What makes the presidency so hard is that it's not about deciding right vs. wrong. It's almost always about choices about priorities--which of the many possible "right" things should move up to the top tier, which are clearly not worth the effort, and which are somewhere in the middle. This requires gauging all sorts of things...are cranky Dem Senators really upset about Warren, or just putting up a show for the benefit of home-state interests. How much does Warren's obvious symbolic importance to some liberals translate to liberal activists in general, and how will that play out if Obama was to choose a substantively similar but symbolically less fraught nominee? How do Washingtonians feel about the president's resolve, and will his reputation for being tough be helped if he stands up to balky Senators? What if he stands up to liberals? How much do the banks actually care about Warren's symbolic importance? How likely is this choice to take up valuable Senate floor time compared to alternative nominees, and which nominations or legislation might that jeopardize? What options does he have on those other items that might clear more space for a Warren floor fight (if one is likely), and how important would those compromises be?
Then realize that there's a similar set of questions for each of the things that Barack Obama wants to do, and for all the things he doesn't really care about but for which others are urging him to act. Remember that while on the one hand he has far more tools than any other individual to use in order to persuade others to go along with what he wants, he's using those tools across dozens, maybe hundreds, of issues, while many of those he deals with may only care--and care intensively--about one or two or maybe a handful of issues. And note that everyone is watching what the president decides, and how he decides, and who he listens to and what strategies he uses, so that they can maximize their ability to get what they want from him when it's their turn to play. None of which should be taken as apologizing for the president... he asked for the job! He certainly should be held to account. It's just important, in my opinion, to understand what it means for a president to make a decision before we start attacking him for one.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
What "doing his job" can sometimes mean...
Great, great piece by Jonathan Bernstein: