The Art of Masterful Inaction

Greg Sargent wants progressives to weigh in on how the White House should respond to the expected ferocious opposition from the GOP in congress:

I got an expert to lay out a roadmap the other day. Former White House chief of staff John Podesta has also sketched out an extensive game plan. The gist of their advice: He should go full throttle on his own where possible — executive orders, rulemaking powers, and so forth. Meanwhile, he should lay down a clear vision and agenda in the full expectation that Republicans will oppose it, and use the presidential bully pulpit to wage a massive communications offensive hammering them relentlessly for their opposition and intransigence.

This is meant in the spirit of provoking debate more than anything else. It would be interesting to hear from some of our sharpest online voices: How should Obama proceed?

It should surprise anyone to learn that I largely agree with my boss and, indeed, CAP’s team of policy experts has produced a detailed examination of things the President can do in terms of what I’ve called “governing from the White House.”


Something slightly distinctive from these ideas that I would emphasize are the President’s myriad opportunities to not do anything. Scott Brown and Ron Wyden have an interesting idea about state waivers under the Affordable Care Act, and I think it’d be brilliant of the White House to do . . . absolutely nothing about this. Let Senator Brown try to build Republican support for it. Maybe he’ll succeed, maybe he’ll fail, maybe it’ll be an interesting intra-caucus fight, maybe nobody will care. Either way, the President will be doing something else and it’s someone else who’ll be associated with the legislative sausage making or the failure of the sausage to get made. Similarly, Senators Coburn and DeMint seem to be interested in provoking a fight over ethanol subsidies. The White House should . . . ignore this. With luck, they’ll succeed. Without luck, they’ll fail. But either way, the President shouldn’t get sucked into a political debate for or against ethanol subsidies.

The important thing is to understand that even though a certain number of Washington DC political professionals regard it warmly, the United States Congress is a widely (and in my view, appropriately) despised institution. The only way to get an ambitious legislative agenda passed is for the President to deeply engage with Congress, but deeply engaging with Congress is politically toxic. With John Boehner as Speaker of the House, no “ambitious legislative agenda” is ever going to pass so the White House should simply check out. Tell reporters to ask members of congress the questions about congress. Keep busy doing other stuff. Give wannabe congressional dealmakers space to make deals. Let congressional jerks go be jerks. If something terrible passes, veto it. Don’t negotiate. If you don’t want rich people’s taxes cut, don’t sign a bill that cuts don’t. Don’t hold meetings. Then go back to working on all the stuff in CAP’s report.