I’ve said some critical things below. But I should also mention that in relative terms I don’t think last Friday’s deal is that big a thing. We’ll only be able to judge its significance when we can see it as part of the president’s larger strategy, the unfolding series of decisions he’ll have to make over the next twelve months.In retrospect people see President Clinton’s moves in 1995 as savvy approaching brilliance, at least in political terms. But it didn’t seem that way to many people at the time. Certainly, almost everyone from the liberal wing of his party thought he was giving away the store and a more general belief in his fecklessness was almost universal across the Democrats’ ideological spectrum.
It wasn’t quite as it appeared though. Clinton is a political intuitive. At the most generous reading he let the Republicans take their punches until they’d allowed themselves to get dangerously exposed politically … and then he made his move. Doing so earlier would have been foolish, certainly in political terms and quite likely in policy terms too.
If that’s what the Friday night deal was about, it could be shrewd. The costs in terms of over-zealous cutting are small — very small — in comparison to the vast decisions to be made next. For that reason, I’m not convinced yet that this was quite the defeat for the president that a lot of people are claiming. It all depends what comes next.