The Battle Ahead

By Dan Froomkin
12:31 PM ET, 03/16/2009

I've been arguing for a while now that establishment Washington -- complicit in so many of the irresponsible policies that President Obama is trying to reverse -- would inevitably put up resistance.

And while I've been largely focusing on Obama's domestic policy, I should note that Fareed Zakaria, writing in Newsweek, makes the case that the same thing is happening in the foreign policy realm as well. Obama's "striking moves in foreign policy" have left "the Washington establishment... mostly fretting, dismayed in one way or another by most of these moves." Indeed, Zakaria writes: "The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own — Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it's imperial policy. And it isn't likely to work in today's world."

Anyway, last week it became abundantly obvious that inside the Beltway, the honeymoon was definitely over.

Providing more evidence, the headline on Washington Post opinion columnist David S. Broder's Sunday column was: "End of the Honeymoon": "His critics in Washington and around the world have found their voices, and they are subjecting his administration to the kind of skeptical questioning that is normal for chief executives once they settle into their jobs," Broder writes.

"Congress has taken note of the way Obama backed down from his anti-earmark stance, a clear signal that he is leery of any showdown with the lawmakers. Despite his popularity, Obama is not an intimidating figure, and so he can expect to be tested time and again.

"Meantime, on the main challenge -- the economy -- the criticism has begun to infect the mainstream media as well as the conservative wing."

Somewhat along those lines, Steven Thomma and David Lightman write for McClatchy Newspapers: "If he tries to do too much, some analysts say, he could end up a modern-day Jimmy Carter, blazing into town and throwing the kitchen sink at Congress, only to end his first year in office with a pile of broken plumbing."

And in Sunday's Washington Post Scott Wilson writes that Obama's talk about how he inherited a fiscal crisis is somehow risky and hypocritical because of his pledge to rise above partisan politics.

"Over the past month, Obama has reminded the public at every turn that he is facing problems 'inherited' from the Bush administration, using increasingly bracing language to describe the challenges his administration is up against. The 'deepening economic crisis' that the president described six days after taking office became 'a big mess' in remarks this month to graduating police cadets in Columbus, Ohio," Wilson writes.

"Obama's more frequent and acid reminders that former president George W. Bush left behind a trillion-dollar budget deficit, a 14-month recession and a broken financial system have come at the same time Republicans have ramped up criticism that the current president's policies are compounding the nation's economic problems.

"Obama had initially been content to leave partisan defense strategy to his proxies, but as the fiscal picture has continued to darken, he has appeared more willing to risk his image as a politician who is above petty partisanship to personally remind the public of Bush's legacy."

Repeat: "[F]or Obama, who built his candidacy on a promise to rise above Washington's divisive partisan traditions -- winning over many independent voters and moderate Republicans in the process -- blaming his predecessor holds special risks."

But Obama has governed since day one as the anti-Bush. He's made no secret at all that he sees his presidency as, at heart, all about fixing the mistakes of the Bush years and addressing the issues Bush overlooked.

And, anyway, is reminding people of how we got here -- especially if he's right -- really so partisan? Heck, he's not even telling the public anything it doesn't know already. After all, the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that an overwhelming 84 percent of Americans feel Obama inherited the current economic conditions.

Wilson's piece has elicited 2709 comments and counting. That's a lot of comments.

Liberal bloggers see it as a hit job. John Cole blogged: "I'm not sure how noting he inherited the mess is petty partisan politics, as it seems to me it is just plain fact. He also inherited two wars. Is it petty partisan politics to note that?" Jonathan Singer blogs for MyDD: "Reading through this article, you get the sense that The Post thinks that President Obama is making it up or something."

Conservatives rejoiced. Moe Lane wrote in the Red State blog: "Be grateful that the Washington Post is at least catching up to the rest of us."

So, finally, in light of all the pushback from establishment Washington, this news shouldn't come as a big surprise.

Chris Cillizza writes in The Washington Post: "President Obama will kick off an all-out grass-roots effort today urging Congress to pass his $3.55 trillion budget, activating the extensive campaign apparatus he built during his successful 2008 candidacy for the first time since taking office.

"The campaign, which will be run under the aegis of the Democratic National Committee, will rely heavily on the 13 million-strong e-mail list put together during the campaign and now under the control of Organizing for America (OFA), a group overseen by the DNC. Aides familiar with the plan said it is an unprecedented attempt to transfer the grass-roots energy built during the presidential campaign into an effort to sway Congress....

"David Plouffe, who was Obama's campaign manager and is now an adviser to OFA,... said in a statement that it will call on supporters 'to help the President win the debate between those who marched in lockstep with the failed Bush economic policies and now have no new ideas versus the Obama agenda which will help us manage the short term economic crisis and puts us on the path to long term prosperity.'...

"Several people closely involved in this campaign's planning made it clear that they believe this is the moment Democrats have been waiting for since Obama's election -- the deployment of the volunteer army that helped catapult a freshman senator to the presidency."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company