Obama’s Game May Be Picking Up — Even with Tougher Congress


donilon obama twn.jpg (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Barack Obama’s team is working better and delivering results that just weeks ago seemed out of reach. Tomorrow, I’m going to be offering thoughts on these results and how the Obama White House is gaining ground.
But as a preview, I think that the successes are tied to four key factors: (1) Barack Obama seems more comfortable holding the line and fighting the long fight rather than giving ground early in efforts to seduce his opponents; (2) Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough, John Brennan and the entire National Security Council team are just working better together and are sewn into Obama Land better than before; (3) Rahm is doing what he always should have been doing — staying in the spotlight as he runs for Mayor of Chicago; No one hears from the interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse who is moving people, initiatives, and game plans so deftly that no one sess his hand (keep him!); and (4) Joe Biden and his apparatus not only have a killer batting average on the tough jobs Obama has given him (Russia, START, nuclear summitry, Iraq, keeping peace with the labor community) but his team in its entirety is woven in deeply as part of the Obama apparatus (no more David Addington cells).
More tomorrow, and while I admit that there have been significant failures, missteps, and occasional weak knees when Obama should have clung to the courage of his convictions, there have been heartening successes.
Momentum may have changed in the President’s favor — even while the Congress has become a higher hill.
— Steve Clemons

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13 comments on “Obama’s Game May Be Picking Up — Even with Tougher Congress

  1. Don Bacon says:

    I enjoy hearing Steve’s take on the personalities of the movers and shakers. He offers a perspective on people that in fact many people use in determining how they will view national issues — by the personalities of the people involved.
    There’s another way to look at the political scene, and that is by looking at the important issues themselves divorced from the involved personalities and whether they have weak knees or not.
    It’s kind of like judging one’s investment in stocks on fundamental or technical grounds.
    An important basic US domestic issue, arguably THE most impotant, is the financial situation which seems to have been avoided by some and accented by others — the latter group now ascendant.
    The US government currently spends about ten billion dollars per day, every day of the year, but it only takes in about six billion per day. You lose four billion per day and very soon you’re talking about real money — well over a trillion dollars per year.
    The federal debt has already increased by $3tn under Obama which is $10,000 for every man, woman and child in the USA.
    The US debt/GDP ratio is rising rapidly, from 40% in 2008 to 94% in September 2010. (This compares to 120% in 1945.) Multiple government sources including the current and previous presidents, the GAO, Treasury Department, and CBO have said the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal path. Current trends could add $10tn to debt by 2020.


  2. Mr.Murder says:

    “(Russia, START, nuclear summitry, Iraq, keeping peace with the labor community)”
    Russia continues with Putin’s influence as shadow dictator. START will probably used to justify continued covert ops vs. Iran. Iraq will fall like a house of cards when we remove our money from the bottomless pit.
    Keeping peace with the labor community is what you term a feudal republic that charades vote counting, through corporate enterprise, while slapping the everyday worker in the face.
    Don’t cry for America, Argentina!


  3. Steve Clemons says:

    Dee – you are mistaken about motivations and sources. I’ve
    pushed a number of people as Chief of Staff including Senator
    Mark Warner and former Senator Tom Daschle and think Pete
    Rouse is doing an excellent job right now. You and I are on
    same page on Afghanistan. Rahm’s views that either agreed
    or disagreed with mine are not the issue. His management of
    process — no matter what his views — are what I think made
    him ineffective in this job. I like Rahm and think he will do
    well in more public roles.
    DavidT — watch my comments about DADT on Andrea
    Mitchell’s show (scroll down below). You’ll see my comment
    about Mullen. I thought I have been regularly commendatory
    about his role in DADT — but my failing if not the case as I
    admire him and what he did greatly and have thanked him
    personally and directly.
    All best for the New Year folks!


  4. paul lukasiak says:

    to paraphrase my mother about her romance with my father….Obama chased the GOP until they caught him.


  5. davidt says:

    Not surprised by your analysis. You never hid
    your views on Emanuel and now he’s gone one can
    make an argument that things are smoother. I
    think there’s a slightly simpler reason. The
    president undertook far less controversial issues
    and split the difference after the election.
    Legislatively, even prior to Emanuel’s departure,
    this was one of the most productive Congresses in
    history. And the margin in both houses and the
    use of the filibuster made the challenges tougher
    here than during the 30’s and 60’s. Not to
    mention the fiscal challenges we face. However,
    on the biggest piece of legislation that might
    have divided the two parties after the election,
    the tax extensions, the president compromised as
    far as I could see. Maybe you don’t think an
    extension of the high earning tax cuts and the
    cuts on the return to certain levels of the
    inheritance tax are compromises. That’s not how I
    took it.
    If anything, one could read Obama’s success as
    partly a result of his anticipation of what’s
    ahead. Better get what one can now rather than
    wait until the next Congress. Just curious
    whether or not you’ll find someone to replace
    Summers and Emanuel in your criticisms or if
    you’ll just stick with the president (and stick
    with the vp when the administration has what you
    deem successes :).
    Let me add that I was surprised with how few kind
    words you wrote about Admiral Mullen this year.
    Unless I missed something, how come not more on
    his role and courage and forthrightness on the
    “Don’t Ask” issue? Is it that he supports the
    Afghanistan policy or his approach to Iraq or ??
    Just bewildered again. If I missed your ocmments
    on this topic, sorry for my oversight.
    Happy Holidays.


  6. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Under these circumstances, along
    with the huge mess he inherited from eight years of Bush rule, President Obama hasn’t done bad at all”
    Bullshit. Obama has done little more than CONTINUE the “huge mess he inherited from eight years of Bush rule”. Worse, he has continued egregious policies, and he has tasked his Justice Department lackey, Holder, to ignore very real CRIMES committed by the Bush hoodlums. After the blatantly criminal acts of the Bush Administration, Obama’s refusal to investigate, indict, and prosecute has shown the global community that our system of “equal justice” is a sham. And he has given the clear message that future Presidential Administrations can operate outside the law without fear of being held accountable.
    We need a system that ELECTS the Attorney General through a vote of the citizenry. Having these fuckin’ slimebags that manage to slither their way into the Oval Office pick their own AG is a recipe for lawlessness. In truth, seeing how our Justice Department is failing the people, (refusing to provide checks against our elected officials holding themselves above the law), it can be argued that the person occupying the position of Attorney General is more important to the future of our democracy than the position of President is. And the last few have been real pieces of shit, Holder included. They have been little more than criminal advocates, protecting the backsides of criminals. Gonzales should be rotting in a jail cell. And Holder should be doing the same, for failing to put Gonzales in that cell.
    And I won’t even get into the KNOWN perjuries committed by that Condi Rice criminal. Sanchez, too. KNOWN perjuries, yet free as birds, not held to account for LYING to Congress and to the citizens of the United States.
    Make no mistake, Obama is just as much a scumbag as Bush. Thats why we are not seeing anyone held accountable. Dig into the BP cover-up, if you have any doubts what a piece of shit Obama is.


  7. nadine says:

    “Barack Obama seems more comfortable holding the line and fighting the long fight rather than giving ground early in efforts to seduce his opponents” (Steve Clemons)
    Oh really? Like when he gave way on keeping the Bush tax cuts for another two years and instead of praising the resulting bipartisan package, he denounced it and called Republicans “hostage-takers”?
    The lame-duck session of the 111th Congress just turned up the heat on their favorite tactic: throw everything at at the wall, all at once, and hope some of it sticks. The Republicans did not have the numbers to block everything and the bills that were least offensive to them got through.
    There will be no big Democratic spending bills coming out of the next Congress. We’ll get to see how Obama does at actual bipartisanship, as opposed to the pretend kind, where you invite your opponents to drop all their principles and unite around yours. So far, he’s great at the pretend kind but absolutely sucks at real bipartisanship.


  8. JohnH says:

    After Obama’s stiffing of the Democratic base for two years, it is no surprise that he (like his fellow DLC, corporate Democrats) would turn out to feel more affinity to Republicsum than to Democrats.
    The major question now is not whether Obama is a Muslim, but whether he’s been a closet Republican all these years.
    Having continued and expanded on virtually all of Bush’s odious polices, his record is certainly one of a proud Republican, not that of a person who represents the interests of ordinary Americans against the military, Wall Street, Big Pharma, banking, and Israeli lobbies.


  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    TomDispatch Blocked by State Department!
    Tom Engelhardt, December 24, 2010
    I have a friend who sends a note every year in December, pleading with me to pen one upbeat, hopeful piece before the next year rolls around. Mind you, I consider myself an upbeat guy in a downbeat world and, for me, when it comes to pure upbeatness, you couldn


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Your agenda is obvious, and so are your sources”
    This type of vague finger pointing does nothing to illustrate your thoughts. I too think that Steve has picked up the pom-poms with a motive that is less than fact based, but I can’t really put my fingers on the motive. Is it for self-advancement, hoping to attach himself more directly to the governing body, or is it simply an effort to apply “positive inertia” to the people’s opinion of Obama’s governance???
    Dee, if you have a tangible opinion of the motive behind Steve’s inexpicable cheerleading and optimism, please share it.
    Personally, as far as this piece of shit Obama goes, I think he has made some backroom deals with the scum on the right. We know what the right gave Obama, but we have no idea what this insincere posturing ball of shit promised in return. I suspect the extended tax break for the obscenely wealthy is just the tip of the iceberg. I think Obama would sell out his own offspring if he could gain a political inch from it.


  11. T.J. Pempel says:

    I hope you are right, Steve. But the big test will be keeping control of the political narrative. Republicans threaten HR hearings on all manner of things to embarrass the White House and gain control of the narrative–‘health care is a gov’t takeover;’ ‘environmental regulations threaten jobs;’ ‘we need more program cuts;’ ‘no new taxes,’ etc. For Obama to succeed he needs to regain narrative control and refocus on issues of improved education, infrastructure, environment, more fair taxes, etc. Let’s see if the last month has stiffened his spine. T.J.


  12. non-hater says:

    I think saying momentum has changed is an overstatement. The victories in the post-election session happened mostly because the electoral advantage the Republicans gained by opposing the various measures disappeared. So they decided to pack all of Obama’s success into one short time period when non-news junkies are paying even less attention than usual. With all of this stuff out of the way, the public discourse next year will be entirely about issues where the Republicans think they have an advantage.


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