Andrew Koppelman on the Lawless John Roberts
Jonathan Cohn: Why America's "Heartland" Is So Heartless

Why Is Obama's Bargaining Position so Weak Right Now?

I may think that the Obama economic team made a number of wrong decisions, but I know that they were and are among the best in the world for their jobs. But the political operatives?

The reelection of a president who is not caught by an unanticipated business-cycle blowout and who does not follow obviously stupid and destructive policies ought to be a blowout--like Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton.

Here is one reason that is wasn't:

Paul Krugman, last spring: Political Malpractice, Deficit Edition:

Greg Sargent has more bang-your-head-against-the-wall material about the Obama administration’s “pivot” to deficits. Quoting... David Corn:

Plouffe was concerned that voter unease about the deficit could become unease about the president. The budget issue was easy to understand; you shouldn’t spend more money than you have. Yes, there was the argument that the government should borrow money responsibly when necessary (especially when interest rates were low) for the appropriate activities, just like a family borrowing sensibly to purchase a home, to pay for college, or to handle an emergency. But voters needed to know — or feel — that the president could manage the nation’s finances.

The depth of political malpractice here is just mind-blowing. First, voters always say that they want the deficit given priority…. Wait, it gets worse: even if you do reduce the deficit, will voters even notice? From Achen and Bartels (pdf), here’s what voters thought they knew during the vast Clinton-era move toward budget surplus…. A plurality of voters, and a majority of Republicans, thought the deficit had actually increased; only 7 percent got the truth, which was that it had fallen a lot. And this was while Fox News was still in its infancy!

Finally, it’s hard not to have the sense that when political types in this administration talk about appealing to “voters”, what they really mean is appealing to self-proclaimed centrist pundits who claim to have their fingers on the pulse of independent voters. Aside from the fact that they don’t — that the complicated psychodramas concocted by pundits exist only in their heads, not the heads of voters — experience shows that nothing Obama can do will satisfy these guys; they need, professionally, to maintain the pretense that both sides of the political divide are equally extreme. How many columns have you read demanding that someone stake out centrist positions that happen to be exactly what Obama has already been saying?

I have to say that the various accounts of what went wrong are converging on a very depressing picture, in which White House political “experts” actually believed that trying to please the Washington Post editorial page was a winning political move...