02/22/2013 02:21 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2013

Politico Is Pretty Sure That GOP Intransigence On Sequester Fight Is Obama's Fault, For Some Reason

Today more or less seems to be "Write Dumb Stuff About The Sequester Day," mostly thanks to David Brooks' weird "dubstep" column. But he is hardly alone in this. Here, for example, is a Politico story, titled "Is President Obama overplaying sequestration hand?" It is so transportingly dumb -- so utterly decoupled from known reality -- that I daresay that if you'd given a flock of starlings enough time to peck and scratch around in a mudhole, they'd probably evince a greater understanding of contemporary politics.

The premise of this piece is that President Barack Obama has somehow become his own "greatest adversary" in the sequester fight, because he is overconfident "in his own ability to force a win." That is probably news to the White House, who are pretty clearly hopeful that public discontent over the lack of compromise will manage to create one, but the long history of this overall budget fight should teach us that it's really hard to get the Congressional GOP to move, once they're dug in. But let's see what's got Politico all pearl-clutchy today.

[Obama] has been so certain of his campaign skills that he didn’t open a line of communication with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell until Thursday, a week before the spending ax hits. And when they did finally hear from Obama, the calls were perfunctory, with no request to step up negotiations or invitations to the White House.

Oh, my, I can't believe that! You know, because "communicating" with Boehner and McConnell has gone so well historically, garnering all sorts of results in resolving these budget battles. But this is an ancient media trope. As Ezra Klein pointed out, in a pre-election read of numerous editorials making the case that the best reason to vote for Mitt Romney was because there was some chance that the lycanthropic GOP legislators might not greet his every overture with abject abuse, "Obama spent most of 2011 negotiating with John Boehner." These efforts were hopelessly pointless. It may as well have never happened.

So, as Politico notes, "Obama’s all-in on an outside strategy, doing just about everything other than holding serious talks with Republicans." Yes, guys, that's because it's become the last remaining option. As Obama famously quipped during the election season, "The most important lesson I've learned is that you can't change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside." Of course, the same John Boehner who apparently needs more time on the phone with Obama, just to keep telling him that he will refuse to compromise, is running the exact same strategy. (Here's a story in Politico that I guess more people at Politico should read, explaining this.)

Politico continues:

Obama is convinced he’s got the upper hand on Republicans. Yet he can go only so long before he risks being perceived as a main actor in Washington’s dysfunction, threatening a core element of his political brand -- and the fragile economic recovery he’s struggled to maintain.

This makes no sense at all. "Struggling to maintain the fragile economic recovery" requires that the sequester be avoided, and Obama is the party in the debate who keeps maintaining that it must be avoided. As Byron York notes, furiously scratching his head to figure out what the GOP's position on this is, it's the GOP that seems to support the sequester being implemented: "Boehner and the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama and Democrats agree to replacement cuts, of an equal amount, that target entitlement spending. If that doesn’t happen -- and it seems entirely unlikely -- the sequester goes into effect, with the GOP’s blessing."

Critically, I will remind you, that Obama's "stop the sequester plan" includes cuts to "entitlement spending". But the stranger point is this: how does it follow that Obama becomes perceived as a main actor in Washington's dysfunction? The main cause of dysfunction is that the GOP refuses to bend on raising additional revenues -- even though the only additional revenues that anyone at the White House is talking about involve revenues raised through tax reform measures on which Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaigned.

The GOP position on this is that they acceded to revenues in the fight over the Bush-era tax rates, and so there shall be no more, ever, even if it means pursuing an exercise of denying the policies that they fervently supported mere months ago. What's more, in that debate over the Bush-era tax rates, Obama charitably gave ground to the GOP that he really didn't have to. Instead of letting the Bush-era rate lapse on everyone making $250,000 per year and above, Obama compromised and shifted the marker to $400,000 per year and above. Obama's clearly the guy trying to broker gentlemanly compromises, and the GOP is a romper room full of bath-salts addicts.

Simple logic can help you identify the "main actor in Washington's dysfunction." And, as this Politico report itself notes, even Republican voters aren't having trouble figuring this out: "a majority of Republican voters back Obama’s call for both spending cuts and tax hikes."

What is with this arrogance of Obama, so overconfident in his ability to hopefully deliver what a majority of the people who voted against him want?

"But Obama’s been virtually absent from the legislative process -- more so than during previous budget showdowns," Politico reports. Ha, yes, you know what happens when Obama injects himself into the legislative process? He gets yelled at, and accused of hurting that process. Has Politico been paying attention to the immigration reform fight? The White House announced they were putting together a plan to guard against the possibility that Congress would not be able to get their own done, and it unleashed unholy opprobrium.

This is one of those pieces of political writing where you measure your own IQ on what's going on in contemporary American politics by how many paragraphs you can read before closing the tab and getting on with your sensible, logical life. To my mind, anyone who's been paying attention is going to shut this down within seven paragraphs. But if you stick with it, you get long passages in which the article neatly negates its own premise:

“The ‘right way’ from a purely economic point of view is everybody should be getting together and figuring out a way to do this,” [former Democratic staffer Stan] Collender said. “But what we have seen the last few years is those negotiations fail.”

White House aides say direct talks don’t get them any closer to a deal. In fact, the prevailing wisdom in Washington is that they hurt.

Republican leaders don’t want to be seen sitting with Obama in the White House. After the fiscal cliff agreement, Boehner explicitly promised his conference that he would limit his private negotiations with the president. This kind of talk plays well with his members, most of whom represent districts where they worry most about Republican primary challenges.

Even Democrats no longer expect Obama to be the lead negotiator on a deal.

Yeah, so, the negotiations that Obama is supposedly demonstrating an overconfidence in himself by avoiding, haven't worked, they hurt the process and John Boehner has pledged to stop participating in them, so why aren't we having more of them? I just can't figure that out.

But this, to me, is just the apotheosis of this Politico piece:

And if the president wants his public offensive to work, he needs to keep attention focused on Republicans and why they refuse to consider new revenue as part of a deal to avert the $1.2 trillion sequester.

But the whole point of this article, I thought, was that Obama wasn't making enough super-sincere phone calls to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Now we learn that he has to "keep attention focused on Republicans and why they refuse to consider new revenue." It's really hard to "overplay a hand" when the people who you want to play with have promised they won't play with you.

A question: Why can't Politico write an article that's "focused on Republicans and why they refuse to consider new revenue?" Are they worried that they might start making too much sense?

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]



U.S. State Capitol Buildings