“Obama looked pitiful today.”
Many of the professional scribblers in the room kept their heads down. The rambling, incoherent, and still oh-so-not-my-fault president was something to behold, so thorough in his obliviousness –“I’m not that stupid” and “It’s on me”– that the Bush second term comparisons starting rolling off the press assembly line within hours.
One was penned by the New York Times’ Michael Shear, a frequent and welcome guest on the program, and upon reading it my producer called and Michael agreed to come on to discuss.
Our focus was on this line in particular:
But unlike Mr. Bush, who faced confrontational but occasionally cooperative Democrats, Mr. Obama is battling a Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to the health care law and has blocked him at virtually every turn…
Michael and I debated both the first and second clause and the second, and the transcript of that exchange is here. Here is our exchange on this point:
HH: You write, “Obama has a Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to his health care law.” What legislative fixes has the President asked for, Michael Shear?
MS: Well, I mean, look, I think that’s a fair question. I think, you know, the President, in the view of the White House, has been that if you take the Republican, especially in the House, the Republicans in the House, but even in the Senate, if you take them at their word, right, what they’ve spent the last, you know, several years since the Affordable Care Act passed, what they’ve spent calling for is not let’s fix Obamacare, you know, let’s accept Obamacare as the law of the land and let’s fix it. They’ve been calling to get rid of it.
HH: Sure, they have.
MS: I mean, I can…
HH: But has he asked, has he asked for anything specific? Because it makes it sound like he’s sent up proposal after proposal like George Bush did on Social Security in 2005, and the Republicans have rejected it. I honestly don’t think he’s requested one specific change to the law. Am I wrong?
MS: I think you’re probably right, and if the sentence makes it sounds like he did, you know, that wasn’t intentional. I guess my point was that this was to draw the contrast between a Congress in Bush’s time which was, you know, at least mildly willing to entertain some discussions, and a Congress that has avowedly, a Republican part of the Congress that has avowedly and proudly said you know, our intention is to block him at every turn. I don’t think most Republicans in that, in the Congress would even contest that.
HH: Interesting, Michael.
MS: They would wear that proudly…
HH: I agree.
MS: …as a badge of honor.
I had previously discussed at even greater length the president’s unfolding catastrophic fifth year with Shear’s colleague Peter Baker when Baker joined me to discuss for two hours his excellent book Days of Fire on the eight years of Bush-Cheney. (Days of Fire should be on the Christmas lists of all readers –right, left and center, btw, just like The Happiest Life. Neither is a political books with an ideological slants, which is increasingly rare.)
There is, however, residual sympathy/enthusiasm for President Obama in the White House press corps that makes it hard for them to recall Bush’s fifth year. Early on Harry Reid –pressed by the anger on the left fueled by Iraq– absolutely refused to even consider a line of Bush’s proposals for Social Security reform, nor would Senate Democrats put forward any alternative. Reid et al simply refused. Flat out said “No way, not now, not ever never” even after Bush had produced detailed plans but said everything was on the table, again and again. Bush gamely tried, again and again, to engage the opposition, but they would have none of it.
Thus when Shear wrote “Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to the health care law…” I wanted to point out to him that this just isn’t true. The GOP wants repeal, yes, but only six weeks agao would have settled for a one year delay. The president said “no changes to anything” and has sent up exactly zero proposed fixes to any part of the vastly flawed law and, crucially, the Reid-controlled Senate hasn’t passed much less introduced any such bill until Mary Landrieu’s rear-end covering “Keep the Promise of My Re-election” bill this week.
Shear’s response –not unreasonable, but speculative– is that the GOP demand for repeal makes any attempt at a middle course fruitless, but that is probably not the case in the Senate, and in any event, we cannot know –nor should the media– project on to the Congressional GOP the same sort of absolute refusal to negotiate that the Senate Democrats displayed in 2005-2006.
In other words, Bush tried, Obama denied. Bush was the model of a leader trying to engage an entrenched opposition
I encourage you to read the whole of my exchange with Shear, and the longer exchange with Peter Baker about “year five.” But I don’t think we should stand by as history is rewritten in real time even under the press of deadlines. President Obama has refused to see the reality of the disaster that approached on a three year storm course, and apparently allowed yes-men and sycophants to surround him and whisper “all is well” in his ears. Katrina was an act of nature, and authority over its aftermath was not originally with Bush –again, Peter Baker’s reporting is very instructive here– and Bush stumbled for only days before seizing control and bringing order out of chaos, and he did so by tapping the best available –General Honore.
The shield wall surrounding the president in the White House press room is crumbling. Ed Henry and Major Garrett and finding more and more folks standing with them against the incredible, shrinking Jay Carney. Yesterday’s extra-constitutional improvisation by the president won’t do anything to avert most of the disaster that is happening, and the press corps should keep an eye on the dislocations ahead in 2015 . They did nothing like their collective job in 2012 and the consequence is a 38 month stretch in front of us that will be marked by continued epic incompetence and excuse making. At least they can serve as a prod to the president to bring in a team of marginally qualified insurance execs to try and propose a way forward that is not utterly ruinous to millions of Americans’ lives.
As for the second nightmare of the second term, it is Iran, and the White House press corps is more than asleep on that. It is uncaring.