While I don’t agree with Mike Konczal that Obama’s greatest disappointment is his inability to lose well, for me, it’s probably the second greatest disappointment (the greatest being the inability to focus on the employment deficit). At least, I did agree, but now I’m pretty certain I don’t.
A while ago, I wrote about the strategic importance of losing:
This is something that the too-smart-for-their-own-good Democratic political operatives and their progressive apologists always fail to understand: you have to create your own opportunities for good politics. If you think a policy is a good one, that many people will like the outcome, then fight for it. If the policy is truly needed and you lose, don’t worry, circumstances will eventually come around to support your position. And now you’ve laid the groundwork and established a good narrative (TEH EVUL OBSTRUKSHUNITZ!!), both of which are needed to successfully pass the legislation.
So I was tempted to agree when Konczal wrote this:
I expected Obama to be a better loser, specifically to be better at losing. There were a lot of items on the table, a lot of them weren’t going to happen, but it was important for the new future of liberalism that the Obama team lost them well. And that hasn’t happened.
By losing well, I mean losing in a way that builds a coalition, demonstrates to your allies that you are serious, takes a pound of flesh from your opponents and leaves them with the blame, and convinces those on the fence that it is an important issue for which you have the answers. Lose for the long run; lose in a way that leaves liberal institutions and infrastructure stronger, able to be deployed again at a later date.
As Konczal notes, on most issues, Obama attempts to ‘buy credibility’ with Republicans, who then oppose him anyway.
But I think the real problem is that, while Obama might be disappointed with some outcomes, he hasn’t felt that he has actually lost. Sure, he didn’t get what he wanted, but he got something. He might not be entirely pleased with the outcome, but he doesn’t feel as if he’s lost. There’s a difference. That’s because he is a Rockefeller Republican*, so many outcomes just don’t appear so bad. To put this another way, the policies he gives up to ‘buy credibility’ don’t mean very much to him.
The one issue where Obama would have perceived a loss would have been the failure of the START treaty. For whatever reason, this seems to be an issue he cares deeply about, and had START failed, he would have thought he had lost.
The sooner Democrats, moderates and liberals both, realize that the White House is controlled by an opposition party (albeit not the batshit lunatic Republicans), the better off we’ll be.
*To put it bluntly, if a white president were to call for slashing Social Security, cutting taxes on the wealthy, Romneycare, gave massive subsidies to banks while screwing homeowners, and had “evolving views” on gay rights, would there be any doubt about his political affiliation? He would either be a Blue Dog Democrat–which is the modern name for Rockefeller Republicans–or a ‘moderate’ Republican.