Bob Woodward’s new book The Price of Politics might make a lot of political trouble for Barack Obama in this election. The book looks at the leadership failures that led to the debt-ceiling and budget crises last year, and the historic downgrading of US bonds in August 2011. One of the reasons for the intense polarization was a speech given by Obama earlier in the year that attacked the House Budget Chair’s proposals as un-American — while he sat in the office. In interviews conducted by Woodward for the book, Obama admitted that the attack was “a mistake“:
President Obama told author Bob Woodward that he didn’t know Rep. Paul Ryan was going to attend at a major speech he delivered last year on spending and debt, and says in retrospect that it was “a mistake” to dress down Ryan and his budget plans to his face in that setting. …
“I’ll go ahead and say it – I think that I was not aware when I gave that speech that Jack Ryan was going to be sitting right there,” the president told Woodward according to audio transcripts of their conversations, provided to ABC News.
“And so I did feel, in retrospect, had I known – we literally didn’t know he was going to be there until – or I didn’t know, until I arrived. I might have modified some of it so that we would leave more negotiations open, because I do think that they felt like we were trying to embarrass him,” Obama continued. “We made a mistake.”
It’s not the only one. Jack Ryan is either the candidate who withdrew from the 2004 Senate race that Obama won, or the fictional character in the Tom Clancy series of novels about a CIA agent who rises to the office of President, as ABC notes parenthetically:
(Jack Ryan is the name of a famous Tom Clancy character, and also the name of the Republican who was slated to run against Obama in his 2004 Senate campaign before he withdrew in the wake of a sex scandal.)
Mr. President, please let us introduce you to the House Budget Chair, and a member of Congress since 1999.
We’ll come back to this in an OOTD later this week. However, the excuse doesn’t quite cut it, either. Whether or not Paul Ryan attended that speech, Obama’s words were incendiary and hyperbolic. It’s not as if Ryan wouldn’t have noticed had he not been in attendance. Obama gave that speech to score political points through partisan attacks rather than make an argument or reach a compromise. The Wall Street Journal wondered at the time whether the President had abandoned any pretense at seriousness with that speech, explicitly noting Obama’s attack on Ryan’s plan as un-American as the end to any hint of compromise.
The speech itself was the mistake, not the lack of attention to the guest list. This excuse doesn’t pass the smell test.
Update: Thanks to the commenters, let’s recall what Paul Ryan said the previous time the White House tried the “gee, we didn’t know he’d be there” excuse:
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was invited by the White House to attend President Obama’s combative speech on the deficit last April, Ryan’s office said Monday, contradicting a report that he showed up unannounced.
On Monday, The New York Timesreported that the White House did not know that Ryan planned to attend the speech at George Washington University, where Obama delivered a blistering rebuke of the House GOP’s 2012 budget plan.
Before the speech began, according to the Times, then-White House Chief of Staff William Daley “spied an unexpected guest in the audience: Rep. Paul D. Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, whose budget plan Mr. Obama was about to shred.”
The story says Daley told an aide to try to warn Obama and appears to imply that Obama might have toned down his rhetoric had he known Ryan was in the audience.
The problem with this account, Ryan’s office says, is that the White House invited Ryan to the speech.
“Chairman Ryan was invited by the White House. Ryan RSVP’d in the affirmative to the White House, and he was given his seating assignment by the White House,” spokesman Conor Sweeney said.
Perhaps Barack Obama really doesn’t know Jack about this.
Update: My original tag line, “Executive decisions,” was a play on what I thought one of the Clancy titles — but that was Executive Orders. Executive Decision was a film with Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal. I’ve changed the tag line for another word play on a Clancy title instead.