Friday, December 03, 2010

What he's made of

Paul Krugman is shrill.

It’s hard to escape the impression that Republicans have taken Mr. Obama’s measure — that they’re calling his bluff in the belief that he can be counted on to fold. And it’s also hard to escape the impression that they’re right.

The real question is what Mr. Obama and his inner circle are thinking. Do they really believe, after all this time, that gestures of appeasement to the G.O.P. will elicit a good-faith response?

What’s even more puzzling is the apparent indifference of the Obama team to the effect of such gestures on their supporters. One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.

Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.

No one has shown more faith in Obama's mastery of three-dimensional chess than I, but I have never been so dispirited than I was upon hearing of his decision to implement a federal pay freeze (nothing like freezing the pay of SEC "watchdogs" already looking to get their ticket stamped for a lucrative career on Wall Street). Never mind the futility of the gesture, giving concessions to Republicans after two years of evidence that they will not respond in kind -- on the contrary, that they'll take such a concession as a sign of proof of weakness -- is like watching the victim of domestic abuse inviting the tormentor back home.

Conciliatory gestures are not going to help him with Republicans in Congress and they won't help him with so-called Independents. If he isn't willing to stake out what he believes in, than the next two years are going to be long, slow, and depressing. He may not win many battles with a Republican House and a dysfunctional Senate -- victories that may not be remotely possible against a unified opposition intent on destroying him -- but he could at least try to look like he'd prefer not to give an excellent impression of a doormat.

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