Obama, “Credibility,” and Fear of Failure

In the course of an exchange yesterday with Rich Yeselson about the deficit and the prospects of more stimulus, Marc Ambinder wrote:

Telling Democratic leaders and the White House to ignore Evan Bayh’s pleas for deficit reduction just isn’t going to work. In general, my sense is that the White House does not believe that Obama has the credibility to make the argument that government has to spend even more.

I’m not really sure why Obama would lack the credibility necessary. His job approval split is at 50–41 and has been basically stable at that level for a couple of months. That’s not the best job approval rating in the world, but it’s pretty good.

But does “credibility” really matter? Probably not. Insofar as the issue is that Evan Bayh doesn’t want to vote for more debt, then the question is whether he can be persuaded on the merits. I, personally, find Christina Romer and Larry Summers pretty persuasive. But as far as I know, they’re not actively trying to persuade anyone because the White House is afraid that if they try to persuade key legislators they might fail. That’s circular. There seems to be some feeling that the President has an obligation to act like he’s a Prime Minister and not bring proposals to the floor unless he’s sure they can pass, even though he doesn’t have a Prime Minister’s ability to coerce people into voting for his bills. But that’s not how our system works and there’s little reason to believe that trying and failing would somehow turn out much worse than simply refusing the try.