It's unusual when a reporter sympathetic to a politician writes a story that makes his subject look bad. But Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker has now done this twice.
The first time was in an article last April on Obama's foreign policy in which he quoted a "top aide" (National Security Adviser Tom Donilon? It sounds like him) saying that the president was "leading from behind" on Libya. Not what most Americans expect their presidents to do.
Now, in an article based on leaked White House memos marked up by Obama, Lizza has done it again.
Contrarian liberal blogger Mickey Kaus sums it up: "The president's decision-making method -- at least as described in this piece -- seems to consist of mainly checking boxes on memos his aides have written for him."
A $60 billion cut in the stimulus package? "OK." Use the reconciliation process to pass the health care bill? A checkmark in the box labeled "yes."
Include medical malpractice reform in the health care bill? The man who as an Illinois legislator often voted "present" writes, "We should explore it."
According to Lizza, Obama prefers getting information and making decisions by staying up late and reading memos rather than meeting with people -- a temperament that's a liability because face time with the president is one of his major sources of political capital.
Lizza's reporting undercuts the stated thesis of his article: that Obama sought to bring bipartisan governance to Washington, but was foiled by Republicans' partisan intransigence.
Evidence that Obama ever seriously considered Republican approaches is minimal in the New Yorker article. The alternatives Lizza describes Obama as considering are for even more spending and government control, such as a much bigger stimulus package.
He mentions just in passing that Obama "had decided to pursue health care reform" as well as the stimulus package -- a choice that inevitably made bipartisanship harder to achieve.
At one point Lizza does quote Obama writing on a memo, "Have we looked at any of the other GOP recommendations (e.g., Paul Ryan's) to see if they make any sense?" Another president might have looked at Ryan's proposals himself or might even have called him on the phone.
George W. Bush, in contrast, worked with Democrats -- and sometimes even talked with them -- on his education plan, his tax cuts and the Iraq War resolution. He even tried, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with them on Social Security.
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