Before two heads of state meet for a "summit", their top aides have done the grunt work of setting in place a framework of an agreement. A slight tuning might be required, but a deal has been reached. Everything is set for the two national leaders to smile, sit, shake hands and sign the papers. The possibility of failure has been obviated by the pre-meeting prep work. Both sides look good.
When President Obama took center stage to lead the Democrats in the Battle of the Budget, no such preliminary groundwork had been laid by Democratic staffers. The President told the public how he wanted the debt relief bill to be structured and commenced negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. But, there were no stepping-stone agreements upon which they could rely for traction. Two powerful men going mano a mano with so little in common to serve as a first step of agreeing to anything.
The nation was told that both men were putting together a "grand design", a big comprehensive agreement that they (and their parties) could salute as solving most of the problems of the economy and, simultaneously, remedying the debt ceiling headache. A crucial meeting ended with at least Boehner believing that such a deal had been struck. And he said so to one thousand microphones. The President was rather muted on this important point and was equivocal. The next day, they met again. Boehner angrily walked out protesting,"We had a deal but the President now wants more." President Obama was not that specific, saying, merely, that the talks had broken down. From this seat, Boehner's emotional reaction was more consistent with his version of the goal posts having been moved by the President. In any event, President Obama had lost all credibility and prowess as a negotiator, in the eyes of leading Republicans.
What then followed was a ratcheting up of the ideological bent of the Tea Party as congressional etiquette took a back seat to hostile words and flaring tempers. Venom was the drink of the day as long-standing relationships of congressional friendships began to twist tortuously in the wind. All hell was breaking loose as the doomsday clock approached a time of calamity. The chaos had to be calmed.
Enter Vice President Joe Biden. Republican Minority Leader, Senator Mitch McConnell immediately hailed him as a man with whom he could negotiate. A perceived Obama put-down, but the train was on the tracks. Biden and McConnell had nurtured a close relationship in the Senate, for many years, fostered on trust. They began negotiating in good faith and fulfilled the additional duty of convincing their own senatorial colleagues to listen to what they were suggesting and why. Especially for Biden was this a most difficult task. The Democrats were up in arms, angry as hell at what they perceived to be an Obama cave to the reckless and wanton TP. Biden heard all of them out and then did his best not to justify the agreement he was hatching out with McConnell, but to explain that their proposals were less extreme than the goals of the TP. He stressed the impossibility of trying to negotiate with "terrorists" (his words) and slowly made his colleagues agree to cut their losses and follow his lead. And follow him, they did. The deal was finalized, passed both Senate and House and fast tracked to the President for his signature.
As the smoke clears, does there appear any Democratic heroes? Just one. A man who, through years of dedicated service, had cultivated mucho respect from all with whom he had contact and done business.
The President looks grim. And well he should. He used the bully pulpit to set forth what he wanted and would fight for, but he didn't, he couldn't deliver. He underestimated.the insanity of the TP, which was willing to let the country slide off a cliff, just to make their point. And they played that hand, without blinking, and they won.
The picture that will stay in my mind is that of the Vice President, looking tall and handsome and good, shuttling back and forth in those final desperate hours, while the White House crossed its fingers and toes. He's the best and only man to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.
And, let's face it. With that smile, man, he's "got it"