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The Battle Ahead

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."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 16, 2009; 12:31 PM ET
Categories:  Obama v. D.C.  
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I posted this comment (or words to that effect) in the comments thread to Scott Wilson's article and I'll repeat it here: "blaming Bush" is not a new tactic for Obama; it's been his refrain all along, not just since "day one" of his presidency, but since day one of his CAMPAIGN. Go back and listen to his acceptance speech in Denver, for heaven's sake. What does Wilson think the word "change" means, after all?

This feigned shock that Obama's "post-partisan" vision actually includes criticism of the outrageously partisan, take-no-prisoners Bush/Cheney/Rove legacy, is all just smoke and mirrors. The straw man they've set up is the supposedly magic-working, walk-on-water, anointed Messiah who supposedly claimed he would be able to fix everything and never upset, offend, or expect anything of anybody. In reality, he has ALWAYS issued clear condemnations of the previous administration's policies and tactics, and made no bones about the fact that people would have to give up stuff in the interest of the general welfar.

So far, I'm relieved the public isn't buying the calumny. But you can bet that the stream of mock-umbrage, lies, and straw men is not going to abate one iota.

Posted by: herzliebster | March 16, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Obama had a golden opportunity in this budget to assert his authority over both parties. No more unmistakable signal could have been given. No earmarks means no earmarks. I wish he'd vetoed it.

Posted by: Attucks | March 16, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps political reporting is necessarily subjective to some irreducible degree and defies any wholly objective framework with which it can be presented.

That being said, what bothered me about the Scott Wilson piece in Sundays WaPo was that it was put forth as reporting rather than opinion.

Posted by: PatD1 | March 16, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

The establishment has no interest in seeing Obama succeed--his plan would demolish too many cozy relationships on both sides of the aisle. They jump on the bandwagon as long as it's popular, then jump off again when it appears to be losing steam.
That way, they can appear to be winners regardless of the situation.
It's hypocrisy but then again, that is DC's stock in trade.
Obama is best off using his political capital (which will never be higher than it is now) to ram through these changes despite the "death by apathy" at which DC excels. He can do it now or watch the window of opportunity close by mid-summer.
My bet is he'll do it now.

Posted by: dbitt | March 16, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Ah, where is this supposed Obama promise to "no earmarks?" I haven't found it, despite repetition from the mind of Broder.

McCain promised to eliminate earmarks.

Obama promised to _reduce_ earmarks.

Posted by: boscobobb | March 16, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse


You squandered your credibility.

Anyone who uses the word "Messiah" in referring to our president is obviously spending too much time listening to certain talk radio personalities and cable television networks.

Posted by: boscobobb | March 16, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke did a great interview with CBS 60 Minutes last night. It’s nice to know that the recession “might” end this year. He ruled out the big banks going to zero, which is great news for Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C). This should support global stock markets for at least another day, and every day helps! Who knew he missed only one question on his SAT test to score a 1590 and that his mother didn’t want him to go to Harvard because he didn’t have the right clothes? I bet it was a question in the verbal section. It was all a nice bit of hand holding while we may be enduring the worst quarter for the economy in a century. If we don’t surpass the -8.1% seen in Q1, 1981, it will certainly be in the top three worst quarters of all time. Anyone going shopping, visiting a car dealer, or waiting in long lines for unemployment benefits will tell you this. By the way, BAC is now trading like a penny stock, up nearly triple from last week’s low. A BAC triple? Pinch me!

Posted by: TheMadHedgeFundTrader | March 16, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

"And, anyway, is reminding people of how we got here -- especially if he's right -- really so partisan?"

He's not reminding the people. He's reminding the myopic, extremely shorted sighted and self-serving punditry in the beltway.

Posted by: troyd2009 | March 16, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

@PatD1: "what bothered me about the Scott Wilson piece in Sundays WaPo was that it was put forth as reporting rather than opinion"

The George Will/climate change kerfuffle made it exceedingly evident that WaPo is no longer interested in distinguishing between fact and fantasy. Management is undoubtedly wringing their hands with ironic worry over the collapse of the newspaper industry and what could possibly be causing it.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 16, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

boscobobb, read what I wrote. I said Obama-as-Messiah was a straw man.

Posted by: herzliebster | March 16, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Too many crooks in elected and appointed offices in DC to reform it. It will either have to be totally destroyed and rebuilt, or we, the taxpayer, will just have to take what we are given and be thankful that our Unitary Executive does not send out his asassination squads to off all of us in our sleep.

Posted by: davidbn27 | March 16, 2009 5:09 PM | Report abuse

"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."

I would argue that the MSM tells more lies than truth, if you actually counted all of the statements.

And hey, Attucks, don't believe everything Rush or Broder says. Obama is not the candidate that said "no earmarks." That was John McCain, the old white guy. The young black guy (that would be "Obama") never said "no earmarks," he said "earmark reform." Remember how the Republithugs used to stick earmarks into bills the night before (or, once, even AFTER the bill was passed)? Obama wants to reform the earmark process so that we know who put them in and why.

Posted by: dickdata | March 16, 2009 10:44 PM | Report abuse

I think if there is any group of workers with less credibility left than investment bankers, it's "journalists."

After all, investment bankers were just doing their job of sucking up all the money they could by any means available.

"Journalists" on the other hand have completely abrogated their role of looking into powerful institutions on behalf of the population as a whole.

They betrayed our trust before the invasion of Iraq and then again during the "derivatives" bubble on Wall Street.

Shame on them. Obama ain't got nothin' to worry about from them.

Posted by: RealCalGal | March 17, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

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