So Bob Woodward’s latest insider book, The Price of Politics, goes on sale tomorrow. Already some explosive details, most of them adverse to Obama and, moreover, inconvenient for the narrative that the problem in Washington is all the fault of Republicans, have begun to leak out. I’ve always found Woodward’s breathy narratives inadequate in many ways, because they are essentially just dumps of his reporter’s notebook, with little serious or substantive interpretive framework of his own. There’s little attempt to figure out what else may have occurred or belongs in the ellipses of his reconstructed conversations. His method, while delivering many mini-scoops, is vulnerable to manipulation from his sources, who undoubtedly leave out or spin things a certain way. As Henry Kissinger once put it, no one ever comes out second-best in their recollection of events in DC. Woodward’s idiot-savant methodology therefore has little long-term historical value.
That said, his books during the Bush administration all created major sensations in the mainstream media. Will this one? Perhaps. Woodward tells Diane Sawyer on ABC News about some of the ways in which the bad relations between Obama and the GOP were Obama’s fault from the earliest days of his administration in 2009:
“There’s this divided-man quality to President Obama always. Initially he meets with the congressional leaders, he says you know, ‘We’re going to be accommodating, we’re going to listen, we’re going to talk, we’re going to compromise,” Woodward said.
“But then they — Republicans ask some questions and challenge him a little bit and he says, ‘Look I won. I’m in charge here,’ ” Woodward continued. “And the Republicans feel totally isolated and ostracized. And this was the beginning of a war.”
I recall that early moment too, along with Nancy Pelosi saying of the Democrat-written stimulus bill, “We won the election; we wrote the bill,” and contrasted this with how Reagan never would have said such a thing after either of his, ahem, landslides. (Not to mention this entirely believable detail: “His administration’s early decision to forego bipartisanship for the sake of speed around the stimulus bill was encapsulated by his then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel: ‘We have the votes. F— ‘em,’ he’s quoted in the book as saying.”)
What we know of Woodward’s account so far is that he seems to apportion more blame to Obama for the collapse of the “grand bargain” over the debt ceiling last year, and was upbraided by a staffer for Harry Reid, which is an amazing fact to ponder:
Obama sent word that he wanted the two Democratic leaders at the White House at 6 p.m. that Sunday, July 24. No reason was given.
Reid arrived in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, David Krone.
“Harry,” the president began, “I hear you have kind of an outline, a framework of something.”
Reid began to lay out the two-step $2.7 -trillion debt limit extension, then stopped. He was not a details guy. “Well, let David just tell you what it is,” he said.
It was highly unusual for someone to pass the ball so completely to a staffer. The 44-year-old Krone outlined the plan, including a secret Republican pledge to count $1 trillion in savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward deficit reduction. That was surprising. Earlier, Boehner had not been willing to accept this accounting gimmick.
“I don’t trust these guys,” the president said dismissively.
Krone either would not or could not conceal his anger.
“Wait a second,” Obama said, interrupting someone else who was about to speak. “I can tell David has something else to say.”
“Mr. President, I am sorry — with all due respect — that we are in this situation that we’re in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn’t create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I’ve always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B.”
Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.
Again, as Jim Geraghty comments, “Well, come on, Mr. Krone, it’s really not fair for you to be citing private-sector experience like that to President Obama.” Meanwhile, let’s see if this Woodward book gets as loud an echo with the media as his books on Bush did.