Liberal Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward appeared on the September 17 C-SPAN program Washington Journal to hawk his new book The Price of Politics.
In the process, Woodward promoted the same stale narrative that compromise is dead in Washington mostly because of those rascally, conservative Republicans, but sought to import a fair measure of melodrama to the stalemate in Washington using the words of a Biden aide to describe the summer's debt ceiling crisis as “an economic Cuban Missile Crisis."
One way Woodward used to describe the breakdown of compromise was the story where Speaker of the House John Boehner didn’t return President Obama’s phone call during the negotiations. He said this was unprecedented. Woodward reiterated White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew’s disgust at this event – citing Mr. Lew’s past career as an aide to Democratic Speaker Tip O’ Neill in the 1980s, who used to immediately call President Reagan back if needed.
Of course Boehner has his side of the story, and it's quite plausible: he was trying to get the congressional players together, work out a deal, and avoid sabotaging the financial markets with news that the talks completely collapsed. Some may call that leadership and responsibility, but it's just an "excuse" to Woodward.
In fairness, Woodward does “point the finger” at virtually every political actor in his book, including President Obama for his lack of presidential leadership. Even so, the veteran journalist and author backtracked on his Obama criticism at about 20 minutes into yesterday's program. Woodward said how Vice President Biden was put in charge of the negotiations and said that the main problem was not the Vice President lack of knowledge of the issues, but Republican intransigence on revenue increases.
Late in the interview, Woodward recounted at how Obama complained to him at the end of an interview that “He said to me, you know if Bob Dole had been the minority leader – the majority leader, I’m sorry – as he was in the 1990s, in the Clinton administration, or Newt Gingrich [was] the Speaker, we would have been able to work this deal out.' Whether that’s the case or not, the president has a very strong argument that there’s less flexibility with the House Republicans now then there was during the Gingrich era.”
He also said Democrats never forget Mondale:
If you don’t have the political will to get up and say we’re going to have to take pain, we’re not going to get there. As background music to all this is the memory everyone has, particularly Democrats, of Walter Mondale in 1984, running against Reagan, said “I’m gonna raise your taxes,” and Mondale got slaughtered in that campaign. So no one wants tell the full story, or the truth. But the government’s gonna have to get revenue and the government’s gonna have to cut back somehow.
Conservatives would argue that with almost $16 trillion in debt and four consecutive years of trillion-dollar budget deficits, it’s no time to dilly-dally on budget reform. What's more, in Obama's first two years in office, Congress passed almost all of President Obama’s domestic agenda from ObamaCare to the stimulus package to Dodd-Frank. The electorate reacted strongly against that agenda, turning the House back to Republicans and chipping away at the Democratic majority in the Senate.
Midterm elections have consequences, and it's unfair to expect Republicans to do anything less than fulfill the promises they made to an electorate displeased with the Obama agenda.
As for Woodward, he insisted he was objective. "This is a politically neutral presentation of what occurred," he proclaimed. At the end, he added:
There is scene after scene where the republicans are not going to budge on some of these things. In their view, they’re adhering to the Constitution. In their view, they’re doing what’s necessary. But the key point is that Speaker Boehner is at least the nominal leader of the republicans in the house, opened these negotiations last year with the president.
There are all kinds of offers and discussions going back and forth on this, and so you can see the detail. You may blame Obama, you may blame the Republicans, you may blame me for writing about it, whatever it is, but this is, if you will, the performance review. This is what we used to call “the best obtainable version of the truth.”