President Obama inhabits a very special world. It's a world in which his entire slate of previous statements, policy preferences, and actions is apparently wiped clean every time he delivers a new speech or press statement. As my friend Mary Katharine Ham likes to quip, what Obama said -- or did -- last week, last month, or last year is regarded as irrelevant, so long as he's making himself "crystal clear" today. Call it a transcendent belief in "the fierce urgency of now." I'll illustrate this phenomenon shortly.
First, a few basic takeaways from today's lengthy presidential news conference, which made little actual news. The president said a debt deal is still a ways off, and stated that although he appreciates John Boehner's "good faith efforts" to help prevent a disastrous default, Republicans must "budge" on taxes for a workable compromise to materialize. He called on both sides to make concessions, arguing that it's time to "rip off the Bandaid" and "eat our peas." He forswore short-term extensions, vowing to reject any 30-to-90 day debt ceiling patches. "This is the United States of America, and we don't manage our affairs in three-month increments," he asserted. (Except when we do, of course). He also flatly stated that an accord will be forged by the August 2nd deadline. "We're going to meet every day until we get this thing resolved," he said. Negotiations are ongoing.
Now, back to mystical Obamaland: The president talked quite a lot about the pressing and imperative need to strike a comprehensive debt deal this morning. Largely reprising his hectoring performance of June 29th, Obama called on both sides to sacrifice their respective sacred cows to facilitate an agreement post-haste. Such a visionary pragmatist. Except...this latest incarnation of Barack Obama seems to have forgotten that a previous one was demanding a "clean" debt ceiling hike as recently as six weeks ago. Out: We must hike this debt ceiling without any grand deal immediately! In: We must reach a grand deal to hike the debt ceiling immediately! No matter; new day, new paradigm. Head spin.
To oppose a debt limit increase would be patently "irresponsible," today's Barack Obama intoned -- an apparent repudiation of 2006's Barack Obama, who did precisely that. "Revenue increases" are "fair" and essential, today's Barack Obama insisted -- contradicting 2009's Barack Obama, who noted that raising taxes is "the last thing you want to do" in a sluggish economy. Head spin.
The president also spoke passionately about the necessity of making tough choices to help control the swollen national debt. He assured us he's "willing to do hard things politically" to reach an agreement. What might those "hard things" be? He won't say. It's as if today's Barack Obama has forgotten that when presented with an obvious opportunity to offer leadership on this front, February's Barack Obama introduced a budget that was universally panned for its inadequacy and utter refusal to propose any "hard things." And that April's Barack Obama discarded February's Barack Obama's budget in favor of a laughably non-specific "vision," which still hasn't been fleshed out. And that 2010's Barack Obama appointed a bipartisan debt commission to devise exactly the sort of comprehensive solution that today's Barack Obama demands -- but that February's Barack Obama completely disregarded its recommendations in crafting his (later abandoned) budget proposal. Head spin.
Applying icing to his rhetorical cake, the president wrapped up his press conference by promising that his policies will help corral deficits and debt, eventually. Without missing a beat, he closed with an astonishing brainstorm: He encouraged Americans to envision a large-scale government program to spur job growth through major infrastructure projects as a solution to high unemployment. Today's Barack Obama clearly didn't know or care that the large-scale government program to spur job growth through major infrastructure projects -- championed by 2009's Barack Obama, then mocked by June's Barack Obama -- didn't even come close to meeting the expectations and projections 2009's Barack Obama established. Head spin.
No worries, though. Today is a brand new day. Problem: Today's Barack Obama will soon become yesterday's Barack Obama -- whose stated policies and preferences are liable to slide into obsolescence as soon as tomorrow's Barack Obama opens his mouth. What comes next is anyone's guess.
This cycle of presidential body-snatching may be a totally incoherent approach to governance, but it sure is exciting.
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