About That Mute Button...

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 27 2012 2:36 PM

About That Mute Button...

Yesterday I wrote about the Romney campaign's new story-telling TV ad, one that takes an anecdote from Bob Woodward and turns it into a parable of Obama weakness. He was so irrelevant in the stimulus negotiations that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid once muted their line in a conference call, so Obama could blather while they "got back to the hard numbers."

I spent the afternoon at a luncheon with Michael Grunwald, author of The New New Deal, the first/only pro-stimulus narrative. White House economic adviser Jason Furman was there, too, but left early, so only Grunwald was available to answer my question: So, what about this Woodward anecdote? "Bob Woodward is a better reporter than me," he said. But "at the risk of offending Bob, I think he's mistaking atmospherics for reality. There was certainly tension, and a lot of the tension came from the House side, where Pelosi felt like she was being taken for granted. And she was right." But in December 2008, "the transition team people went over to the Hill to basically say, this is what we want. And they got almost all of it." Woodward "vastly overstates the amount of real difference between the people on the Hill and the people in the White House, and he also overstates the Republican willingness to play."

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The stimulus is a bit of an afterthought in The Price of Politics; Woodward's book is largely about the debt ceiling debates. If you take the "bumbling Obama ignored by Democrats" factoid out of the story, you're left with Democrats doing Obama's bidding but being sort of irritated by his speechifying.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.