The negotiations about raising the debt ceiling remain extremely fluid, and it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions at this stage. But just a week away from the August 2 deadline, a few things do seem clear.
The first is the president’s angry and narcissistic press conference on Friday badly damaged the president, even with those, like David Brooks, who have been sympathetic to Obama’s substantive position.
It’s been clear to some of us for a while that Barack Obama is a man of uncommon self-admiration, quite thin-skinned, and increasingly consumed by his grievances. Obama has masked these traits pretty well so far, but on Friday his mask slipped more than it ever has. And that is bound to hurt him.
Second, Democrats on Capitol Hill are rapidly losing confidence in the president’s competence as a negotiator. Obama’s conduct during the debt ceiling negotiations – from his flip-flops to his irrelevant deadlines to his backtracking on his agreements with various parties – has been so erratic and uneven that his own party has decided the best hope of reaching an agreement is to sideline him.
And third, conservatives in the House, by holding firm rather than folding, have succeeded in shifting the debate away from tax increases, “grand bargains,” and Gang of Six compromises to spending cuts in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. How serious those spending cuts are remains to be determined, and there will be enormous pressure for Republicans to agree to Potemkin Village budget cuts, including from GOP appropriators. That pressure needs to be resisted. The cuts Republicans must agree to have to be real.
But there’s little question that so far at least, this whole messy debt ceiling episode has not helped President Obama politically (his approval ratings continue to slide). That may be one reason why he is instructing Majority Leader Reid to push for a deal that moves the next debt ceiling debate to after the 2012 election.
The president and his team entered these negotiations believing he could strike a grand bargain that would allow him to present himself as a born-again budget cutter, as fiscally responsible, as a Man of the Center. And in the process, he kept instructing us, he would emerge as the only adult in the room. At this juncture, it looks like Obama is the most adolescent, even childish, figure in the negotiations – a petulant man who also happens to be an inept negotiator.
This isn’t what the president and his supporters expected. But of course, that could be said for his entire presidency. Barack Obama, we were told by not a few liberals, would be America’s next Lincoln or FDR. It turns out with every passing day, he more and more resembles James Earl Carter. This is very bad news for our nation and very bad news for the Democratic Party.