Monday, February 2, 2009

The Case against Moderation, Part 3

"We got the sense that he was very genuine," said Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.). But "if he comes and meets with us like that and it doesn't have an impact, it begins to hurt his credibility."

And, thus, we have it--the outlines of the trap that President Obama has tripped with his neck. This quote, taken from yesterday's Washington Post, betrays more plainly than I ever could, the folly of trying to reach across the aisle to make warm-and-fuzzy with the current stripe of Congressional Republicans. The circus tiger that for years has let you put your head in its mouth and remove it unharmed--but for a little drool that tends to get in your eyes--has now shut its yap--hard. With black suits, spotless white shirts, bleached smiles, and wipe-on/wipe-off suntans, Rep. John Boehner and his minions have made a sucker out of America's smartest man.

It was our President, with his ideology of moderation and compromise, that not only stuck his head in it, but also forced that foul mouth open. His promise of reaching across the aisle gave his opponents, unable to muster even a wisp of a smile during his Inauguration, the means to make meaningless his promise of "change we can believe in". All they had to do was to play along, like the team-players they had neither the inclination or the skills to be, and, when the time came to act-not-yak, unite behind their leader (Rush?) and vote in unanimous opposition to whatever it was that their President wanted. By voting to insure Obama's failure, while praising his "bipartisanship"--and, thus, appearing to be willing to compromise if only the terms were right--they could then say, as Rep. Wamp did, that it was Obama's ineffectiveness in attempting to gain their support--a clear failure of leadership--that was the problem.

It may have been a brilliant strategy for their party, if yet disastrous for the country. I can only hope and pray that the public will see through this cynicism and short-sightedness and punish the tiger by thrashing him within a inch of his life in November 2010.


Detroit Dan said...

Lewis-- For the other side, you might want to check out this posting at DailyKos

legacyguy said...

Detroit Dan, the Daily Kos piece makes a good point. At the time that I wrote "The Case against Moderation, Part 3", it was not clear how the Republican obstructionists' behavior would affect their popularity. Now, as this piece points out, it seems pretty clear that it backfired with the American people. (About 48% view Congressional Dems with favor, versus about 33% for Republicans, according to the latest polls.)

Now that Obama has demonstrated his good faith bipartisanship, however, he needs to start playing hardball with that crowd, who are never going to change their stripes, as they have only to answer to the hard-line dittoheads in their own cherry-red home districts, not the American people as a whole.

Detroit Dan said...

My instinct is that you're right about the hardball, although another possibility is that Obama will be able to pick off renegade Republicans if he keeps trying. I imagine the Republican solidarity will crack in the face of the withering recession. Already, many high profile Republican governors have sided with Obama on the stimulus. At any rate, the poll numbers you cite are good news. And I must admit that I wasn't expecting the polls to come out that way..

Detroit Dan said...

Here's another take on Obama's bipartisanship. From Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:

This entire debate about the efficacy of his bipartisan overtures, presumes that Obama's audience for his bipartisan talk is the Republicans in Congress and the conservatives in Washington...

But that is not his intended audience. His audience is the country...They were conducted for citizens, so they could see that he was trying something different.

I'd say those meetings were almost entirely about optics. The fact is that Republican critics are right: Obama really didn't do much beyond symbolism to reach out to the GOP during the crafting of the stimulus package.

I know, I know: $300 billion in tax cuts, lots of yakking, family planning cuts, etc. etc. But seriously. Was any of that really the result of negotiating with Republicans? The tax cuts were mostly in there for two reasons: (a) they were campaign promises, and (b) the Obama team couldn't come up with $800 billion in spending that would feed into the economy fast enough. Tax cuts weren't there because Obama asked Republicans what they wanted in the bill, they were there because he didn't have much choice.

Beyond that, what did Republicans get? Nothing much. A few symbolic cuts in culture war outlays that are almost certain to be restored in the regular budget anyway. Some meetings where Obama listened carefully, said some soothing words, and didn't change a thing. And that's about it. In the end the final package included some modest changes demanded by three centrist Republicans, but that was only because they held the whip hand and were able to force them on him. Bipartisanship had nothing to do with it.