Thursday, September 6, 2012

Woodward Dishes on Debt Ceiling Debacle

In journalism, apparently, a scoop is still a scoop.

Even if it damages the political party you support.

For years, it's been no secret that most major news outlets, from America's big city newspapers to our legacy television networks, tend to show deference to Democrats at the expense of Republicans.

Yet the blockbuster reviews by the Washington Post and ABC News of legendary muckraker Bob Woodward's upcoming book could significantly damage President Barak Obama's credibility.  Woodward claims to have meticulously chronicled last year's grotesque debt ceiling impasse, an event most Democrats would likely prefer to forget.  Undoubtedly aware of its explosive nature, ABC News has released a synopsis of Woodward's latest expose, The Price of Politics, which is officially due for release next week, on the historically significant date of September 11.  The Post plans a similar synopsis this weekend.

Naturally, the website for an increasingly irrelevant CNN is ignoring Woodward's bluster.  But Drudge Report isn't, nor the CBS-owned radio station I wake up to every morning.  After all, it's hard to ignore a book whose author was able to quote every major player in last year's debt ceiling cliffhanger, including House Speaker John Boehner and the President himself.

I'm not easily impressed by anything.  But Woodward's ability to get Obama to speak on the record regarding such a politically perilous topic while he's still in office strikes me as amazing on Woodward's part.  And even Obama's part, although not in the same way.  As they try to anticipate how the country will receive his speech at the Democratic National Convention tonight, Obama's harried campaign handlers must be furious at their boss.  A boss who, according to many people Woodward interviewed, doesn't know how to be one.

Even within the Democratic party, according to Woodward, people are frustrated at Obama's inability to lead.

Dredging Up Debt Ceiling Drama

Last year on this blog, I wrote about the debt ceiling impasse between liberals and conservatives, and while I did call out the President on his handling of the mess, I mostly chastised Tea Partiers for their intransigence in negotiating budgetary politics.  After all, President Bush raised the debt ceiling seven times during his eight years in office, and nobody balked when he did it.  No, I didn't think it was wise to raise the debt ceiling any more, but I thought the acrimony Republicans spewed in public against the Democrats betrayed duplicity and ignorance on their part, and undermined their effectiveness.

To a degree, it appears that Woodward's perspective on last year's events helps prove my suspicions.  Hearing Boehner tell it, he was handicapped by his uninvited and unschooled Tea Party caucus, and having the President insist on further concessions not only reveals how out-of-touch Obama was regarding Boehner's predicament, but also reveals the fierce lack of loyalty Congress' upstart freshmen belligerently showed their leadership.

Of course, Tea Partiers will find lots to love about Woodward's book and his depiction of their swashbuckling posturing in Congress, but both the conservative and liberal sources he quotes portray a quandary that the severe partisanship displayed by Tea Partiers only exacerbated.  Inevitably, compromise was essential to crafting a solution to the debt ceiling drama, and it appears that blame can be shared by traditional Republicans, Tea Partiers, the Oval Office, and Democrats for the fiasco it became.

Particularly now that we face the direct legacy of an intimidating fiscal cliff from their poorly-executed legislation.

Unsettling Accounts of Poor Leadership

However, having said that, Woodward's book also provides troublesome insight into how Obama's White House operates - or doesn't operate.  The loquaciousness with which Obama staffers and Democratic Party operatives alike spoke negatively to Woodward about the President is stunning.  If such discontent with Obama among his own insiders exists in the Beltway today, why are any of them supporting his quest for another term in office?  Boehner and Eric Cantor might not be the best politicians out there, but neither of them is President of the United States, so the standard isn't quite as high.  And say what you will about Nancy Pelosi (which I do, in a negative tone), but doesn't her muting her phone while Obama is talking speak volumes about her estimation of his authority? 

Do we really want this guy leading the Free World?

Obviously, the timing of Woodward's book is hardly coincidental.  It, along with the just-released memoir by Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, No Easy Day, are strategically intended to capitalize on the November elections.  Bissonnette has already denied a desire to influence the presidential election, and Woodward likely does too, but why else release books denigrating Obama's record in office so close to November 2012?  These two books could potentially become factors in the President's re-electability, all without educating America's voters on why Mitt Romney would make a better president than the one everybody seems to be castigating.

While we're Obama-bashing, however, it appears from Woodward's tale that the President resists bipartisanship as much as Tea Partiers.  The difference, from what Woodward reveals, is that Obama believes he has the charisma and charm to convince the American populace that he's right.  Very few Tea Partiers, by contrast, appear to labor under the illusion that they have America in their back pocket.  To be sure, Tea Partiers WANT to be that widely supported, but by their very earnestness, which generally  translates into sloppiness, which translates into ineffectiveness, Tea Partiers prove they know they have a lot of voters to win over.

And that's not a bad thing.  I don't fault Tea Partiers for being confident in what they hold dear.  What I fault them for is not knowing how to prioritize their values in a political dialog.

On the other hand, for President Obama to reportedly tell Boehner that "I've got great confidence in my ability to sway the American people" suggests that Obama holds a dangerous estimation of himself.

What is the thing that the Bible tells us pride precedes?  "Destruction," right?

More than anything else in Woodward's book, however, his assessment of how Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell function is a true eye-opener.  I've never held Biden in high regard; I think he's a political liability to Obama, and wouldn't have been at all surprised if the rumors about Democrats urging the President to ask Hillary Rodham Clinton to replace Biden on his ticket were true.  However, Woodward writes that Obama's inner circle called Biden the "McConnell whisperer" in admiration for how he and the Senate Minority Leader were able to kibbutz on issues and reach bipartisan accord.

Maybe that says more about McConnell than it does about Biden, but in the absence of any proof to the contrary, it appears that Biden may be more effective at policy than Obama.  What does THAT say about the Democratic ticket this fall?

No matter how you slice it, ABC News and the Post indeed have scooped the DNC and its candidate's speech tonight.

The Democrats must be wishing it was just ice cream being scooped at their party.
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