Never Again

December 19, 2012 7:35 a.m.

The President has been very clear: he’s not going to get into another hostage negotiation over the debt ceiling. Absolutely not. That’s what he says. And I think he’s going to stick to that. But there’s a passion and energy behind it that’s made me think (not surprisingly) the President feels guilty about what he allowed to happen back in 2011.I don’t want to overstate ‘guilt’. Maybe that’s too strong a word — but that he made a mistake, that he shouldn’t have let it happen and possibly set a really bad precedent in enabling extremist behavior. I should note that the folks at the White House make a decent argument — I’m not sure whether it’s convincing or just decent — that things were very different in 2011. The economy was much more fragile; the political environment was much different. But still. I think it eats at him that at some level he let Boehner and the House GOP abuse him and the country.

In the press conference that just concluded, the President got asked about negotiating on the debt ceiling. He said he wouldn’t, said how we couldn’t keep lurching from crisis to crisis. And then he said this.

So, I’ve put forward a very clear principle. I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We’re not going to play the same game that we saw happen in 2011, which was hugely destructive.

You can’t see it in the transcript. But he momentarily caught himself after ‘game’ and then shifted gear — just a moment of hesitation. The logical way to complete that sentence was ‘We’re not going to play the same game we played in 2011.’ But he caught himself and shifted the sentence into a sort of conceptual passive voice. It’s active but with himself as the onlooker.

People have all sorts of funny phrasings. But I think that was a revealing moment and squares with what relatively little I know about his feelings on this matter.

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