Punk'd By The Grand Bargain Fantasy ... Again

Punk'd By A Grand Bargain Fantasy ... Again

by digby

Can the Obama administration just retire the notion of "Grand Bargains" please? That sort of thing simply cannot work when you are dealing with a polarized electorate and an opposition party which has declared all out legislative war. To think they will negotiate in good faith is just ridiculous beyond belief

This article about Rahm's strategy for the climate change legislation is fascinating. I continue to believe these guys get way, way too fine with this stuff and it just won't work against political thugs who are committed using the hard, blunt instrument of obstruction. I don't know what it's going to take for them to get this.

In fact, Rahm, the supposed political genius, played right into their hands:

Dealing with the White House required a one-day-at-a-time, God-grant-me-the-serenity mindset, especially when it came to Rahm Emanuel. The chief of staff was an obstacle to climate action.

When corporate and environmental leaders from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP) went to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing for a late spring 2009 meeting with Emanuel, they could see that he didn't much care about climate change. What he cared about was winning -- acquiring and maintaining presidential power over an eight-year arc. Climate and energy were agenda items to him, pieces on a legislative chessboard; he was only willing to play them in ways that enhanced Obama's larger objectives. He saw no point in squandering capital on a lost cause. The White House could claim victory if Congress passed a beefy energy bill without a cap -- and never mind that doing so could torpedo Copenhagen and delay serious greenhouse-gas reductions, perhaps for many years. At the USCAP meeting, Emanuel made his views clear: "We want to do this climate bill, but success breeds success," he said. "We need to put points on the board. We only want to do things that are going to be successful. If the climate bill bogs down, we move on. We've got health care." Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) had to move the bill out of committee before the White House would get in the game.

I guess that's supposed to be brilliant. They only want to do things that are successful? Well, yes, although many people would define success as being more that "putting points on the board" when your job is to run the country. (Indeed, what he's admitting to is that he has the mindset of a Wall Street baron --- all that matters is tomorrow's share price. It is very revealing.)

Moreover, even by his own standards, he's an abject failure. "Claiming victory" for passing Republican policies isn't exactly getting them anywhere. And failing to pass policies that will deal with this recession and relieve some of the pain actual citizens are feeling isn't buying them any love from anyone.

Obama's stealth strategy had a fallacy at its core. The strategy assumed it was possible to be stealthy on this issue. It implied that if Obama didn't elevate the issue, the opposition wouldn't elevate it either. But the professional deniers -- PR men and women paid to sow doubt and confusion on the issue -- were getting louder every day. And Obama missed opportunity after opportunity to communicate on the issue.

When Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) brought the Waxman-Markey bill to the floor, they forced Obama's hand. He began jawboning members, Al Gore worked the phones from Nashville, and Emanuel put aside his misgivings and mounted an effective whip operation. With an impressive last-minute display by Pelosi, the bill passed 219 to 212 -- and then the momentum dissolved in the face of conservative opposition. Obama's stealth strategy failed to take into account the vigor of denialism and opposition to cap-and-trade. It also failed to anticipate that unforeseen cataclysms could make climate legislation even harder to pass in 2010 and beyond than it had been in 2009.

It is a cruel irony that the epic disaster in the Gulf -- a wakeup call to the need to reduce our dependence on oil -- makes it harder to pass a bill that would help us do so. Expanded offshore drilling (and the revenue it would bring) was the chip Obama hoped to use to draw oil-state senators into a grand bargain that would also include subsidies for nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, with a modest carbon cap in return. The oil spill blew up that idea by taking expanded offshore drilling off the table, at least for now. With few chips left, Obama appears to be hoping that public anger over the spill can help drive a new version of the climate bill. Soon, we’ll know whether he really means it. Democratic leaders in the Senate have been floating the idea of an energy bill without a carbon cap -- which would be yet another failure of nerve by a group of legislators badly in need of adult supervision. Passing a real climate bill will be excruciatingly difficult. Waiting will only make it harder. It’s time for Obama to intervene on the Hill, silence the naysayers inside his own administration, harness the public mood, and make good on his promise to fight.

Rahm seemed to think the Republicans were either irrelevant or could be bought off. What a fatal error. You can say a lot of things about them, but they are always thinking long term and about the Big Picture, however malevolent that long term big picture is. And they realized that Rahm's flaw was that he would do anything to "win," which meant they got to define what that meant --- and then deny it to him anyway.

Everyone believed Rahm's 2006 hype, but they were wrong. He's incompetent. The Republicans knew it and punk'd him -- and the country -- but good.

Update: Here's a tick-tock by McClatchy on the president's action (and inaction) leading up to the decision to expand offshore drilling in the grand bargain. They forgot to mention the meetings where Rahm said it was a big loser and that they had to lick Lindsay Graham's boots until the moment he betrayed them. No article has it all, I'm afraid.