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Did Obama Just Pull a Double-Whammy?

February 17th, 2009

Most current approval ratings:

Approve Disapprove
Republicans in Congress 25% 69%
Democrats in Congress 37% 55%
President Obama 66% 21%

A lot of people are beginning to realize that Obama just won a bigger victory that everyone has been thinking. In fact, one way of looking at it is that Obama just won a double victory, with the help of the GOP itself.

First, despite all the changes that were made, the bill that got passed is very, very close to what Obama originally wanted, before he started asking for more–essentially, it all got scaled back to Obama’s original proposal. He wanted x, he then asked for x + y, and the Republicans negotiated back to x.

Second, Obama has made a big deal about bipartisanship. Despite Republican whining about how Obama has failed in that regard, few have failed to notice that Obama tried, that he went to Capitol Hill and met face-to-face with Republicans, something I am pretty sure Bush never did; that Obama made (or seemed to make) all kinds of compromises. While John “I’ll buck my party” McCain went straight along party lines, Obama was often at odds with his party, who claimed he was compromising too much. In the end, the distinction was clear: Obama extended his hand and Republicans partisanly slapped it away. Note that despite media leanings against Obama and favorable to such a small right-wing minority, the emphasis was never on how Democrats voted in lockstep, but how Republicans did.

So Obama comes out of his first battle with more or less exactly the legislation he wanted, and bears the sheen of bipartisanship while the Republicans come across as partisan obstructionists who voted almost entirely against a job-creation and tax-cutting bill that will help America get out of a dire economic mess the Republicans created.

It was easy to doubt Obama many times during all of this, perhaps quite a bit because as a Democrat, one wanted to see payback or at least a more assertive pose. But that would have seemed more partisan on Obama’s part, and could have worked for the GOP. Instead, Obama positioned himself so that he could bend to Republicans’ demands and yet still end up making them bend to his will–adept political jujitsu, that.

One has to keep in mind that Obama is no dummy. During the campaign, he showed himself to be a keen tactician and strategist. He’s not naive about the intent of the Republicans. He had to have known that they would never agree to bipartisanship, that they would take every opportunity to obstruct. Which means that he knew that he would go in and get slapped around. But he made that work for him.

So, what’s next?

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  1. Tim Kane
    February 17th, 2009 at 02:33 | #1

    I agree with most of what you said. Especially about the S & T (Tactics and Strategy bit, of course). I still maintain that this strategy is ‘The further Rumpification of the Republican Rump of a Political Party” (FRRRPP? Howabout “FROP” or “FRP for short).

    There is a down side – Obama’s original X was, if I have this right, more spending less tax cuts, the X that he got had more Republican things in it – like more tax cuts, which are basically things that won’t help the economy much. So X subscript 1 was not as good as X subscript 2.

    There are lots of political downs sides for the Republicans here: obstructionist, party first over country, wingnut-extremist, the blatant attempt at trying to lie about the history of the Great Depression – and almost all American’s know that history handed down from family members.

    On the strategic level, the victory is not so good for Obama and not so bad for Republicans. The Republican strategy is shooting for Obama failing on the ecnomic front (and terrorism front).

    The Republicans knew that a stimulus package was going to pass. They just need the stimulus package is watered down enough to ensure it fails. The analogy of the stimulus as a bridge serves here: if the stimulus is too small, it never makes it to the other side and thus is a complete failure, no matter how much is spent – in fact the more spent, the bigger the failure, as long as it doesn’t make it to the other shore; conversely as long as the bridge makes it to the other shore, it doesn’t matter if it’s too long, as long as it makes it to the other shore and is able to function as a bridge it will generate enough returns in the long run to pay for the construction costs.

    Here is where I fear strategic failure for Obama. The economic short fall in GNP over the next few years is at least $3 trillion dollars. So, a $0.8 trillion stimulus, whittled down by ineffective tax cuts, and what not, is not going to make it to the other side. That of course is obvious.

    But, the thing is, the stimulus package doesn’t have to be all cobbled together all at once. The current legislation is a ‘first brick’. Next month they have to pass the budgetary process – and that, as I understand it, is not subject to filibuster. The budget and the stimulus bill can get us to 2010. If the Republicans keep the same tactics, they’ll lose some more seats in the 2010 election.

    Then there is health care reform. I’m also hoping for a big new, innovative transportation and energy bills. Hopefully these all come before 2010, but if they don’t we should be able to get them 2011.

    There’s a lot of inefficiencies built into the American system. A lot of these bills can implement new efficiencies. We should be far enough along by 2012 that Obama and the Dems will keep their majorities through then – though we can expect the Republicans to begin retooling anytime between now and then and thus have better product offerings.

    Long term, the root cause of the problem has been the lack of bargaining power for the median wage earner. That problem can be solved with changes to unionization laws – but internationally competing corporations are going to require a new institutional arrangement to level bargaining power between labor and management.

    Hopefully Obama will address that before 2012, and probably will be forced to in the very short term – but can’t expect Republican help for that, however, when Republicans do come to their senses, they will realize that they need to do something ‘bi-partisan’ with Obama so he’ll actually get some help from them somewhere down the road in some of these proposals. After 2010 he probably won’t need their help.

    Anyway, its great to see a master strategist at the Democratic helm. He is like a master chess player – several moves ahead of the competition.

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