Rigid Politics

Rigid Politics

by digby

Somebody's dishing (sort of) about David Plouffe:

Often considered a cold, calm cyborgian number-cruncher who reflects his cold, calm cyborgian boss, Plouffe, 44, is in fact deeply passionate man, enamored with the success of the 2008 campaign that cast Obama as a transformational candidate who would change Washington from above. It was an insurgent strategy that bested Hillary Clinton, but it has failed Obama as an incumbent. While Plouffe appears to be pushing Obama toward a more partisan approach, doubts linger over whether he has sufficiently gotten over the last election to win the next one.

Yes, this is a rather snide Washington Post profile, but I have to say that observation about the 2008 campaign really rings true. I have written here many times about the continuing insistence on the campaign as a governing model, despite the fact that it is almost completely irrelevant --- and vastly overrated to begin with. After all, the Party was almost evenly divided in the primaries (but they were all Democrats who came together because they were more or less on the same side) and his opposition in the general was a doddering old man and a lunatic. Plus the country was in the ditch, Republicans had something like a 23% approval rating and virtually everyone hated the outgoing GOP president. I know the campaign was inspirational to a lot of people but it wasn't exactly the apotheosis of political strategy. Nonetheless, they all seem to have believed their own hype and governed from that experience.

And is wasn't just Plouffe. The President still refers to running the campaign as if it is a meaningful comparison to actually being president. He does say in the Suskind book that he learned from the campaign that you have to make people switch gears when things aren't working, which I find somewhat ironic, since it apparently has taken Plouffe nearly three years to do so.
Plouffe’s defenders inside the White House argue that until recently he calculated that aggression against Republicans would hurt the economy and the president’s political standing with independents. Fighting might make liberal groups feel good, White House officials said privately, but it isn’t reasonable.And Barack Obama is a reasonable man.

There is also a less-sanctioned sense within the White House that Plouffe’s above-the-fray path was safe for the naturally cautious president. The problem, according to people in and close to the administration, was the lack of a strong voice to counter Plouffe, who had absorbed many of the roles formerly played by Obama’s hands-on-everything manager, Rahm Emanuel.

But now, the famously panic-proof strategist appears to have answered the appeals of his party and finally set the president on a more partisan — and unPlouffian — course.

Some might call it rigid and stubborn, but YMMV.

Plouffe’s defenders in the White House argue that he has been moving this way all along and that the pursuit of compromises has removed the paralyzing threat of default and put the president on firmer ground: Yes, the public’s discontent with Washington wounded the president, but it hurt Congress more. And now, Republicans will have to compromise on Democratic terms, as happened in this week’s avoidance of a government shutdown. Republicans, the thinking goes, will help the president to help themselves.

“Plouffe sees the whole game,” said Stephanie Cutter, Plouffe’s deputy, who is leaving the White House to work on the 2012 campaign. “Not just the individual plays.”

To the wider Democratic universe, this strategy constituted a year of magical thinking.

Indeed. If failing to push for policies that could have made the economy better and convince the people that he's on their side for the first three years of an monumental economic crisis is part of their long term strategy then I suppose it's a big success. The more obvious explanation is that the control freak Plouffe was so convinced of his brilliance in executing the "no drama Obama" presidential campaign that he failed to switch gears --- and his boss, being of similar temperament, didn't see that this 2009 "plan" going into the White House wasn't working.

I have always thought they all assumed that the economic crisis was no biggie and that the best strategy was for the president was to keep his head down and pursue his plan for a transpartisan Grand Bargain, settling our difference for all time and ushering in a new era of good feeling and comity. (Just like they did during the campaign ....) Voila: Morning In America Part II.

And in a different country, at a different time, under different circumstances that might even have worked. Here in America, right now, it was indeed magical thinking, which I would guess is the last thing anyone would ever think the no-drama team would ever indulge in. I'm afraid they were blinded by premature hagiography.