Jonathan Chait published an “exit interview” with Dan Pfeiffer, On Learning to Ignore Republicans and How the White House Gave Up. It contained some interesting quotes that I’ll get to in a moment. But despite Chait’s claim, the interview wasn’t that revealing because it only reinforces something I’ve known for some time: that the Obama administration got all the way to the Debt Ceiling crisis of 2011 before realizing that they couldn’t negotiate with the Republicans. I thought they were naive to ever think that. But certainly after all the Obamacare negotiations when not a single Republican voted for the law should have told Obama and his team everything they needed to know.
Instead, they had to wait until the Debt Ceiling crisis to learn this. And think about that. If we had (and I certainly don’t rule out our doing it in the future), it would have done untold damage to the world economy. Keep that in mind as you read the following quote from Pfeiffer about what he now thinks about the Republican leadership:
I think this is entirely correct. And these are the guys that the Obama administration allowed to almost crash the economy. And we are still living with this. It isn’t just Boehner who is worried about solving the immediate problem. I’m already thinking of the next time that Boehner and his hoards are going to hold the world hostage over the debt ceiling. Coming this Fall at a capitol near you!
Pfeiffer contrasts what people who have worked in the Obama administration have learned compared to what former Clinton staffers took from his presidency. The Clinton people came into the administration thinking that the Republicans could make deals. Well, that was doubtless true in the mid-1990s. But this also shows why it might have been a good idea if Obama hadn’t filled his administration with a bunch of Clinton New Democrats. After all, they are all people who — when they are alone with them — agree with Republican politicians on economic matters. They are all one big happy neoliberal family, even if the Republicans claim to be something else to their voting base.
And this relates to the ultimate lesson that Obama has learned: that it is a fool’s game to try to appeal to the supposed middle between Obama’s moderation and the Republicans’ proto-fascism; going progressive is what works best. Here’s another great quote from Pfeiffer:
But then one has to wonder why the administration was ever listening to the Villagers? I’m not brilliant and I haven’t followed politics closely for very long. But regardless of what side, it has been clear to me that these Very Serious Fools don’t know anything. I was saying the same thing after the 2012 election when they were all claiming that the Republicans needed to change. I wrote again and again that there was no reason for the Republicans to change and in the end, the Republicans did not change — at least not in the way that the Villagers wanted them to.
The Villagers are involved in a kind of dream magic. They think that if they talk about their dreams of Tip and Ron having drinks together, their collective “centrist” — actually socially liberal, economically conservative — wet dream will come to pass. What kind of naivete does someone have to have to think that the world actually works like this?
Well, there was one telling quote:, “[Obama] had hopes of being able to change the polarization, not just in the country, but in Washington.” So changing polarization in Washington is harder than in the country? Washington isn’t part of the country? I think it is that kind of thinking that is the root of the problem with the Obama administration. They are involved in their own kind of dream magic. But I’m glad they’ve grown up a bit.