Joe Noccera and Paul Krugman both see President Obama as having been taken for a ride by a Tea Party gang who were prepared to blow up the house if they didn't get their way. This is one possibility, but there is another way to interpret recent events.
President Obama had other options all along the way. As Krugman notes, he could have insisted last December that the debt ceiling was part of the deal to extend the Bush tax cuts. After all, contrary to what his National Economic Adviser seems to think, the Democrats did still control Congress at the time.
In the context of the debt ceiling being hit, he could have taken the 14th amendment route that a substantial number of legal scholars believe to be kosher. It probably passes the laugh test better than the non-war in Libya. He was prepared to challenge Congress for the latter, why not the former?
He could have also tried the stand tough approach. As we know, in the meltdown scenario Wall Street is on the front line. The J.P. Morgan-Goldman Sachs gang would be pretty damn furious at the Republicans if they actually put them out of business. It's very hard to believe that Boehner and company don't buckle in this scenario.
Finally, the whole debate has hugely misrepresented the Tea Party. Poll after poll shows that they are not really against what government does. In fact, they are huge supporters of Social Security and Medicare and other programs that support the middle class. And, after we pull out the military, this is in fact the vast majority of the government.
The Tea Party is against some nonsense notion of massive government waste that does not exist. Like President Reagan, they want to eliminate the Department of Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.
President Obama could have insisted that he would protect the core middle class programs that enjoy support across the political spectrum. And he could have said that the Republicans want to gut them.
Instead, he contributed to the nonsense. He made up a false story about the origins of the deficit, wrongly telling the country that the huge deficit came about from the Bush tax cuts, the cost of the wars, and the Medicare drug benefit. This implied that we had large deficits before the downturn, that large deficits were a chronic problem.
In fact, the numbers are clear as day and it's impossible to believe that President Obama and his advisers do not know them. The large deficits of the past few years came about because of the collapse of the housing bubble, end of story.
So we can believe that President Obama is just a really bad poker player, as Paul Krugman suggests, or we can believe that he is getting what he wants. I report, you decide.