What makes staffer Krone run: Famed sleuth Bob Woodward has written a book about last summer’s (manufactured) “debt crisis.”
For Gene Lyons’ take on this nonsense, click here. We’ll focus on a small part of Woodward’s story, as excerpted in last Sunday’s Washington Post.
We’ll focus on one of Woodward’s familiar, puzzling dreamscapes. This dreamscape involves an exchange between Barack Obama and David Krone, Harry Reid’s chief of staff.
Reid had been trying to negotiate a deal with Senate Republicans. As Woodward’s tale unfolds,Obama learns that there is an obvious problem with this proposed budget deal:
WOODWARD (9/9/12): When Obama learned that the deal negotiated among the congressional leaders would definitely require a two-step increase in the debt limit, he told Rob Nabors, the White House director of legislative affairs, "The one thing I said I actually needed, they didn't get," referring to Reid and Pelosi. "I needed this to go past the election, and they didn't get it for me. This can't work."Duh. If the deal had gone down as described, we’d be fighting again, right now, about the need to extend the debt limit. Obama knew that would be madness.
According to Woodward, “Obama sent word that he wanted the two Democratic leaders [Reid and Pelosi] at the White House at 6 p.m. that Sunday, July 24.” And that is where the story resumes, with Obama eventually making the world’s most obvious comment:
WOODWARD: Reid arrived in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, David Krone.This is where the dreamscape begins—the sense that we’re seeing bits and pieces of a story, with large parts of the story removed.
"Harry," the president began, "I hear you have kind of an outline, a framework of something."
Reid began to lay out the two-step $2.7 -trillion debt-limit extension, then stopped. He was not a details guy. "Well, let David just tell you what it is," he said.
It was highly unusual for someone to pass the ball so completely to a staffer. The 44-year-old Krone outlined the plan, including a secret Republican pledge to count $1 trillion in savings from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward deficit reduction. That was surprising. Earlier, Boehner had not been willing to accept this accounting gimmick.
"I don't trust these guys," the president said dismissively.
As Woodward’s books have evolved, he often includes such dreamscape narrations. Essentially, we’re told what we’re supposed to think about some incident—and Beltway hacks quickly start reciting.
But as in a dream, so too in these tales: Many key events seem to be missing. Gaps in logic exist all around.
In this case, Krone gets very mad at Obama and everyone panders—to Krone! But it’s hard to tell why Krone would have gotten so mad, or why everyone would have scurried around trying to make the poor guy feel better.
Achilles was urged to beat back his great anger. But everyone panders to Krone:
WOODWARD (continuing directly): Krone either would not or could not conceal his anger.Why in the world would Krone get mad because of Obama’s remark? So mad he “wouldn’t or couldn’t conceal his anger?” Why would he get so mad that he felt he should tell off the president?
"Wait a second," Obama said, interrupting someone else who was about to speak. "I can tell David has something else to say."
"Mr. President, I am sorry—with all due respect—that we are in this situation that we're in, but we got handed this football on Friday night. And I didn't create this situation. The first thing that baffles me is, from my private-sector experience, the first rule that I've always been taught is to have a Plan B. And it is really disheartening that you, that this White House did not have a Plan B."
Several jaws dropped as the Hill staffer blasted the president to his face.
Because this is a dreamscape—the successor to journalism—Woodward doesn’t bother to say. Soon, though, as in a dream, everyone is fussing over poor abused Krone:
WOODWARD (continuing directly): "So I don't have a lot of options, in the past 36, 48 hours, to put together," Krone continued. "We're supposed to be the ones that fend off an economic catastrophe. And what we find ourselves is now, with no deal, we're going to have to root for the worst possible things to happen in order to prove to the Republicans that you cannot be so callous and let the debt limit expire.Poor Krone! Everybody hovered around him, apparently because of what the very mean president said.
"That is a horrible position that we're in," Krone said. "And so this may not be the perfect deal, but it's the only deal that we have on the table right now in the situation that we find ourselves."
Obama replied: "I understand what you think you're doing. I'm not doing that. The one thing that we need to bring stability to this economy is not throwing the debt-limit increase back into the political arena. I'm not doing that under any circumstances. So if that means that I'm not signing this bill, I'm not signing the bill."
After the meeting, Obama made a beeline for Krone. The others stepped back so the two could talk, but they still overheard the president's words.
"I'm sorry," Obama said, putting an arm around Krone's shoulder. "You didn't deserve that. I know how hard you're working, and I know we wouldn't even have a chance without you."
Reid gave Krone a ride back to the Capitol. The majority leader was almost like a father to him.
"You stood up to him," Reid said. "He needed to hear it, and nobody was telling him."
“I’m sorry,” Obama is said to have said. “You didn’t deserve that.”
Question: What didn’t Krone deserve? Within this puzzling dreamscape, it’s very hard to tell.
Within the context of Woodward’s dreamscape, these events all signal that Obama had done something wrong. (Reid is cast as the more sympathetic adult figure.) But what had Obama done that was wrong? He had made two fairly obvious statements: He had said that the GOP leadership can’t be trusted. And he had said that a short-term deal would have been a giant mistake.
As reported, Obama’s remarks to Krone made perfect sense. Soon, though, as in a dream, poor abused Krone was exploding with anger and everyone, Obama included, was acting as though he’d been wronged.
It’s obvious who we’re supposed to dislike in this dreamscape. Around DC, the hacks will discern Woodward’s obvious tone and they will start reciting: Officious President Obama beat up on the poor Senate staffer! Coupled with Jodi Kantor’s recent snark about President Know-It-All, this seems to suggest that the insider press corps is creating a new insider novel about our know-it-all chief executive.
Question: Why in the world should poor abused Krone have been upset with Obama? Woodward, a creator of insider dreams, doesn’t bother to say.
But please understand: As Lyons explains in his column, Obama was right on the merits of this case. As he continues, Woodward explains what eventually happened:
Obama refused to fold. In the end, he got what he wanted.
The GOP didn’t get the short-term deal they sought. In the end, they agreed to postpone the next kabuki dance until after the election is over.
Staffer Krone had done his best. But Obama ended up doing better—though nothing in Woodward’s dreamy tale gives credit where it’s due.
Woodward was a journalist once. Today, he tends to invent preferred dreamscapes. In the dream involving Obama and Krone, readers are told who they should dislike.
They just aren’t told why.
Dreamscapes are often like that. But then, so is agitprop.