Obama is emerging, on the other hand, as a President who convenes the players, points them down the road and then lets the chips fall where they may. Obama regularly gathers members of Congress at the White House to give them broad encouragement, not marching orders. On May 5, he invited Democrats from the House Energy and Commerce Committee to a meeting at the White House, but he had no specific list of demands. He asked only for a bill that could get industry support, deal with regional concerns and provide market certainty for future investment. Behind the scenes, his aides all but backed off from any arm-twisting. "They are not at the negotiating table," said Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat from Virginia’s coal country and a lead drafter of the bill.
This is spot on, and really, really frustrating. Sometimes it almost seems like the White House conducts itself like an editorial page: announcing its views, and principles and then promising to watch closely as the process unfolds. But its’ not an editorial page, it’s the White House. They don’t have to just nudge. Think LBJ nudged?
A savvy progressive DC observer said to me recently that they lay out principles, let congress do with it what they will, and then come in and declare victory. Politically it makes sense: it’s almost impossible to have a high-profile setback or defeat if you follow this method. But it’s also unclear that you can ever, you know, win.