Hey, we all make mistakes. This one just happens to involve hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
While proud of his record, Obama has already begun thinking about what went wrong — and what he needs to do to change course for the next two years. He has spent what one aide called “a lot of time talking about Obama 2.0” with his new interim chief of staff, Pete Rouse, and his deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina. During our hour together, Obama told me he had no regrets about the broad direction of his presidency. But he did identify what he called “tactical lessons.” He let himself look too much like “the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrat.” He realized too late that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects” when it comes to public works. Perhaps he should not have proposed tax breaks as part of his stimulus and instead “let the Republicans insist on the tax cuts” so it could be seen as a bipartisan compromise.
Most of all, he has learned that, for all his anti-Washington rhetoric, he has to play by Washington rules if he wants to win in Washington. It is not enough to be supremely sure that he is right if no one else agrees with him. “Given how much stuff was coming at us,” Obama told me, “we probably spent much more time trying to get the policy right than trying to get the politics right. There is probably a perverse pride in my administration — and I take responsibility for this; this was blowing from the top — that we were going to do the right thing, even if short-term it was unpopular. And I think anybody who’s occupied this office has to remember that success is determined by an intersection in policy and politics and that you can’t be neglecting of marketing and P.R. and public opinion.”
I won’t rehash my annoyance at the Democrats’ obsession with “branding” and salesmanship as the source of their troubles (suffice it to say, even doctrinaire liberals are starting to tire of it) but savor the irony of The One whining about having allegedly neglected to market his policies thoroughly while admitting that his relentless pre-inauguration marketing of the stimulus for “shovel-ready” projects was wrong, wrong, wrong. Why? Because he forgot to account for the cumbersome regulatory bureaucracy that project managers have to shoulder before those shovels can, in fact, be readied. As lefty Kevin Drum recently put it, “The whole concept of ‘shovel ready’ really doesn’t seem to exist except for projects that are so far advanced they probably have funding already.” Oh well.
I wonder when The One will realize there’s no such thing as jobs “created or saved” either. Something for the next election cycle maybe, when “Obama 2.0” is in full swing. Can’t wait. I’m going to leave you guys with this excerpt from the same Times piece, not because I think it’s correct or insightful or even an honest assessment of Team Barry’s thinking, but simply because the resulting freakout in the comments should be magnifique. Exit quotation:
Obama’s aides say they will most likely set up their re-election campaign around next March, roughly the same as when Bush and Clinton incorporated their incumbent campaign operations. They are more optimistic about 2012 than they are about 2010, believing the Tea Party will re-elect Barack Obama by pulling the Republican nominee to the right. They doubt Sarah Palin will run and figure Mitt Romney cannot get the Republican nomination because he enacted his own health care program in Massachusetts. If they had to guess today, some in the White House say that Obama will find himself running against Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor.