars — and then turned around and initiated new adventurist wars without congressional authorization.

Obama is also a man who criticized Bush-era civil liberties policies as a candidate and then as president not only extended those policies — but, in many cases, actually made them worse. Among other things, he has pressed for longer Patriot Act extensions than congressional Republicansadded bipartisan legitimacy to warrantless wiretapping (which he explicitly promised to end) and claimed autocratic powers that even the extremist Bush administration never dared to claim (for example, the power to assassinate American citizens without charge).

Quite so. Obama is receiving all that criticism from the left because he deserves it, because time and time again he hasn’t just failed to achieve what he said he would, he has actively done the exact opposite. Clinton did the same thing, of course. And he rightly got criticized for it too.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    Relative to adventurist wars, Iraq/Afghanistan in particular, the president is doing exactly what he promised to do namely withdrawing from Iraq and increasing the commitment in Afghanistan. The critics seem to forget that he stated on numerous occasions, that the commitment in Afghanistan would be strengthened. Thus the critics, at least in this regard, don’t have a leg to stand on.

    With respect to Libya, the commitment of US forces there was minimal. He allowed Cameron and Sarkozy to carry the ball, an action which was much criticized by the neocon contingent. This was a far cry from Bushes’ action in Iraq which was based on the false assertion that there were weapons of mass destruction there.

  2. 2
    dogmeat

    I didn’t particularly like Clinton, I don’t particularly like Obama. To be honest I’d likely have taken Dole over any of the 2012 potential Republicans. Over the last decade or so I truly wish we had a parliamentary system more similar to Germany’s. Our system is so broken that I’m stuck voting for a guy who belongs in the opposition party because the actual opposition party has gone stark raving insane.

  3. 3
    jamessweet

    The other odd things is that Harris-Perry’s piece doesn’t seem to even acknowledge the role that electoral misogyny may or may not have played in Obama’s primary victory. I’m not saying that was the deciding factor or anything; I’m actually not asserting anything. I’m just saying it’s really weird to point to Obama’s primary win as solely a repudiation of electoral racism, without even examining the possibility that it could have been a manifestation of electoral misogyny.

  4. 4
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    For me, there are very few situations in which a single decision, policy or strategy can turn me against a politician, especially if I have supported them in the past.

    President Obama has come out strongly against the right to life in the absence of due-process protections ensuring that those to be deprived of life (in the language of the constitution, “murdered” or “killed” in the vernacular) have, in fact, been accused, were aware of the crime for which they faced possible punishment, received meaningful legal counsel and a meaningful opportunity to challenge the government case, and were determined by a jury of their peers to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    This man believes that it is acceptable to murder US citizens so that US citizens do not have to fear murder.

    WHAT?

    If there was ever an occasion for ZOMGWTFBBQ, this is it.

    This man believes that the government can and should murder those it has sworn to protect.

    There is nothing this man can do to regain my support unless and until he entirely repudiates this.

    –)->

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    I defended this piece over at my blog, but not on the political substance (with which I am not familiar). My point, and I think hers, was that this is a possible way of investigating the existence and magnitude of non-overt racism present in the liberal base – a base which makes a habit of denying such bias.

    I’m a fellow former supporter who has been appalled at the terrible job this president has done in terms of both leadership and sticking to the principles of the people who elected him. That being said, we should not ignore the potential role that race has played in this presidency, or the re-election.

    We’re beginning to see the return of ‘Campaign Obama’, and it remains to be seen whether or not the American people are willing to recognize that the Republicans do NOT have their best interests in mind. I imagine that this next election will look very similar to Clinton II.

  6. 6
    Ace of Sevens

    There’s also the issue that progressives expect progress, so being no worse than the gut 16 years earlier won’t really make them happy. Think if he were a computer manufacturer giving us computers just as good as the ones Bill Clinton made in 1995. People wouldn’t buy them and it wouldn’t be because of racism.

  7. 7
    Michael Heath

    Crommunist:

    I’m a fellow former supporter who has been appalled at the terrible job this president has done in terms of both leadership and sticking to the principles of the people who elected him.

    The latter would be impossible given those principles are all over the map. In addition presidents have no obligation to pander to their base(s), their obligation is instead to the Constitution and the country’s interests, similar to a U.S. Senator. We demand they make tough decisions and lead, not follow the whims of polls, even if those positions are justifiably and strongly held. You seem to be arguing that Mr. Obama isn’t acting like a U.S. Representative from a district with no controversies on the issues. From my perspective the president’s actions aren’t all that much different than what he campaigned to do, with the exception of his having to adjust to a conservative movement is becoming increasingly nihilistic and dangerous to U.S. interests, which has forced his hand on accepting some conservative planks. Yes, unfortunately for all us, the conservative political strategy to hold the country hostage has been successful; that is the reality under which the president must operate – he has no choice.

    In addition Congressional conservatives in both the Republican party and the Democratic party have made it and continue to make it impossible for Obama’s centrist policies to get passed, let alone the even more liberal preferences of liberals. Lastly, I suggest reading Alter and Wolf’s books on the Obama presidency in the first years. The president faced mutiny within the intelligence community if it attempted to criminally prosecute those who administrated Bush’s torture regime; at the very time the economy and job losses were recognized to be in far worse shape than previously understood.

    I’m still a critic of the President’s failure to go after Bush’s enablers and executors of torture, including President Bush and VP Cheney. However I at least appreciate the context within which the liberal base should voice its frustration. I don’t begrudge liberals their frustration, in fact I agree with their frustration; but I do think it’s unfair to project it all onto President Obama with few exceptions. What liberals should be doing is what conservatives do when they don’t get their way, which is to whip up some energy, grow their base, get their base’s representatives elected from the grass roots up the U.S. House, i.e. win at politics to order to sufficient power to govern. Currently I perceive mostly impotent whining, a primary reason I didn’t leave the Republican party to become a Democratic, but instead remain an independent in spite of preferring being a party member.

  8. 8
    slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #7

    What liberals should be doing is what conservatives do when they don’t get their way, which is to whip up some energy, grow their base, get their base’s representatives elected from the grass roots up the U.S. House, i.e. win at politics to order to sufficient power to govern.

    Mr. Michael Heath is exactly right; that’s what the teabaggers did in 2010. However, based on my experience, the liberals will never do this; they much prefer to stand outside the tent and whine about the perfidy of it all. Grass roots politics, e.g. getting down in the trenches, is just too much work for the liberals, in addition to which they would have to interact with the great unwashed hoi polloi (e.g. the peasants) whom they delight in looking down upon.

  9. 9
    pliny

    Yves Smith also put together a pretty good destruction of this nonsense

    One part is a killer quote from Corey Rubin:

    It occurred to me that there are five facts that Harris-Perry needs to establish that she nowhere establishes. I’d be satisfied if she could establish at least some of them, but she doesn’t establish any of them. These are the facts that need to be established:

    1. White liberals are significantly less supportive of Obama than they used to be.
    2. The drop in white liberal support for Obama at this point is significantly greater than it was for Clinton at a comparable point (or frankly at any point) prior to his reelection.
    3. The drop in white liberal support for Obama is significantly greater than the drop in black or Latino liberal support for Obama.
    4. The differential among liberals between white and black or Latino support for Obama is significantly larger than the differential, if it existed, between white and black or Latino support for Clinton.
    5. That larger differential, if it exists, is a reflection of declining white support for Obama rather than increasing or persistent black or Latino support for Obama.

    Again, I’m not asking that she establish all of these facts, but having failed to establish any of them, it’s hard to see whether or not there’s even a problem here that needs to be analyzed.

  10. 10
    Ed Brayton

    Crommunist wrote:

    I defended this piece over at my blog, but not on the political substance (with which I am not familiar). My point, and I think hers, was that this is a possible way of investigating the existence and magnitude of non-overt racism present in the liberal base – a base which makes a habit of denying such bias.

    There are two things here that are obviously true. Yes, racial bias really does exist and it can affect elections. And yes, those who exhibit such biases will usually deny them. But that doesn’t mean every accusation of such bias is true or that every denial of such bias is false. The problem is that Harris-Perry simply hasn’t made the case for her position. The evidence she cited was largely inaccurate (no, liberals did not enthusiastically back Clinton, they criticized him strongly just as they have Obama), irrelevant (increase in support among nearly all demographic groups is a given when there isn’t a strong third party challenger) and missing all context (like all of the legitimate reasons there are to criticize Obama that have nothing at all to do with race). It’s absolutely true that racial bias exists and does affect people’s political choices, but it’s still incumbent on the person making the claim to make a rational case for it.

  11. 11
    Infophile

    @7 Michael Heath:

    … From my perspective the president’s actions aren’t all that much different than what he campaigned to do, with the exception of his having to adjust to a conservative movement is becoming increasingly nihilistic and dangerous to U.S. interests, which has forced his hand on accepting some conservative planks. Yes, unfortunately for all us, the conservative political strategy to hold the country hostage has been successful; that is the reality under which the president must operate – he has no choice.

    In addition Congressional conservatives in both the Republican party and the Democratic party have made it and continue to make it impossible for Obama’s centrist policies to get passed, let alone the even more liberal preferences of liberals. …

    I think you’re giving Obama too much credit here, in one way or another (depending on what’s actually going on in Obama’s mind). Nothing gets past Congress without compromise, and Obama would be an idiot not to know this. If what he wanted was a centrist policy, and he knew he faced conservative opposition, the logical move would be to start from a liberal position, expecting future negotiations to result in a centrist bill. Obama never does this. He starts from a centrist position and negotiates right from there. He’s therefore either a shit-poor negotiator (and so we’re justified in criticizing him for this) or he’s a stealth conservative (in which case he’s not actually holding up the values he campaigned on, and we can criticize him for this).

    To provide an illustrative example of every significant debate we’ve had since Obama took office, here we have our two contenders:

    Obama – Thinks the best solution is to raise taxes $100 on the rich.
    Republican – Thinks the best solution is to raise taxes $0 on the rich.

    Obama (thinks): I’ll never be able to get a $100 tax hike through… I’ll have to compromise at $50.
    Obama: How about a $50 tax increase?
    Republican: No. $0.
    Obama: Well… how about a $40 tax increase.
    Republican: No, you Kenyan-born invader. $0.
    Obama: $30. That’s more than fair.
    Republican: Fair for HITLER! $0.
    Obama: Fine. $20, final offer.
    Republican: $0, and you’re lucky I’m not asking for taxes to be lowered, you Nazi.
    Obama: Well then let’s compromise. $10, right in the middle of our offers.
    Republican: I’ll give you $1 to shut up.
    Obama: $1 it is. Thank you for being so generous and willing to compromise.
    Republican: Obama is destroying America by making us pay $1 more in taxes!

    Sure, the Republican party may be willing to hold the country hostage to get their way, trusting that Obama will be blamed if the economy implodes, but that doesn’t mean that giving in is the only option. Take the recent debt limit debacle as an example. If the time limit had passed without a resolution, the people hit hardest would be senior citizens, thanks to the government being unable to afford social security and medicare. Senior citizens are known for being some of most motivated voters around, and almost everyone in the country could see that the Democrats were willing to compromise to find a solution but the Republicans weren’t. Do you see where I’m going here? Obama didn’t. He could have put pressure on Republican congresspeople to compromise, held a final vote on a compromised bill at the deadline, and promised to remind senior citizens of exactly which congresspeople voted to let the government default on Social Security payments come election season.

    But no, he caved, and he gave the Republicans everything they wanted. This isn’t just hindsight talking either – go back and read this blog’s comments while the issue was ongoing, and you’ll see this proposed there (I forget by whom and on which post, sorry).

    I do agree that liberals need to do more to get their base riled up, voting, and pushing more liberal (further to the left, not more numerous) candidates into elections, but don’t forget that the right has a huge advantage here monetarily. Corporate interests align with conservative causes more often than with liberal causes. This weights the media to the right, making it an order of magnitude easier to organize a grass-roots (or astroturf) conservative movement such as the Tea Party than it would be to organize a similar liberal movement.

    And on a final note, not everyone here lives in the US, but the policies of the country at the top of the hegemony affect rest of the world. We don’t get a vote, so don’t criticize us for “whining” when using our voices is all that we can do. (I know your comment was targeted at Americans; I say this mostly to head off any rebuttals along this line of argument.)

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    Infophile

    He starts from a centrist position and negotiates right from there. He’s therefore either a shit-poor negotiator (and so we’re justified in criticizing him for this) or he’s a stealth conservative (in which case he’s not actually holding up the values he campaigned on, and we can criticize him for this).

    I think it’s justified criticizing the president for his [lack of] negotiation skills. This was a central concern I had of him in ’08 given his lack of executive experience. However I also think a lot of liberal fantasies were projected onto a guy who is clearly a loyal establishmentarian with Burkean respect for our institutions.

    I saw a video of him a couple of months ago where he also made the argument we shouldn’t even expect to get what we wanted but instead work to achieve what is possible. Lastly there’s the concern that as a black man, taking a position left of where he wants to end-up would create an incredible firestorm and even more obstructionism from conservatives, if the latter is even possible.

    So while I empathize with his unique dilemma, which is extraordinary given we’ve never encountered the current level of obstructionism from the minority party with the exception of the Civil War; I do think he’s not putting nearly enough resources on game-planning out negotiation results and working backward to develop tactics which result in better outcomes. Savvy executives both think like this and act like this. I don’t see these skills fully developed in Obama yet though I do see glimmers he’s cognizant he’s weak in this area.

    It’ll be interesting to see how his new jobs bill and perhaps the super committee thing work-out. He’s certainly tacked to a more aggressive posture on the former.

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    Infophile:

    Senior citizens are known for being some of most motivated voters around, and almost everyone in the country could see that the Democrats were willing to compromise to find a solution but the Republicans weren’t. Do you see where I’m going here?

    Yeah, once again he and his party played the adult and defended the country’s interests at the expense of his own and his party’s political prospects. It’s depressing more Americans don’t appreciate such behavior. His and the Democrats being the only grown-ups now seem to be spurring on the Republicans to act even more irresponsibly, where GOP wins in 2010 argues we’ll encounter even more nihilism and juvenile behavior from conservatives.

    Infophile:

    And on a final note, not everyone here lives in the US, but the policies of the country at the top of the hegemony affect rest of the world. We don’t get a vote, so don’t criticize us for “whining” when using our voices is all that we can do. (I know your comment was targeted at Americans; I say this mostly to head off any rebuttals along this line of argument.)

    I think these are both excellent points worth repeating.

    I spent the ’90s and early-’00s traveling to many other countries on business. Those experiences had me better appreciating the huge impact the U.S. has on the rest of the world and the incredible opportunities which await those countries with competent governments. Their reliance only increases given conservative denialism and obstructionism to confront and mitigate climate change. Your point therefore amplifies how critical it is for liberals to take advice like mine to get more politically engaged and competent committing politics.

    An interesting anecdote which piles on slc1′s point. We all saw a relatively monolithic set of behaviors during the Tea Party rallies in 2009. We then compared the Jon Stewart rally where the distinguishing characteristic of those in his audience who were interviewed were they liked to attend parties like Stewarts, but they couldn’t be bothered to vote in off-election seasons like the Nov-10 elections.

  14. 14
    Pete M

    While I think there are plenty of principled reasons to criticize some of the Obama administration’s actions, I wonder if there isn’t a pretty straightforward alternative explanation for Obama receiving more criticism than Clinton (if indeed this is actually true). The Clinton years were by and large prosperous, while the Obama presidency is taking place under conditions of high unemployment, exploding debt, and so on. I suspect that lots more people are upset, and not just because of Guantanamo Bay. I’m certainly not blaming these structural factors on Obama (though I think more needed to be done in terms of stimulus spending), but a bad economy leads to a whole bunch of pissed off people without any need for racism as a factor.

  15. 15
    Infophile

    Yeah, once again he and his party played the adult and defended the country’s interests at the expense of his own and his party’s political prospects. It’s depressing more Americans don’t appreciate such behavior. His and the Democrats being the only grown-ups now seem to be spurring on the Republicans to act even more irresponsibly, where GOP wins in 2010 argues we’ll encounter even more nihilism and juvenile behavior from conservatives.

    For a bit of perspective here, I’ve lived in Canada for the past 7ish years. For most of that time, we’ve had a Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who led a minority government. With a parliamentary system of governance, what usually happens with a minority government is that they compromise a bit and form an alliance with the other party they can tolerate the most, getting the needed votes to pass legislation.

    Not so with this government. Rather, the strategy for a long time was to play a game of Chicken with Parliament. They would attach to nearly every bill a statement of confidence, which meant that voting down the bill would amount to a vote of no-confidence and force an election. Multiple rapid elections would drain money from both the government and the political parties (affecting the other parties more heavily than the Conservatives, since the Conservatives got more corporate donations), so the other parties usually wanted to avoid this.

    So if any specific piece of legislation were voted down, it would result in an election that no one particularly wanted. But since no specific piece of legislation was voted down, the Conservative government got away with doing a lot of things that potentially added up to more harm than a single election would have done (or possibly even multiple elections – it’s not really something that can be measured).

    So, bringing this back to the US, the Republican party is more than willing to hold the country hostage to get what it wants. As such, they can slowly cause harm to the nation in various ways, every time an issue like this comes up. It might well be better in the long run for the Democrats to fight back, risking a catastrophe in order to invalidate this strategy.

    I’ll admit that I say this somewhat naively, and without a good grasp of exactly how bad hitting the debt ceiling would have been. (And of course, it’s impossible to predict the effects of future Republican stonewalling, so it’s impossible to definitively decide which outcome is worse.) It’s quite possible that that particular crisis wasn’t worth fighting over, but it’s hardly the only time this has come up. With Obama’s pattern of poor negotiation, this strikes me more as a continuation of that pattern than it does as him deciding that this particular issue wasn’t worth fighting.

    Republicans have been doing this for quite a while, I should point out. The whole “Two Santas” theory of governance is based on a game of Chicken with the Democrats. When Republicans are in power, they cut taxes and increase spending. When Democrats are in party, they have raise taxes and/or decrease spending to prevent the government from running out of money. To the naive citizen, the Republicans are doing good things for them, and the Democrats aren’t.

    It’s possible that the best thing Obama could do for the Democratic party would be to keep the country at the edge of the debt ceiling until he leaves office, so the Republicans are put into the position of doing something about it for a change. I’m not hopeful enough to think he plans to do this, but it just might end up being the case anyway.

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