President Obama was smart to tackle health insurance reform when he did

November 5, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

Paul Krugman makes an excellent point today (when doesn’t he make excellent points?):

Democrats, declared Evan Bayh in an Op-Ed article on Wednesday in The Times, “overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession.” Many others have been saying the same thing: the notion that the Obama administration erred by not focusing on the economy is hardening into conventional wisdom.

But I have no idea what, if anything, people mean when they say that. The whole focus on “focus” is, as I see it, an act of intellectual cowardice — a way to criticize President Obama’s record without explaining what you would have done differently.

After all, are people who say that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy saying that he should have pursued a bigger stimulus package? Are they saying that he should have taken a tougher line with the banks? If not, what are they saying? That he should have walked around with furrowed brow muttering, “I’m focused, I’m focused”?

The issue, says Krugman, is not the lack of focus, but the inadequacy of the White House’s economic plan. This is something Krugman has been hammering from day one and who knows where we’d be if Democrats had listened to him and others who were advocating for a more audacious stimulus.

This raises another point. I actually think Obama was smart to use the momentum of the 2008 campaign to pass a health insurance bill. My complaint – and that of many progressives – was that the administration was ceding too much ground in the debate, was flat-footed in response to the rightwing noise machine, was blithely negotiating away key bargaining chips, and was getting bogged down in appeasing a few centrist Democrats who appeared to be negotiating in bad faith. Remember, progressives were agitating for the threat of reconciliation long before Scott Brown’s stunning victory.

Still, the bill passed, and I don’t buy into the congealing conventional wisdom that Obama should have postponed tackling health care.

Liberal bloggers are bringing down Obama, part II: It’s NOT the economy, stupid, it’s Obama’s character

September 29, 2010 by Peter · 15 Comments 

My post, How a handful of liberal bloggers are bringing down the Obama presidency, provoked a range of responses and I’d like to address the dominant themes. Here’s an excerpt of the piece for context:

When Robert Gibbs attacked the professional left he didn’t specify anyone by name, but the assumption was that it was cable personalities, disaffected interest groups, bloggers and online commenters. With each passing day, I’m beginning to realize that the crux of the problem for Obama is a handful of prominent progressive bloggers, among them Glenn Greenwald, John Aravosis, Digby, Marcy Wheeler and Jane Hamsher. Virtually all the liberal bloggers who have taken a critical stance toward the administration have one thing in common: they place principle above party. Their complaints are exactly the same complaints they lodged against the Bush administration. Contrary to the straw man posed by Obama supporters, they aren’t complaining about pie in the sky wishes but about tangible acts and omissions, from Gitmo to Afghanistan to the environment to gay rights to secrecy and executive power.

The essence of their critique is that the White House lacks a moral compass. The instances where Obama displays a flash of moral authority – the mosque speech comes to mind – these bloggers cheer him with the same fervor as his most ardent fans.

Some will dismiss them as minor players in the wider national discourse, but two things make them a thorn in the administration’s side: a) they have a disproportionately large influence on the political debate, with numerous readers and followers — among them major media figures; and b) they develop the frames and narratives that other progressive Obama critics adopt and disseminate

I’ve argued for some time that the story of Barack Obama’s presidency is the story of how the left turned on him. And it eats him up. You know it from Robert Gibbs, you know it from Rahm Emanuel, you know it from Joe Biden and you know it from Obama himself. The constant refrain that liberals don’t appreciate the administration’s accomplishments betrays deep frustration. It was a given the right would try to destroy Obama’s presidency. It was a given Republicans would be obstructionists. It was a given the media would run with sensationalist stories. It was a given there would be a natural dip from the euphoric highs of the inauguration. Obama’s team was prepared to ride out the trough(s). But they were not prepared for a determined segment of the left to ignore party and focus on principle, to ignore happy talk and demand accountability.

As president, Obama has done much good and has achieved a number of impressive legislative victories. He is a smart, thoughtful and disciplined man. He has a wonderful family. His staff are good and decent people trying to improve their country and working tirelessly under extreme stress. But that doesn’t mean progressives should set aside the things they’ve fought for their entire adult life. It doesn’t mean they should stay silent if they think the White House is undermining the progressive cause.

Point #1 (Does the White House really care about a handful of liberal bloggers?)

Although several readers disagreed that bloggers had the power I was attributing to them, there was general consensus that they were an annoyance to the White House.

Politico said that Bill Burton’s silence reveals how the White House feels:

Who, exactly, makes up this “professional left” that is so bothering President Barack Obama and his advisers? On Tuesday, Gibbs’ deputy, Bill Burton, made it clear that the occasionally critical cable personalities originally associated with this comment have the administration’s blessing. “If you’re on the left, if you’re somebody like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow or one of the folks who helps to keep our government honest and pushes and prods to make sure that folks are true to progressive values, then [the president] thinks that those folks provide an invaluable service.” Burton told reporters. Noticeably absent from Burton’s embrace was anyone from the blogosphere once courted so avidly by the White House. Peter Daou thinks he knows why…”

Ezra Klein, as well-sourced as anyone I know, writes:

Peter Daou is right that liberal bloggers are getting under Obama’s skin.

Point #2 (Do liberal bloggers want to bring down Obama?)

The title of my post (“How a handful of liberal bloggers are bringing down the Obama presidency“) was largely interpreted as a slam on the bloggers themselves. It certainly wasn’t meant as one, which I hope was clear from the body of the post. Rather, it was intended as a literal observation that a small group with disproportionate influence was contributing to President Obama’s depressed approval ratings by holding him accountable whenever he appeared to undermine core Democratic and progressive principles.

Which is why I said “bringing down” not “brought down.” The former is a question of degree, and reversible, the latter much less so. And nowhere did I argue that these bloggers wanted to bring down the administration. Quite the opposite. In a concurrent tweet, I said: “Critical difference between Obama’s liberal critics and his conservative ones is that the former want him to succeed, the latter to fail.”

Point #3 (Wouldn’t Obama be doing fine if people had jobs?)

Notwithstanding the opening sentence (“This post was originally written about the frightening case of Anwar al-Aulaqi”), a number of readers took issue with what they perceived as an inordinate focus on civil liberties and rights. They contended that Obama’s problems boil down to the bad economy, no more no less.

Alex Pareene at Salon:

I think the principled civil libertarian critique of Obama is completely correct — and I also think it has little to do with his, or the Democratic Party’s, unpopularity. I think if the economy was booming and unemployment was low, Glenn Greenwald would still be completely correct and the president would be much more popular.

Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler, two of the bloggers I referenced in the piece, echoed that refrain.

Glenn:

I think the reason why people are so angry at Democrats and disenchanted with Obama has very little – basically nothing – to do with what bloggers have been saying, and everything to do with the fact that there are no jobs and millions of people are having their homes foreclosed.

Marcy:

As much as I focus on torture & assassination, I’d buck up a lot faster if the Admin focused on helping people save their homes.

It’s always daunting to cross verbal swords with the likes of Glenn and Marcy, but even though it’s indisputable that a better economic environment would benefit Obama, I think pinning the president’s troubles on the economy is an incomplete reading of the social and political climate.

For one thing, most Americans still blame Bush:

Nearly two years into his presidency, 51% of Americans say President Barack Obama bears little to no blame for U.S. economic problems, while 48% assign him a great deal or moderate amount of blame. More Americans now blame Obama than did so a year ago, but a substantially higher percentage, 71%, blame former President George W. Bush. LINK

A majority of the country still believes that President Obama isn’t responsible for the state of the U.S. economy, but the number has steadily declined since his presidency began. According to the brand-new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 56 percent think Obama inherited the economic situation, versus 32 percent who say his policies are responsible for it. LINK

For all their economic gripes, 52 percent of Americans say they’d rather have President Obama than his predecessor in control of economic policy, vs. 35 percent who’d prefer to have former President Bush in charge. LINK

For another thing, there’s actually a case to be made in favor of the administration’s economic policies, not least of which are avoiding a depression and saving the auto industry. Ezra elaborates:

A $787 billion stimulus? Yes, it was too small. But everything Washington does is always too small. And within the confines of that stimulus, the Obama administration and the Democrats in Congress managed to make a host of long-term investments that would’ve been considered huge accomplishments in any other context, but are largely unknown inside this one. Huge investments in green energy, in health information technology, in high-speed rail, in universal broadband, in medical research, in infrastructure. The Making Work Pay tax cut. The Race to the Top education reform program. No recent president has invested in the country on anything like that level.

The fact of financial reform is less impressive given the fact of the financial crisis, and readers know that I’m skeptical about the final design of the bill. But the consumer protection agency really is an important addition that might not have been included if the White House was occupied by a different team. There are the smaller items that, in any other administration, would be seen as achievements. Menu labeling in chain restaurants. The Independent Payment Advisory Board to bring down Medicare costs. Ted Kennedy’s SERVE America Act. And then there’s what didn’t happen: The financial system didn’t collapse. Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke and George W. Bush deserve some of the credit for that — though they also deserve some of the blame for not preventing the crisis in the first place. But as Ben Smith says, TARP, which was begun by Bush and implemented by Obama, is probably one of the most successful policies in American history — and it’s also one of the least popular.

(Steve Benen has made a similar case, as have others.)

The reality is that Obama’s problems have been brewing from the day he took office. They came to a head during the health insurance battle and they have been exacerbated by an ailing economy and a series of events, actions and decisions, many of which seem insignificant against the backdrop of a back-breaking recession, but taken together, reinforce doubts about Obama’s ideological and moral compass.

For nearly two years, I’ve written about the demise of “hope and change,” basing my arguments on two related theses:

1. The convergence of left-right opinion is a critical factor in the shaping of conventional wisdom against Obama.

2. A range of acts and omissions have resulted in a sense that Obama lacks moral authority, lacks the courage of his convictions, lacks convictions, all fatal impressions for a leader.

On the first, I’ve argued that  the cauldron of opinion that churns incessantly on blogs, Twitter, social networks, and in the elite media generates the storylines that filter across the national and local press, providing the fodder for public opinion and ultimately determining conventional wisdom.  Typically, countervailing left-right narratives create enough tension to prevent the public from rapidly congealing around a single view. However, in some cases (Bush with Katrina, Obama on health care), left and right come to agree that a political leader is on the wrong track. It is this merging of left-right opinion that has damaged Obama. He can sustain relentless attacks from the right – it’s what everyone expects – but when the left joins in, the bottom drops out. That’s why opinion-shapers in the liberal blogosphere exert inordinate influence over Obama’s fortunes. And from the growing alarm at the White House, it’s clear they know it.

This is directly related to the second thesis, that Obama’s problem is not about policy but about character. Here’s how I framed it in a recent post:

Obama and Democrats have undermined their own moral authority by continuing some of Bush’s’ most egregious policiesEverything flows from the public’s belief that you stand for something. The most impressive legislative wins lose their force if people become convinced you’ll sell out your own values.

It would be unfair and silly to portray all Democrat politicians as devoid of moral convictions, but it’s not inaccurate to state that there is a widespread phobia among Democrats of appearing “weak,” which paradoxically leads to behavior that further reinforces that impression. When you fret too much over what others think, you tend to contort yourself in an attempt to please, often at the expense of your core beliefs. When the specific complaint is that you’re weak, there is a tendency is to do whatever your critics characterize as strong – and in the case of Democrats, they tend to ignore the strength of their own values and emulate Republicans, ending up looking even weaker in the process. From gay rights to executive power to war to the environment, the left increasingly believes the Obama White House lacks the moral courage to undo Bush’s radicalism.

This is not just a blogospheric theme. The NYT on Monday:

We are starting to wonder whether Congressional Democrats lack the courage of their convictions, or simply lack convictions.

Long before the American public rendered judgment on Obama’s economic policies, a core group of progressive bloggers and activists were expressing alarm at everything from gay rights to Gitmo to torture, women’s reproductive freedom to Afghanistan. They were essentially saying that Obama was betraying his implied and explicit promise to be the anti-Bush.

As far back as May, 2009, I wrote:

Over the past four months there have been a series of flare-ups between the Obama administration and the progressive activist community, centered mainly around the new administration’s willingness (or lack thereof) to reverse Bush-Cheney’s radical excesses in the realm of civil liberties, secrecy, detainee treatment, interrogation, and counter-terrorism.

Ever astute and incisive, Digby raises what I think is the critical point in this entire debate:  “The argument against torture is slipping away from us. In fact, I’m getting the sinking feeling that it’s over. What was once taboo is now publicly acknowledged as completely acceptable by many people. Indeed, disapproval of torture is now being characterized as a strictly partisan issue, like welfare reform or taxes.”

Ari Melber, my former Kerry campaign colleague, takes a parallel tack, arguing that there should be no debate here; torture is illegal. Even Bush acknowledged that. Glenn Greenwald, an indispensible voice on this topic, says bluntly: “Ever since he was inaugurated, Obama has taken one extreme step after the next to keep concealed both the details and the evidence of Bush’s crimes, including rendition, torture and warrantless eavesdropping.”

As has been the case for years, Democratic leaders, operating within the Washington bubble, misconstrue the concerns of the netroots and often privately dismiss them as the rantings of immature outsiders and political neophytes. But as always, the progressive community, a far more efficient thinking machine than a handful of strategists and advisers, is looking ahead and raising a unified alarm. The message is this: anything less than absolute moral clarity from Democrats, who now control the levers of power, will enshrine Bush’s abuses and undermine the rule of law for generations to come.

Setting aside all the campaign slogans about hope and change, what Obama really signifies is a razor sharp break from Bush, Cheney, Yoo, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Libby, Bybee et al. After eight years of damage to the fabric of our Constitution and our nation, the entire point of a new face, a smart, youthful, inspiring Democratic president is to completely and totally reject the Bush years, to reject the lawless behavior, the Orwellian rationales, the blatant disregard of the Constitution. Neglecting to do so, and leaving any doubt about where Democrats stand on these issues, is profoundly detrimental to the country.

This was about Obama’s character, not just his policies, about moral courage and conviction — and the lack of it. The right, led by radio blatherers and the still potent rightwing attack machine, had their sights on Obama’s character from the very beginning. They were bent on destroying him. It’s when the left began conveying doubts about his moral authority that the warnings signs should have started flashing in the West Wing.

The health care debate, with the left’s profound disappointment over the public option and the right’s overwhelming antipathy to a “government takeover” permanently defined and enshrined the previously inchoate impressions of Obama as a man whose obsession with conciliation rendered him incapable of taking an unshakable stand in defense of his principles.

This is how I see the steady unraveling that has led to Obama’s steep drop in the polls and the deflation of the hope bubble. So even though a better economy would improve his standing, to reduce his problems to a poor economy is a gross oversimplification.

P.S. Even though it’s self-explanatory, to avoid any misunderstanding, the word ‘stupid’ in the title is only there as part of the infamous “it’s the economy, stupid” phrase. And saying “it’s Obama’s character” is not a value judgment but a contention that his problems are about character more than policy.

The Age of Denial

September 18, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

America is in an Age of Denial, a time in which intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women.

It is an age where wealth disparities are at record levels, where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success, where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer.

It is a time when a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood, when a sports game arouses more passion and emotion than a million babies dying.

This denialism afflicts the entire nation, not one party, not one particular group, not one ideology.

Many liberals stand by while a Democratic administration affirms and cements the worst excesses and overreaches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, authorizing extra-judicial killings, indefinite detention and rendition, among other egregious practices. They stand by as a catastrophic oil spill is purposely scrubbed from public awareness because it has an adverse effect on Democratic electoral prospects. They stand by as the lies and deceptions that led America into Iraq are forgiven and forgotten and the Republican architects and purveyors of those lies are lauded by Democratic leaders. They stand by as obscenely rich bankers are bailed out at the expense of struggling taxpayers.

Conservatives stand by as their leaders callously exploit fear and xenophobia. They stand by – or worse, participate – as rightwing blatherers spew an endless stream of hateful invective across the airwaves. They yearn for war, war and more war against an ill-defined enemy. They traffic in jingoistic soundbites and call it patriotism and stand in defense of a Constitution they haven’t bothered to read. And perhaps more destructively than anything else they say, do or deny, they willfully toy with our future by pretending that the wholesale ravaging of the environment has absolutely no effect.

On the last point, David Roberts of Grist provides insight:

However muted denialism may have gotten in the late 2000s, it has come roaring back … Climate denialism is part of something much broader and scarier on the right. The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. … The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions.

The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that’s not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality — a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards — designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That’s why conservatives catch hell when they’re skeptical of climate skepticism. They’re messing with tribal cohesion and morale.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything!

Roberts captures the frightening implications of denialism, a breakdown of trust in our basic institutions, an ideological war against facts and science, a kaleidoscopic skewing of national priorities. This is America in the Age of Denial.

What’s most troubling is that when you confront a denier, they’ll deny that they’re in denial.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert writes about the denial of our economic reality:

The movers and shakers of our society seem similarly oblivious to the terrible destruction wrought by the economic storm that has roared through America. They’ve heard some thunder, perhaps, and seen some lightning, and maybe felt a bit of the wind. But there is nothing that society’s leaders are doing — no sense of urgency in their policies or attitudes — that suggests they understand the extent of the economic devastation that has come crashing down like a plague on the poor and much of the middle class.

The American economy is on its knees and the suffering has reached historic levels. Nearly 44 million people were living in poverty last year, which is more than 14 percent of the population. That is an increase of 4 million over the previous year, the highest percentage in 15 years, and the highest number in more than a half-century of record-keeping. Millions more are teetering on the edge, poised to fall into poverty.

More than a quarter of all blacks and a similar percentage of Hispanics are poor. More than 15 million children are poor.

The movers and shakers, including most of the mainstream media, have paid precious little attention to this wide-scale economic disaster.

UPDATE II: The spiking of the Deepwater Horizon spill — the ultimate example of today’s denialism — comes full circle with this jaw-dropping story:

While BP plans to permanently abandon its stricken well in the Gulf of Mexico, with little but a plug left at the top, it may yet make use of the reservoir of oil and gas that the well tapped into.

Experts say that there are no technical or commercial reasons why BP — or another company if BP is wary of the political or public-relations repercussions — could not eventually produce oil from the formation, which BP once estimated contained about 50 million barrels of oil. The well spewed only about one-tenth of that amount, according to government estimates.

“The bottom line here is that this reservoir still remains a target for further production,” said Tadeusz W. Patzek, chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas.

Dr. Patzek said he thought the formation might contain even more recoverable oil and gas, “but whether it’s 50 million or 100 million, that’s still a pretty decent target,” with potential revenues in the billions of dollars.

Through a spokesman, BP said it was too early to say what would become of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, the nine-square-mile plot about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast where the well was drilled. But in August, Doug Suttles, the company’s chief operating officer, while saying the stricken well and two relief wells would be abandoned, left open the possibility that the company might drill in the area again.

“There’s lots of oil and gas here,” he said at the time. “We’re going to have to think about what to do with that at some point.”

Peter Orszag used to be everybody’s favorite “supernerd” – now, not so much

September 7, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

With his first NYT column, Peter Orszag has lost a good chunk of the opinion-making left. Examples below…

DAVID KURTZ:

Did you wake up this morning from your summer slumber to discover that Democrats are about to get shellacked in the midterms, that unemployment is proving intractable, that the economy is verging on a double dip recession, and that all the political class can seem to stay focused on, at least rhetorically, is deficit reduction?

Missing the beach yet? It gets better.

The big agenda item for Congress between now and the election is whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, set to expire at year’s end. We can’t afford more government spending to rescue the economy and put the jobless back to work, but we can afford starving the government of revenue by extending those massive Bush era tax cuts. Even Peter Orszag agrees.

TAYLOR MARSH:

Peter Orszag reveals depressing inner Obama on economy … Austerity, Dem style, is a LOSER, folks.

ARMANDO LLORENS:

Peter Orzag’s first column for The New York Times illustrates why the Dems are poised to receive a crushing defeat in November.

Obama’s infrastructure proposal: left says “good idea, too small,” right says “more big spending”

September 6, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Consensus is quickly congealing around President Obama’s reported $50 billion infrastructure proposal: the left says it’s a good idea, but a paltry sum relative to the size of the hole we’re in. The right, having successfully framed Obama as a profligate liberal, is pouncing on “more big spending.”

ED MORRISSEY:

What happens when over a hundred billion dollars in borrowed cash gets plunged into infrastructure spending and it fails to kick-start the economy?  According to this administration, spend another $50 billion on the same failed policy.  Barack Obama will unveil his new economic stimulus plan in Wisconsin today, while Russ Feingold looks for a place to hide

MICHELLE MALKIN:

President Obama will announce an additional $50 billion in infrastructure spending. Yeah, that’s what voters have been waiting for — more spending. Should be a good sell on the campaign trail.

STEVE BENEN:

It comes as something of a relief, then, that infrastructure and public works remain a top White House priority. Bang for the buck, these is the kind of investments that make a real difference. … Because this is an excellent idea that would improve the economy, it’s very likely to be killed by Congress. But (a) I’m glad President Obama is stepping up and doing the right thing anyway; and (b) it’s good to have lawmakers put on the spot before the election, taking a position on sensible, effective economic proposals like this one. I’d like to see a bigger, more ambitious package, but it’s a step in the right direction.

KEVIN DRUM:

This is all perfectly sensible. At the same time, if it’s offset by other items in the budget it probably won’t have any net stimulative effect. Essentially, we’ve given in to the deficit hawk brigade without even a fight. Not that it matters, I suppose. It’s too small to be more than a pinprick, and Republicans will probably filibuster to the death the right of our nation’s oil and gas companies to their federal subsidies anyway. But I’m sure it will give Fox News something to roar about for the next month.

Facing an energized and unscrupulous right, Obama brings a water gun to an artillery battle

August 30, 2010 by Peter · 4 Comments 

Two things are crystal clear from President Obama’s lengthy sit-down with NBC’s Brian Williams:

  • He is a decent, thoughtful, intelligent man, trying to do the best he can for his country under extremely challenging circumstances.
  • He is completely outgunned by the rightwing attack machine.

Watch the interview and ask yourself what’s missing from the president’s responses:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

On substance, President Obama makes several critical points, among them that the spilled Gulf oil is “still out there” and that he stands firm in support of the Ground Zero mosque. He is realistic about the economy and he gets an excellent quip in, saying that he can’t spend all his time with his “brith certificate plastered to his forehead.”

Still, you can’t help notice the glaring lack of offense, the cautious answers, the muted tone, the inability to channel the profound alarm and financial pain Americans are feeling. There’s fire on the right, there’s no fire being expressed by Obama. There’s no blasting of Wall Street, no outrage at BP and oil companies, no fury at the lies and obfuscations of the GOP, no grand unified vision of what Democrats stand for and why they deserve to run the country.

I’ve argued that the GOP aims for the total destruction of Obama’s presidency. Charles Lemos puts it in stark terms:

Nothing else will satisfy the GOP’s lust for power than the wanton destruction of Obama’s Presidency. From day one, this has been their game plan, obstruct, rant and rave, delay, obstruct some more, rant and rave, delay, repeat as necessary as to make the nation look ungovernable and the Administration as pathetic and dangerous if not criminal. Throw enough mud, maybe some will stick. And if nothing’s there, invent something.

Posture is everything in politics. The White House and leading Democrats are in a defensive crouch. Much of it is their own doing. Elected to be the anti-Bush, they’ve given Bush and his team a pass on Iraq lies and outflanked Bush from the right on civil liberties and executive power. Given an opportunity to turn the Gulf spill into a historic inflection point, they raced to bury the story, outdoing BP in the rosy spin department. Passing major bills, they neglected to frame them as part of a progressive vision for America, allowing their opponents to frame everything they do as a socialist takeover.

In this interview, Obama mocks the “silly season” and shrugs off Glenn Beck’s outrageous legacy theft of Martin Luther King, Jr. but there’s nothing silly about what the GOP and rightwing attack machine are doing. They are dominating the national debate.  They are brazenly and unscrupulously pushing the envelope further right than anyone imagined. They are doing Orwell proud, denying climate change in the face of obvious warming, pushing for more drilling in the face of an epic spill, drumming up anti-Muslim sentiment, angling for more bailouts for the rich, stealing legacies, and claiming feminism as their own. They are “taking back their country” and returning it to the 19th century.

And worst of all, the only force on the left with the passion and experience to take them on, the netroots, are systematically being demoralized and marginalized by the White House.

So even though I respect and admire the Obama I see in Brian Williams’ interview, appreciate his honesty and integrity, I know in my heart he is bringing a water gun to an artillery battle. With an opponent who takes no prisoners.