Obama Just Doesn't Know When to Fold 'Em

Professional poker player Daniel Negreanu, in his book on no-limit hold’em strategy, spent a fair amount of time discussing the difficulties many players encounter when faced with the prospect of folding pocket kings. It’s a great hand to be dealt, but lady luck is fickle and there are times when you quickly realize that your opponent has hit something bigger. Long-term survival, he reckoned, sometimes depends on knowing when to walk away from something that looked very good at first glance. You have to know where the exit is and when to use it.

I was reminded of this while reading a piece by John Harris in Politico recently. Harris talked about the seven stories Obama doesn’t want told. The first of these tales is the growing perception that the president seems to believe he’s “playing with monopoly money” when dealing with the nation’s economy. Listening to the soothing voices of a certain sect of economists, Obama latched on to the idea that stressful economic times both require and justify huge amounts of deficit spending. The resultant debt, they surmised, was a problem which could be dealt with “later,” and a grateful public would not hold his feet to the fire as long as conditions returned promptly to the status quo they know and love.

The problem was that once this rationale was in place, profligate spending came to be seen as the correct hammer for every nail in their path. Whether it was environmental concerns, health care reform, or housing industry woes, spending was the preferred order of the day. What Team Obama failed to anticipate was that the public would actually notice the mounting debt and grow irate when it failed to translate into significantly lower unemployment and a sustained bounce in real estate prices. But the White House couldn’t walk back from the big spending fix, which looked so good only six months earlier.

As we approach the one year mark in the age of Obama, I’ve noticed that this seems to be a trend for the current administration. One of the earliest examples was the decision to close the detention facility at Gitmo. It was a tremendously powerful talisman for his base of political support during the campaign and certainly seemed easy enough once he took office. All that was required was a quick flourish of the fountain pen and the deed was done -- the pesky site would be closed in one year.