You’ve probably seen or read about the President’s bizarre impromptu press conference by now, but I want to lay out the tale for you because I think it will provide useful background for some other stories that will come up this week.
On Friday, President Obama invited former President Clinton to the White House to seek his advice and perhaps to get a little bit of a pep talk. It’s been a rough few months for our trainee President, with the stunning rebuttal delivered by the voters this past November and the mounting foreign policy and domestic failures. Then plan, as best I can tell, was for the President to have a quiet day at the White House while everyone’s attention was diverted by Congress.
Over in the Senate at about the same time as the sit-down, Socialist dinosaur Bernie Sanders was conducting an honest to goodness filibuster. The target of his ire were rich people whose mere existence offended the doddering Marxist. Normally, a stump speech from a guy whose ideology died thirty years ago wouldn’t get much attention beyond some scattered pointing and laughing, but today Sanders was feeling it. He was holding forth like Sergei Eisenstein was filming “Comrade Kuznetsov goes to the Kremlin” and the cameras were loving him. This was about to be a bad day for Republicans, who have never been particularly eager to defend low taxes for everyone and who were about to get a triple shot of news coverage of Sanders’ telegenic speech right in their faces.
The leader of the free world and the ex-leader wandered a deserted hallway, past the offices of the senior advisers, only to discover the door to the press corps briefing room locked.
Had it not been, Mr. Obama and Mr. Clinton might have discovered only a few reporters milling about or catching a few minutes of sleep. Instead, they turned around and found a junior staffer sitting outside of the office of Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.
“Do you know how to open up the briefing room?” Mr. Obama asked the staffer, Katie Hogan.
“Yeah,” Mr. Clinton said, “can you help us unlock it?”
Hearing that, Mr. Gibbs walked out.
“I said, ‘what are you guys up to?’” Mr. Gibbs recalled later. “President Obama said, ‘we’re looking for some reporters.’”
“What have you guys got on your mind,” Mr. Gibbs –- always cautious — countered.
As Allahpundit said, you could almost hear the panic rising in Gibbs’ voice and he was right to be afraid. After just a short time, during which Clinton dominated the microphone, an obviously irritated and deflated President Obama mumbled something about how Michelle needed him to go to a party and walked out of the press conference. I am not exaggerating this in the least. He left the most important issue on his plate right now, the tax deal that he himself negotiated and that has thrown his entire party into disarray, in the hands of an ex-President who hasn’t hit a political lick for a decade. President Clinton finished the presser but by then, the damage was done. Sanders’ filibuster, which should have been the story of the day, was almost completely forgotten and the video of President Obama quitting on the United States of America dominated the news going into the weekend.
Like Steve Green, I was too taken aback to write about what happened until today. To a degree, I’m still in a state of disbelief. I have never seen a President almost literally throw up his hands and give up the was Barack Obama did Friday afternoon. I’ve been tempted to make fun of the whole thing, but I really can’t. It’s not funny; it’s sad and dangerous. We have a President who is in so far over his head that he can’t even carry his own political weight in what should have been a slam dunk.
The real question, though, isn’t why he quit, but why he called the presser in the first place. There was no need for it. Bernie Sanders was about to give him a very useful way to put the onus on the bad tax compromise on the Republicans. Politically, he was on the verge of a huge win. But, for reasons I simply can not comprehend, he decided to make a few headlines of his own and it blew up in his face. Now, he is considerably weaker than he was four days ago and the Democratic Congress has no momentum at all.
Now, at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that this story will be useful background for some other stories you’ll hear about later this week. Here’s what I mean. Some Republicans have resigned themselves, stubbornly, to the notion that the tax deal is the best Republicans will ever get for the next two years. The hundreds of billions in pork is the necessary bitter medicine they’re willing to swallow in order to get a two-year extension of the current tax rates and a paltry one-year Keynesian payroll tax holiday because, they say, there is no way they could ever get the President and weakened Democratic Senate to agree to make the tax rates permanent.
But I ask you, did the White House look like it was in any position to fight that battle? Do the Democrats in the Senate, who are hardly unanimous on the matter, look like they’re willing to raise taxes by 3-5 percent on 96 percent of the country in order to get a smaller tax hike on a small number of rich people? Take a look at this chart and ask yourself how many Senators are willing to die on the “tax cuts for the rich” hill. Ask yourself how much political capital the President actually has to spend on this fight after his meltdown Friday afternoon.
I’m not saying that the Democrats will roll over for the right on taxes. There is still enough backbone left in them to make a fight of it, especially given the Republicans’ annoying habit of finding lukewarm middle ground on which to squat on nearly every issue. But we should see just how much fight they have in them right now, when they are at the lowest point I’ve seen them in many years. If we can’t mount a real defense of our economy now, we’ll certainly not do so in two years, when we’ll have to deal with this issue all over again.
UPDATE: Did I mention “disarray”? Yeah, these guys are ready to take on a tax and freedom fight right now.