Barack Obama is a remarkably gifted politician. But his cardinal political error has been that at times he seems to lack the imagination to even conceptualize how truly nihilistic, irresponsible, partisan, and, yes, crazy his Republican opponents are. The last Democratic president saw the Republicans shut down the government, squander millions on partisan witch hunts—including taking 140 hours of sworn testimony investigating President Clinton’s Christmas-card list—and drag the country through an impeachment process. Despite that history—and despite that Obama may be dealing with Republicans who are even more ideological and self-destructive than in Clinton’s day—he still expressed a blind faith in their reasonableness. How quaint.Of course the point of all this nonsense, as Rick Perlstein goes to great lengths to explain, is to side implicitly with the Republicans in blaming President Obama for the sequester.
This faith in the reasonableness of others is quintessentially American. We are, after all, a nation born of the Enlightenment. John Locke, the intellectual godfather of the American Revolution, said, “Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything.” But John Locke was a 17th-century English philosopher, not a 21st-century Tea Party nihilist. Obama, sadly, is not dealing with Mr. Locke—nor with Mr. Spock—but rather with zealous partisans who would, it seems, gladly harm the country in order to hurt the president. Highly illogical, perhaps, but real.
This season’s budget decimation, on the other hand, has been underwritten by Democrats—by Democratic naïveté. By a simple refusal to absorb and accept the lesson of history: that some conservative Republicans will always be constitutionally incapable of acknowledging that a cut in government capacity can ever be a bad thing. The fact that they now can claim, even if disingenuously, that the cuts were Barack Obama’s idea in the first place may make their triumph politically only the sweeter.There's one glaring problem with this line of reasoning. If Republicans are so "nihilistic, irresponsible, partisan, and, yes, crazy" - do folks like Begala and Perlstein really think they would have stopped short of blowing up the entire global economy by failing to raise the debt ceiling? That's a question they need to answer in order to be granted a position on their high horse to accuse President Obama of naiveté. Because it was the sequester that ensured a raise in the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011.
I personally find it fascinating that some of the same people who have been saying for years now that President Obama should not attempt to negotiate - but instead, draw a line in the sand with these lunatics - are choosing this moment when he has done so to blame him for the results.
The truth is that President Obama is smart enough to chose his battles. Back in the summer of 2011 the economy was on much shakier ground and the lunatics were at the peak of their power. If he had made a bet on the idea that they wouldn't throw the global economy into chaos by failing to raise the debt ceiling, the consequences of being wrong (ie, naive) would have been disastrous. As bad as the sequester is, it is preferable to that outcome.
In a way, Begala finally comes to that same conclusion.
Fortunately for our nation, the president seems to have hit upon a strategy that works. Republicans are more divided and more extreme, while Democrats seem more united and more mainstream. By a 3–1 margin in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, voters say the GOP prefers partisanship to national unity, while a slight plurality views Obama as putting unity before party.What he fails to realize is that the support the President enjoys now by being the champion of national unity has come BECAUSE of his relentless embrace of reasonableness in the face of lunacy.
So let's have a talk about who is being naive in their political analysis. Its past time for folks like Begala and Perlstein to get off their high horse and deal with a little reality.