There was minimal doubt President Obama would keep Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at his post. If Obama were in his second term, or for some other reason not running for reelection in the near future, he might consider cashing in on the near-term gain in public approval that would come with holding his own administration accountable for the mess the president and his advisors have made.
Instead, the president had his “decider” moment—though with less emotion and fanfare than his predecessor’s. The president “asked Secretary Geithner to stay on at Treasury and welcomes his decision,” reads the recently released statement. But make no mistake—this was the moment Obama echoed George W. Bush.
Obama’s 2012 campaign is shaping up to be the polar opposite of his optimistic 2008 run. While his last race emphasized post-partisanship and hope, his new campaign can be boiled down to just five words: Better the devil you know.
The Obama campaign realizes that he hasn’t been the transformative and restorative president he promised to be, and he won’t try to pretend otherwise. Instead, the president will point out the small positives (at least he didn’t send the country into a depression) and focus mainly on the negatives of his opponents (a Republican in the White House would make things even worse than they are now).
I could hardly agree more with John that the downgrade by S&P of the country’s credit rating marked a “terrible day” for the United States and will prove a “colossal disaster” for Barack Obama. As John says, the Republican TV ads practically write themselves and the greatest spinmeisters in the country won’t be able to help the president wriggle free from the blame for this deeply embarrassing debacle. Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner makes clear just how much of the blame belongs to President Obama and the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress of his first two years. So intent were they on turning the United States into a social democracy à la (bankrupt) Europe, that they didn’t even try to limit spending or address the skyrocketing deficits.
A plentitude of warning signs about the unhappiness of the electorate was ignored and explained away, usually with an elitist disdain that would have made the inhabitants of Louis XVI’s Versailles look like Mother Teresa: The Tea Party’s birth in the summer of 2009 with the raucous town hall meetings, the results in New Jersey and Virginia of the election of 2009, the election of Scott Brown in deepest blue Massachusetts in January 2010. Even the nationwide Republican electoral tidal wave in November 2010 apparently did not really get Obama’s attention. In February he produced a budget that wasn’t even a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the fiscal Titanic. It called for borrowing trillions more in order to buy additional deck chairs. Even the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, rejected it by a vote of 97-0. In April he called for a “clean” debt ceiling increase, i.e., not coupled with any spending cuts.
While there is little doubt the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating is a terrible blow to President Obama, the question remains whether the Standard & Poor’s decision will have an impact on the Republican field. Virtually all the GOP contenders have already weighed in with tough criticism of Obama, laying the responsibility for the sinking U.S. economic shift on the president. But it is far from clear whether the credit shakeup or fallout from the debt ceiling crisis will either help or hurt any of the Republicans.
Ironically, the loudest voice condemning the president came from Rep. Michele Bachmann–who is hoping to win this week’s Iowa Straw Poll–who declared the president was AWOL on the issue and flatly claimed because the downgrade happened on Obama’s “watch,” it was his fault. That’s a message that resonates with Tea Party activists who applauded Bachmann’s stand on the debt ceiling as well as other Republicans who rightly see the president’s spending spree and insistence on raising taxes as the primary cause for the country’s predicament. But many Americans, including some conservatives, aren’t thrilled with the role played by Tea Partiers and absolutists like Bachmann who seemed unfazed by the possibility of a default and did nothing to help advance a fiscal compromise. That means the country’s credit downgrade may ultimately prove to be a problem for Bachmann’s candidacy.
Let’s acknowledge that the Tea Party played Russian roulette with America’s future. Which means it took five bullets out of the loaded revolver the U.S. had to its head and gave the country a fighting chance.
But it wasn’t enough. S&P has lowered our credit rating from AAA to AA+. We’re a worse bet than the UK, France, Canada, Germany, and 11 other countries that still enjoy triple-A status.
Did this happen because American politicians weren’t playing nicely? The uncertainty of the debt-ceiling debate contributed to the decision, but only in that it cast doubt on the U.S.’s ability to do precisely what S&P had said was necessary to avoid this outcome—the enacting of serious spending cuts.