Top positive review
Just a Game of Chicken
23 September 2012
As an Englishman what intrigues me most about this is what it reveals about the way Obama works. Having read Suskind's "Confidence Men" last year about Obama's attempts to handle the banking crisis, he seemed to be a man with no opinions who let himself be pushed around by his advisors. And yet Suskind's analysis didn't really hang together, and Suskind himself didn't comment on what he described. I felt something was missing in the picture.
Many of the reviews on Amazon.com make similar criticism of Obama, as do many of the players in Woodward's book: Obama doesn't know how to negotiate, they say.
I disagree. It seems to me Obama was forced to negotiate with a bunch of Republicans holding by any standards prior to 2000 an extreme right wing position, who themselves felt hostage to the Tea party, a bunch of people who they said didn't care whether America defaulted all its debts, it didn't matter anyway. Presumably they felt the market was the only thing that mattered.
To me Obama did extraordinarily well in his refusal to compromise. He was after all dealing with the Republicans who to a man (not many women in this book) were not prepared to countenance the idea that the megarich should have to pay more than 28% tax to help the country nay world out of a jam. Even Obama's own people, some of them, like Reid and Pelosi seemed prepared to undercut him at times.
Woodward himself is quite critical of Obama in his brief judgment at the end, suggesting that if he had handled the Republicans more skilfully he might have got more out of them. To me that seems very unlikely. Someone towards the end of the book said the Republicans felt they needed to come out of the negotiations looking as if they had humiliated the president because that was the only outcome that would satisfy the Tea Party.
I don't agree with Woodward's opinions, but as always he does a great job of stating the play. The negotiations were incredibly protracted and tedious and you have to admire the stamina and resilience of all the players if not necessarily their motivation. However the things they were arguing about on day 25 were the same as day one, and as is often stated in this book it was all really just a game of chicken. At one point one of the politicos rings up the guys on Wall St., who were all having kittens, to say, "Chill, we're all just playing a game here."