When Jonathan Chait reports the following nugget from Dan Pfeiffer, a recently-former senior advisor to President Obama, he seems to do so without irony. True, Chait is an Obama cheerleader, and true, as well, that he has been known to state as fact assertions that are at least controversial, even among those on the same general side of the aisle. Still, he is a thoughtful and intelligent writer, and one might hope for a bit of self-reflection based on this anecdote.
The original premise of Obama’s first presidential campaign was that he could reason with Republicans — or else, by staking out obviously reasonable stances, force them to moderate or be exposed as extreme and unyielding. It took years for the White House to conclude that this was false, and that, in Pfeifferís words, “what drives 90 percent of stuff is not the small tactical decisions or the personal relationships but the big, macro political incentives.”
It took years for them to figure this out. That in a nutshell is the problem we face. Even stipulating our ability to elect a decent human being to the office of President, which only occasionally happens, we end up with someone so naïve that they could reach the highest office in the land without knowing things that had long been obvious to any serious observer of the political landscape. It takes six years and three elections to reach the conclusion that even us bloggers had figured out and stated for years. It makes one feel a bit hopeless.
Perhaps the juiciest bit is what Chait reports as Pfeiffer’s views on the House Republican leadership:
“You have to be careful not to presume a lot of strategy for this group,” Pfeiffer said. “Iíve always believed that the fundamental, driving strategic ethos of the Republican House leadership has been, What do we do to get through the next caucus or conference without getting yelled at? We should never assume they have a long game. We used to spend a lot of time thinking that maybe Boehner is saying this to get himself some more room. And itís like, no, thatís not actually the case. Usually heís just saying it because he just said it or itís the easiest thing to solve his immediate problem.”
Does the American ideal of self-government end like this, not even with a bang, managing only a whimper? Caught in the crossfire of a cynical manipulator at the head of one chamber of Congress, a gormless spokespiece in the other, and an executive more naïve than much of the populace? At least Rome had the dignity of being desirable to sack.