HH: Let me be the first to borrow the metaphor that Seaside Heights is providing us for the Barack Obama foreign policy, also in flames today, as Vladimir Putin takes to the pages of the New York Times to lecture him and further humiliate him on the collapse of his foreign policy. Now I have been, Peter Baker has an amazing piece in the New York Times today about the indecision in real time on public stage of this most feckless of presidents, and everybody is piling on. So I’ve been like Diogenes looking for someone to defend the President. And I don’t know if I found him, but Harold Meyerson is usually a reliable ally of the President, the blogger extraordinaire, Washington Post columnist, and he’s out on the West Coast, and we he’s in real time with me here. So Harold, can you say anything good about the President’s fiasco this week?
HM: I can, but not about the speech. The speech was a marvel of self-contradiction. It was a call to arms and then saying hold up. Now admittedly, it was a result of some very surprising circumstances they had not counted upon, and indeed circumstances that may save them from a policy which had very little support. Be that as it may, it was sort of the hello, I must be going declaration of foreign policy. That said, if you want to grade Obama not on a curve, he’s not been doing great. On a curve, compared to other recently presidents who were feckless to the point of starting wars for which they had no plans what to do when they had taken Baghdad and things like that, I would say he’s doing pretty well.
HH: You know, Harold, I think it’s desperation time. You guys had to play the Bush card in the first minute of the show. That’s really…
HM: Well, I have a historical sensibility, or a memory. Take your choice.
HH: Well, I have a memory. I wanted to play a bad trick on you. The trouble with being a columnist, of course, is that everyone can read your columns online now. They used to go away. And I have in my hand, or actually on my iPad mini in front of me, the Harold Meyerson column from September 3. “By seeking Congressional approval for military action against the Syrian government,” it begins, “President Obama has accomplished something that the nation hasn’t seen in some time. He’s compelled Republicans to divert their attention from their concocted crises to an issue of actual substance.” Now Harold, actually, he didn’t, because then he changed his mind and took the issue back away from them. And all they diverted their attention to was his incompetence. Does he recover from this? It is, as you know on the left, his problem isn’t with my people. We were never going to be big supporters of his presidency domestically at least. But now, he’s crippled his standing with his own party.
HM: Well, I don’t think he’s crippled his standing with his own party. I think there are many of the left who questioned, reasonably so, the idea of a limited strike on Syria. But I don’t think he’s crippled his standing, and I think he’s still going to be a potent campaigner for Democratic candidates in certain places next year.
HM: You know, not in the South.
HH: No, but I mean anywhere. Do you think he’s going to go up to Mark Begich in Alaska? Do you think he’ll be welcome anywhere in Colorado near Mark Udall after the recalls this week?
HM: Oh, actually, I do think there’ll be places in Colorado. He can certainly go to Denver. But I mean, I think the larger issue is, I mean, in a broad sense, he’s facing on the domestic stuff and on the economic stuff, an absolutely intransigent House. And therefore, I mean, there is a question of what do you do when you have an agenda that’s going nowhere. This came along, and this has been a bit of a disaster, but I don’t think the Democrats are turning against him, chiefly because the Democrats understand that the Republicans have been Dr. No on any number of policies, and look, the attention’s going to shift back to the Republicans if they force a government shutdown or a debt to fall, or something like that. So you know, I mean, it’s fine to have a column that is all of two weeks old in front of you, but in two more weeks, we may be looking at a huge controversy over shuddering the government, or defaulting on the debt, and the attention’s going to shift to the Republicans.
HH: Harold Meyerson, today, and don’t blame us, we’re not the ones who are calling for the Affordable Care Act to be rewritten. The AFL-CIO today, today, passed a resolution declaring that Obamacare will drive up the costs of union-sponsored health plans to the point that workers and employers are forced to abandon them, and the resolution is strongly worded, according to CBS News. It calls implementation of Obamacare highly disruptive to union health care plans, and it’s just the latest brick in the wall of incompetence of this administration. Now he’s lost the AFL-CIO. Who’s left with him?
HM: Well actually, the reason I’m in your time zone is I was covering the AFL-CIO convention. I was in the hall. The resolution affirmed support for Obamacare, and even its harshest critic, who is Terry O’Sullivan, the president of the Laborer’s Union, said he wanted the act fixed. But yeah, I mean, there was a major omission in the act about what to do about what are called multi-employer health care plans in an industry like the building trades or hotels and restaurants where the employers just pay into a general fund which is then administered by the employers and the unions jointly. And the feeling being the way it was structured, it’s going to cost members, because the employers will rather just pay the penalty rather than pay into the fund. And these plans may go blue, and you know, it’s a serious omission on the Obama administration’s part. But even the people who are attacking it most at the AFL-CIO were saying that this is something the administration can and should fix it. In fact, Rich Trumpka, the president of the AFL-CIO, and a number of these presidents, are going to be meeting at the White House with President Obama tomorrow. So I think their hope is it’s some kind of program. But look, I mean, I have always said that when you do the kind of program that Obamacare was, though I supported it, it is a second choice to a single payer system like Medicare, just because the complexity is overwhelming. I mean, Medicare, even people who are opposed to it, would say it’s a pretty straightforward, simple program, and I think straightforward and simple is always better than complicated.
HH: Now Harold, in ten minutes or so, we’ve covered the fact that Putin punked him, he gave the worst speech of a modern president, actually, for incoherence on an important subject, Obamacare is falling apart and is being ridiculed and riddled by his own friendly fire, and obviously he can go to the Senate and pass a fix, and then go to the House. The House passed an Obamacare reform measure today, and then they can have a conference on that. But he can’t campaign in other than urban settings like Denver. This is a disaster. And I wrote a book in 2006 warning Republicans that they were going to get crushed if they did not change. And they didn’t change, and they did the dumb thing, and they got crushed. You guys are going to get crushed, because Americans don’t like weak presidents, they don’t like to be punked by the Russians, they don’t like KGB totalitarians telling us we’re not exceptional, they don’t like Obamacare. These exchanges aren’t going to work, you know that and I know that. So what’s your advice to them if the door closes? He’s got to revamp, reform and refit and move to the center. He can’t live out on the left anymore.
HM: Well, first of all, I think the exchanges by and large are going to work, and particularly for uninsured younger workers. So I don’t buy into all the assumptions of that long, very long question. And you know, unless Congress changes, it almost doesn’t matter whether he’s left, center or right. He ain’t going to get anything through.
HH: Wait, he’s got the Senate.
HM: I mean, the policy of attacking Syria…
HH: Harold, stop…
HM: …was the kind of thing Republicans used to support. I think most of the opposition is coming from the fact that it’s proposed by Obama.
HH: Time out. Time out, Harold.
HM: You can’t be, you’ve still got to be Obama.
HH: You’ve got the Senate. I’m looking at the majority leader. He’s on Fox News right now. He owns the Senate. You’ve got 55 votes. You’ve got the president. You’ve got two-thirds of the federal government, legislative and executive. Why doesn’t the President put some reforms on the table? Why doesn’t Harry Reid pass anything? Why doesn’t he do anything except complain, because it’s a transparently political ploy to shift blame and attention from a collapsed presidency.
HM: It’s not a collapsed presidency, and the polling doesn’t show a collapsed presidency. He’s polling better than George W. Bush did. It’s, you know, he’s in a ridiculous situation on Syria, which is partly of his own making. But I think his instincts are good, and he’s, you know, definitely one of the most reluctant warriors, and that’s an awkward situation…
HH: His instincts are good?
HM: …for any head of state to be.
HH: His instincts are good? If he had these instincts in the wild, he’d have been lunch. I mean, honestly, if you left him in a forest, he’d have been the barbecued dinner for the bears. His instincts are good?
HM: Somehow or another, he managed to defeat Republican presidential candidates twice.
HH: Oh, he did. He does one thing really well. He runs campaigns really well. He governs horrendously. But you actually think you’re going to win seats in 2014?
HM: I think yeah, well, I mean, you’re acting as if he’s the only issue.
HH: He is the only issue.
HM: The Republican House has an approval rating far lower than President Obama. We’ll see what happens in 2014.
HH: He is the only issue. Harold Meyerson, always a pleasure. I look forward to reading your report of the AFL-CIO doing Brutus to Obama’s Caesar.
End of interview