Adam Nagourney of NYT falls for WH spin on HCR

Adam Nagourney, one of the top political reporters at the NYT, is regurgitating White House talking points in an effort to explain what makes our president tick, and more generally, why the left is upset with him.

It is not just that the left wing of the party thinks that its centrists hold too much sway and are too quick to cave when faced with pressure from the right. It is also that this White House, stocked as it is with insiders, people whose view of politics is shaped by the compromises inherent in legislating, is confronting a liberal base made up largely of outsiders to the lawmaking process who are asking why they should accept politics as usual.

As much as Mr. Obama presented himself as an outsider during his campaign, a lesson of this battle is that this is a president who would rather work within the system than seek to upend it. He is not the ideologue ready to stage a symbolic fight that could end in defeat; he is a former senator comfortable in dealing with the arcane rules of the Senate and prepared to accept compromise in search of a larger goal. For the most part, Democrats on Capitol Hill have stuck with him.

As I’ve written repeatedly, that is not why people are upset with the president. It’s not that he likes to work within the system, and it’s certainly not about “staging a symbolic fight.”

The problem many on the left have with President Obama is that he refuses to fight, from the beginning, for things he has promised. The White House would like you to believe that President Obama never promised to fight for a public option, never promised to be a “fierce advocate” for gays and lesbians, never promised to get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But he did. So when he caves on those promises, it upsets people who voted for him in exchange for those promises.

The White House argues next that it’s just not possible to win on those promises, so the left is naive about politics and unrealistic to expect the President to keep his promises. Which is a rather odd argument: “You’re an idiot because you believed me.”

I’m not going to speak for the rest of the party, but Joe Sudbay and I have been in politics for two decades. We’ve both run successful issue campaigns, and we know how it works. If anything, we are the definition of Washington insiders. And both of us find President Obama’s approach to governance to be rather weak.

Then we get the “being president is hard work” excuse from the White House (which rather uncomfortably rings of George Bush):

Mr. Obama may find it frustrating that it is impossible under Senate rules to get something through without 60 votes, but those are the rules and he is going to play by them. He was not about to go to Connecticut and to whip up the public against Mr. Lieberman, or to press for him to be relieved of his leadership positions in the Senate, as Mr. Green suggested he do.

“The president wasn’t after a Pyrrhic victory — he wasn’t into symbolism,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “The president is after solving a problem that has bedeviled a country and countless families for generations.”

A few points:

1. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. If health care, gay rights, climate change, getting us out of wars, and respecting civil liberties has bedeviled the country for generations, then don’t promise to fix them in exchange for our votes. It’s as simple as that.

2. Don’t tell us about how hard your job is. You weren’t handed the presidency by your sick aunt who couldn’t run the family business in her advanced age. You wanted this job. Please don’t tell us that it’s too difficult for you to handle effectively.

3.It’s not just health care. President Obama has done this repeatedly on promise after promise. He doesn’t reach some pragmatic resolution at the end of the negotiation in recognition of the fact that something is better than nothing. He far too often begins a negotiation by caving to his opponent on some key point, seemingly in the hope that this act of kindness will convince his opponents to reciprocate. And that is simply not how negotiations, politics, or life works.

The White House is in an all out effort to brand health care reform as a 100% victory for the president. For some reason, they’re spooked by the revolt on the left against the way they have handled this battle, and the result they’ve reached. So rather than reach out to the left and try to figure out how to move ahead from here, the White House is simply denying that there’s a problem, reneging on its promises, and accusing the base of its own party as being naive and out of touch.

What’s naive is thinking that the best way to win a negotiation is to make a major concession as your opening move. (And to think that you can win by refusing to advocate for your cause. And yes, the President made a few speeches GENERALLY about health care reform, but the White House did not run a campaign in favor of health care reform. Such a campaign is mandatory if you want to get your own party on your side, and to convince at least a few Republicans to cross over.) Then again, it’s only naive to cave at the beginning if you care about the outcome of the negotiation. If you only care about being able to say that the negotiation is over and an agreement was reached, regardless of what the agreement actually is, then yes, caving as an opening move is quite effective. But it’s an atrocious way to run, and protect, a country. (It’s also a rather idiotic way to buy a house.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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