Buried deep in the latest Washington Post report about fiscal cliff talks (or the lack thereof) is this item which helps explain, albeit misleadingly, the “impasse.”
Two senior White House officials said that David Plouffe, Obama’s top political adviser, crafted a plan to keep the president from getting sucked into a long, public negotiation like the one that unfolded over the debt ceiling. They said that Obama’s lowest moments in his first term came in a six-month stretch of 2011 when he acted as negotiator-in-chief on the annual federal spending bills and the effort to lift the Treasury’s borrowing authority, becoming part of the image a dysfunctional Washington.
“The last thing we want is another month of images of the two of them negotiating,” one senior official said. The White House is determined that Obama “not be drawn to that level.”
Yeah, we noticed.
But the public image of a “dysfunctional Washington” is founded on the inability or unwillingness of the two political parties to work together to reach compromises. When President Obama declines to engage in intense negotiations, he only reinforces that image — or would if the press made his desire not to “be drawn to that level” more widely known.
The Post is correct, about Obama’s unwillingness seriously to negotiate. As it points out, he won’t even talk about entitlements until Republicans agreed to raise tax rates on the top 2 percent of income. But for the reasons set forth above, I doubt that his unwilling has anything to do with a desire to avoid the appearance of being part of “dysfunctional Washington.” Instead, it has everything to do with his desire to force Republicans to fold or, if they don’t, to gain political mileage at their expense.