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Monday, March 25, 2013

 
How not to build a presidential legacy

by digby

Bill Sher has an interesting article today in The Week about President Obama's Grand Bargain. He assesses how it will play to his legacy:

The prevailing narrative in Washington suggests that President Barack Obama's legacy depends on forging a "grand bargain" with Republicans that cuts the projected growth of Social Security and Medicare in exchange for more tax revenue.

Former White House fiscal commission co-chair Alan Simpson said it bluntly last month: "If he doesn't get a handle on the entitlements and the solvency of Social Security … the scorecard in years to come was, he failed." Slate's John Dickerson said that a "grand budget deal" would "light up the history books." TIME's Mark Halperin similarly asserted, "a president with a great sense of history and an eye on the clock knows it is now or never … The elusive grand bargain now seems in reach."

There's one problem with such claims: History yawns at budget deals.

Indeed it does. Hell, the present yawns at budget deals. Take a look at web traffic right now if you don't believe me.

Here's the thing. There are only two kinds of people who give a damn about a presidential legacy besides the president himself: his supporters and his enemies. I think we know how President Obama's enemies feel about him, don't we? They are not going to celebrate any "achievement" no matter how much they appreciate him taking the heat for doing their dirty work. But if they are assuming that liberals want deficit reduction and entitlement "reform" as much as the centrists do, they are making a huge mistake. They do not. And it's liberals who will fight for his legacy, not centrists. Centrists are basically utilitarians who could not care less about any of that.

This Grand Bargain nonsense is a beltway obsession. The people who care about Obama and his legacy may buy the fact that he was forced to do this by the Republicans (a common sales pitch among the more ardent of them) but being the guy who couldn't hold the line to protect the Democratic Party's signature achievement of the 20th century against a Republican House majority is hardly a legacy making achievement either.

So, no. This will not make his legacy. His legacy is Obamacare. If that succeeds in improving the system over the long haul, it will be enough for any president. This ongoing obsession with deficit reduction and a Grand Bargain seems to be informed by the foolish belief that they can create a new consensus about the role of government by resolving all the thorny differences we have over "entitlements" and taxes. And that's hubristic in the extreme. That argument has been going on since this country was founded. The tension between those two things defines us. It will never be "resolved."


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