In his novel King of the Jews, Leslie Epstein sets his story in the wartime ghetto of Lodz, Poland, where the Gestapo ruled through an appointed council of Jewish elders. Epstein, researching the book, tracked down the gallows humor of the time. In one such joke, told by a character in the novel, two Jews are facing a firing squad. The commandant asks if they would like blindfolds. One of the condemned whispers to the other, “Don’t make trouble.”
“Don’t make trouble” could have been the credo of the first year of
the Obama Administration. The White House calculated that if the
president just extended the hand of conciliation to the Republicans, the
opposition would reciprocate and together they would change the tone in
Washington. This was the policy on everything from the stimulus to
health reform to judicial nominations. It didn’t work out so well.
Now, spurred by the tailwind of a re-election victory and the
realization that public opinion is on his side, President Obama has
displayed a new toughness in his budget battle. He has declared that he
won’t negotiate against himself, and the strategy is working. But the
White House is still stuck in don’t-make-trouble mode on the crucial
issue of judicial appointments, where the pace of nominations is only
now catching up with that of Obama’s predecessors and the strategy for
avoiding partisan confrontation gives Republicans something close to a
veto over who is nominated.