Jon Chait on Obama's negotiating predicament:

President Obama has a credibility problem. He has compromised so often that Republicans simply don't believe that he'll sustain his opposition to anything.…Obama clearly faces a perception problem. Republicans may complain that he's walked away from deals, but they really think he's a pushover who will cede more and more ground the harder and longer they push. That's a dangerous position to be in on the verge of a high stakes game of chicken. It encourages the Republicans to push the envelope farther and farther—even to walk away from a deal they regard as a win in search of an even better win.

Unfortunately, Obama is between a rock and a hard place. His basic strategy is simple: to position himself as the endlessly reasonable guy willing to go the extra mile but constantly stymied by a crackpot, hard-line group of nihilists in the Republican Party. For various reasons, some genuine and some opportunistic, he thinks this is the way to play things.

Now, you may or may not like this strategy, but it's the one he's chosen. Unfortunately, it's an extremely fragile strategy. Republicans are already furiously trying to pretend that it's Obama who's being the obstructionist, and they're making headway even though there's virtually no substance to this at all. But if Obama gives them even the least opening by genuinely refusing an arguably fair deal, they'll have all the ammunition they need. Obama will lose his Mr. Reasonable cred overnight, and with it whatever public opinion advantage it gave him. Conversely, though, as Chait points out, if he sticks to his Mr. Reasonable guns at all costs, he looks like a pushover. He's chosen a very, very narrow tightrope to negotiate.

Is President Obama a huge sellout to the progressive cause, as many on the left believe? Matt Yglesias imagines a world in which that's true, but the Democratic caucuses in the House and the Senate were precisely as horrible as Obama. Such a legislature would have passed a bigger stimulus, a better healthcare bill, a card check bill, a cap-and-trade bill, and an immigration bill:

That’s a lot! And it’s what would have happened even if Barack Obama was exactly as rotten and unprogressive as the actually existing Barack Obama. All it would take to get to that world would be to make the people occupying the legislative pivot points as rotten and horrible as President Obama, a bar that left-wing critics of Obama keep assuring me is a low bar. So how come we can’t do it? It’s important for people not to let their frustrations with things Obama has done, is doing, or will do confuse them about the historical record. The overwhelming story of American politics in 2009 and 2010 was of Congress refusing to enact progressive measures that, had they passed Congress, would have been signed into law. If progressives failed during the leadup to the 111th Congress, the failure that really mattered was the failure to elect a more progressive Congress, not the failure to elect a more progressive president.

Actually, as Matt briefly alludes to earlier in his post, all of this would have become law easily if only the Senate didn't require 60 votes to pass a bill. The fact is that the left did manage to elect a Congress in which the median member was willing to pass all this legislation. They just didn't elect a Congress in which the 60th senator was willing to do it. That's a much, much, much higher bar.

On the bright side, though, if the Senate were a majoritarian body then George Bush might very well have been able to privatize Social Security in 2005. Not to mention lots of other stuff that he and Karl Rove probably didn't even bother trying for. On net, this bias toward the status quo hurts liberals more than conservatives, but it's not completely black and white.

As it happens, I think it's possible to get a little too caught up in political scienc-ey research suggesting that the president is all but powerless. It may be worth pointing out the president's limitations from time to time, since people fixate on his powers so much, but he's hardly a potted plant. Sure, Obama probably couldn't have gotten a lot more done if he'd been more aggressive, but I continue to think he could have gotten a little more done. To go much further, unfortunately, would require not just a more liberal Congress, but a stronger institutional base for the entire progressive movement. We're not really anywhere close to that at the moment.

Michele Bachmann's Hair

The latest on Michele Bachmann:

After launching her bid for the White House, Bachmann has broken with her usual frugality and shelled out some serious cash on a stylist in what could be seen as her own John-Edwards'-$400-haircut moment.

According to Bachmann's latest campaign finance filings, her campaign spent nearly $4,700 on hair and makeup in the weeks after she entered the presidential race on June 13. Records show her campaign made three payments of $1,715, $250, and $2,704 to a Maryland-based stylist named Tamara Robertson....blah blah blah....

I really, really wish we could knock off this stuff. Presidential candidates have to look good, and female candidates especially have to look good. It's unfair, but it's the way things are. To then turn around and gripe about their styling bills is shamelessly petty. MoJo is better than this.

The New York Times reports that employers don't want to hire people who have been out of work for a long time:

A recent review of job vacancy postings on popular sites like, CareerBuilder and Craigslist revealed hundreds that said employers would consider (or at least “strongly prefer”) only people currently employed or just recently laid off....Given that the average duration of unemployment today is nine months — a record high — limiting a search to the “recently employed,” much less the currently employed, disqualifies millions.

The positions advertised with preferences for the already-employed run the gamut. Some are for small businesses, and others for giants, including the commercial University of Phoenix (which, like some other companies, removed the ads after an inquiry by The New York Times) or the fast-food chain Pollo Tropical. They cover jobs at all skill levels, including hotel concierges, restaurant managers, teachers, I.T. specialists, business analysts, sales directors, account executives, orthopedics device salesmen, auditors and air-conditioning technicians.

For what it's worth, this has always been true. Having a long gap in your resume has always been a problem, and having a long current gap has always been a really big problem unless there's a mighty convincing explanation for it. The difference today isn't that employers have changed, it's that they're so swamped with job applications that they figure they might as well just admit their biases up front.

The other difference, of course, is that there are more long-term unemployed than there used to be — far more than in any previous recession. In the past, someone out of work for a year might very well have been someone pretty unmotivated to find a job, and therefore not especially desirable. Today it's far more likely that they're still extremely motivated but there are just no jobs to be had. So ironically, the very recession that's caused a long-term spell of joblessness to be less meaningful in fact has caused it to be more meaningful in practice. It's a way in which cyclical unemployment can turn into structural unemployment, and it's yet another reason we should be using every possible trick in both our fiscal and monetary bags to fight cyclical unemployment and get it under control. Luckily, Congress is focused like a laser beam on getting the economy moving and bringing down the unemployment rate, so this shouldn't be a problem for too much longer.

Oh wait.

David Brooks three weeks ago on the Republican obstructionists who derailed the debt ceiling talks:

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise....The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities....The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency....The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

....If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Brooks sees the light! Hooray! Unless, um, he changes his mind. Cue Brooks tonight:

Alas, the dream of a Grand Bargain died Friday evening for three reasons. First, it was always going to be difficult to round up the necessary Congressional votes....Second, the White House negotiating process was inadequate....Third, the president lost his cool.

....There has been an outbreak of sanity since Congress took control....This should be a humbling moment for the White House, and maybe a learning experience. There are other people who have been around Washington a long time. They know how to play this game.

Just yesterday I was telling a friend who likes Brooks that I'm not a Brooks hater. I'm still not. But honest to God, I've never seen a columnist who's so schizophrenic. One day we've failed because Republicans are just shy of insane, the next we've failed because Obama screwed up the negotiating process. It's like some part of him rebels whenever he finally admits to himself what the modern conservative movement has become. I wonder what it will take for him to finally figure it out for good?

What a discouraging pair of speeches. I expected Obama to stick with his Mr. Reasonable routine, so that wasn't a surprise. But I was surprised that he didn't do a better job of making a case for his own side. It just seemed....limp. I mean, this is not exactly a rousing call to action:

I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.

When he switched to describing the Republican plan, he didn't do much better. I really don't think he managed to paint the "cuts only" alternative as all that dire sounding, and I don't think he managed to explain the tea party intransigence in the House very well either. I could figure out what he meant because I follow this stuff, but I'm not sure someone who was coming into this cold could have.

And Boehner! What kind of gall does it take to describe last week's House bill as "bipartisan"? How many Dems voted for it? Three? Four? And he repeated this nonsense multiple times. This was accompanied by claims that it was Obama who created this whole crisis in the first place, that healthcare reform added to the deficit, and that Obama's "balanced approach" meant solely more spending and more taxes. Ugh. This is about as close to outright lying as you can get without being called on it. But Boehner knows well that it doesn't matter. If anyone does call him on it, it will only be in a few print-only fact checking pieces that no one reads.

I'm not sure what Obama hoped to accomplish tonight. He didn't really explain the debt ceiling itself very well, and for my money he didn't explain the problem with the tea party caucus in the House very well either. The latter, unfortunately, isn't really something you can explain unless you're pretty blunt about it, and that's just not his style. Nor was any news made.

I dunno. Maybe I'm misjudging how this will go over with Joe Sixpack. Maybe the congressional switchboard really will light up with demands for compromise. But it sure didn't seem to me that Obama moved the needle much tonight.

From Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, on how we're doing in Libya:

I have been impressed with what NATO has done here, how fast it got together with the pressure that it’s brought on Qadhafi. It’s dramatically attritted his forces, his major forces. That said, there’s still plenty of challenges associated with the regime forces who have adjusted [] to the opposition tactics, and we are generally in a stalemate.

I guess this means we officially have yet another forever war on our hands now.

(Via Doug Mataconis.)

This is from Chris Wilson of Slate, and it shows the cash position of the U.S. Treasury over the past year. Long story short, Treasury periodically sells some bonds to raise cash and its cash position goes up. Then it spends that money, sells some more bonds, etc. But starting on May 16, when we reached the debt ceiling and Congress did nothing about it, no more bonds could be sold. For the past couple of months Treasury has been playing games to stay in business, mostly by raiding other accounts or suspending payment of securities that could be held off temporarily. But that's done, and now we're headed inexorably to zero. On August 3rd we go into the red and we stop paying a whole lot of bills.

Which bills? Well, the tea partiers never say. But if you're expecting a check from the U.S. government after next Tuesday, you might want to make a contingency plan.

Home Alone

Derek Thompson explains why he chooses to work in an office even though he could telecommute from home if he wanted to:

For me, it comes down to people. The best social technology increases social connections. Facebook keeps us in touch with far-flung friends. Twitter broadcasts our internal monologues to the world. Email, texts, and phones keep us connected even when we're remote. But none of these things forces us to not be with real live people.

Telecommuting is a choice to be alone. It reduces connections between workers. It removes us from the world of work and makes it indistinguishable from the period before and after, which we could simple call life.

This is, by far, the biggest drawback to my job. On the upside, I'm pretty sure that I'm more productive working at home than I would be in an office, and there are plenty of other benefits too: My commute is 30 seconds, I don't have to put up with interruptions, and I can work odd hours on occasion if I need to.

But it's lonely, no question, even for a basically asocial person like me, and Twitter and email and blog conversations don't come close to making up for it. After nearly a decade, I'm still not sure it's worth it.

(Via Sullivan.)

Getting to No

For the past few months President Obama has been open to nearly any proposal to curb spending and raise the debt ceiling. There's only one thing he's said he categorically won't accept: a short-term increase that kicks the can down the road and forces us to replay this entire battle next year. So guess what John Boehner plans to propose?

Mr. Boehner planned to unveil a new debt-ceiling plan later Monday, a spokesman said. Mr. Boehner's plan would cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years and raise the debt ceiling in two phases—one that would enable the government to cover its bills through the end of the year and a second in January 2012 depending on recommendations from a congressional commission.

Is there any doubt left about what Republican goals are at this point? Boehner has rejected every possible compromise offered to him, and now plans to unilaterally hold a vote on the one thing — the only thing — that he knows Obama won't accept. This is all he cares about. He doesn't want to solve a problem, he just desperately wants to figure out some way to get Obama to say no so that he can make some political hay out of it.

Seriously, how much more obvious can he be? Is there anyone left in Washington who doesn't get this?