MSNBC: The Book

Released in March, David Corn’s new “Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back against Boehner, Cantor and the Tea Party” is really a campaign book, it’s 400 pages aimed at shoring up Obama’s far left base. “Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party” are foils, not intellectually worth argument.  

Thus, “Showdown” provides few surprises. Corn begins his book by setting the scene: “Obama wanted to guide the country into its next phase.  But events had conspired against him.  He would routinely note that he had been handed ‘a real shitty deal’ when he entered the White House.”  And in case inherited problems are not excuse enough, Corn makes sure to note that “At the same time, Obama would have to overcome obstacles set up by a Republican Party that was willing to be irresponsible.” Of course, being in the minority in both houses of congress for the first two years of the Obama administration didn’t give the GOP much to be responsible for.

Corn fills his book with anecdotes and reflections from various White House and Hill staffers and Obama advisors, many of whom go unnamed, except the most notable and the most obvious, never once giving name to any of his sources on the right.  Using these reminisces as commentary and support for his own defense of Obama, Corn reflects upon the most prominent political battles of the past three years and dissects them from the Obama administration’s view point.  Corn writes, “[I]n the coming food fight, he [Obama] would be the adult in the room, the reasonable man looking for productive discourse and sensible compromise.”  

For example, Corn begins with the battle over whether to separate the middle-class tax cuts of the Bush administration with the tax breaks for the wealthy.  Though he had promised to end tax breaks for the wealthy and not raise taxes on the middle class, “Obama would have a difficult time honoring both promises … Thus the White House was considering the possibility of a deal, instead of a knockdown slugfest,” and in that deal Obama essentially gained a second round of stimulus spending by “yielding on the tax cuts for the rich.”  He had “arguably won the immediate policy battle with the Republicans.”

Yet Obama had to defend his deal to the left: “He was not just defending the tax-cut deal. He was defending his entire presidency – not from the barbs of his rabid Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-socialist foes on the right, but from the criticism of his purported allies on the left … It looked as if Obama was more upset with the Left for not applauding this deal than he was with the inflexible, filibustering Republicans for causing the dilemma.” 

The rest of Corn’s book reads much the same way, whether he is discussing the START Treaty or the debt ceiling. He offers nothing readers couldn’t get from an evening watching MSNBC. Tea Partiers are “hostage takers” and “extremists,” while Obama is alternately “a hostage negotiator who believed that he had to pursue compromise (perhaps not to his liking) to prevent economic harm” and a president who “also had the latitude to be decisive and daring.” In between the name calling, Corn cannot seem to decide if the legacy of Obama’s presidency should be one of compromise above partisan politics or one of bold political action on the side of the progressives and far left. 

Perhaps the strangest part of “Showdown” is how it ends.  Corn uses an odd choice of past tense to reflect upon Obama’s last year as president (of which less than a quarter had passed when “Showdown was published) and the reelection campaign (which reads as if Obama has already won 2012). Despite the odd way in which it is written, Corn lays out the three steps to the Obama reelection campaign according to a “top campaign strategist.”  The first is nothing new: “[E]stablish a proper context in which voters could review and understand Obama’s first term.”  In other words: remind voters that everything was Bush’s fault. The second was “to prevent the contest from becoming a referendum on him [Obama] … [and] [t]he third step was fighting.”

“Showdown” is not without merit for conservatives. It’s a useful primer on current liberal thought, provides a good view into the tactics of the Obama administration, and does indeed uncover some flaws of the Conservative political movement. Corn oftentimes mentions the fact that Boehner cannot unify his own party.  And while Corn sees this as a reflection of Boehner’s inability to control the new “extremist” wing of the Republican Party, perhaps it should be seen as the Republican Party’s inability to return to the roots of the Conservative movement, a return which could make the end of Corn’s book seem quite foolish.