Obama’s Strategy

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching an interesting discussion going on between several progressive bloggers who are trying to understand and/or criticize Obama’s attempts to talk/work with Republicans on the stimulus bill. There are nuanced opinions to be sure, but overall, the positions break down into two camps.

The first is the one we hear most about on the progressive blogs…that Obama is wasting his time in these efforts of bi-partisanship and weakening legislation in the meantime. One of the people criticizing Obama most severely is David Sirota at Open Left.

Obama has to choose between his campaign spending promises and his odes to bipartisanship – and unfortunately, it looks like he’s trying not to make a choice at all. He’s proposing a plan that tries to split the difference between GOP-backed tax cuts that Democrats acknowledge are ineffective, and progressive spending proposals. Policy-wise, the net effect is a weaker stimulus package than the moment requires. Politically, the effect is to help resuscitate a Republican Party and conservative movement that should be left to wither away. Indeed, the only way the GOP can claw itself back to political relevance is to garner attention from Obama and the Democrats – and sadly, it seems Obama seems intent on helping the GOP get back in the game.

Since most of what has been written lately would agree with Sirota, I could fill more than one essay with similar quotes. But I’m sure most of you have read a lot of those opinions already.

There is a small but vocal minority on the progressive blogs who see things differently. Here’s a bit of what they are saying.

First of all, BooMan.

Barack Obama is not looking to win support for his agenda by breaking Republican filibusters. He’s looking to crush all meaningful opposition to his policies…But he is not going to attempt that task by polarizing the debate or bullying through his agenda or using the tactics that the Republicans used under Bush and the Democrats failed to use under Clinton. He doesn’t need to do those things. He has the votes to do almost everything he needs to do. He wants more than partisan support. He wants national support. And the way he is going to beat the Republicans on those issues where they might legitimately oppose him is to disorganize them, outorganize them, and rout them.

Here’s a little bit from an essay by Al Giordano. It begins with a quote from an article at Politico.

Obama seemed ready for the House Republicans to pounce, reportedly telling the gathered GOP lawmakers: “feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part [tax cuts],” according to two sources in the room…

Obama’s aides cast the visit as an outstretched hand – and it got slapped.

That was the intent all along and it somewhat amazes me that some colleagues haven’t seen it for what it is: For a new president with such enormous public popularity to set up Congressional Republicans to be perceived as slapping his “outstretched hand” was a chess move that suckered them into the tar pit of being seen as the obstructionists in Washington, and at that, they’re now branded as additionally inactive on “the urgency of the economic situation.”

And finally, there’s a great article by Bob Cesca at Huffington Post.

The president’s “I won” remark indicates that there’s a limit to both his benevolence and his tolerance for Republican silly season hackery. “I won” means that he won’t be played and he won’t be taken advantage of. But the Republicans have miscalculated and misinterpreted the president, believing that “bipartisanship” means Democratic capitulation. Save for a few concessions in an otherwise massive spending bill, President Obama isn’t calling for any half-and-half bipartisan compromise on this or anything else so far. His process with the Republicans is all about attaining some civility in the tone of the debate — not caving. There’s a difference. And in that process, the president is looking increasingly presidential as his style is contrasted against the smallness of the Republicans.

Recent history has proved that the president’s Chess Match style will require a little more patience than we’re accustomed to in order to see the endgame — to see how this all plays out.

Of course, none of this is any secret strategy, nor is it anything new from Obama. Way back in September 2005, he wrote a diary at dkos where he pretty much laid this out.

We won’t be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate.  Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard.  They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice.  The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won’t go away after President Bush is gone.  Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won’t change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice.  We won’t have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties.  We certainly won’t have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system.  And we won’t have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job.  After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart.  It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for.  It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion.  But that’s our job.  And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose.  Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose.  A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

No matter whether I agree with Obama’s particular policy decisions or not, I have to say that I agree with the likes of BooMan, Al and Bob. Obama is carrying through on his promise to change to tone of political debate in Washington. And the Republicans are too busy playing the same old game…and loosing more credibility with the American public every day. Obama has given them rope, and they seem perfectly willing to hang themselves with it.

I watched with interest as Obama did the same thing first to Clinton and then to McCain. Just think back to the moments in both the primary and the general election when the blogoshpere was filled with calls for him to “take off the gloves” and “give as good as he was getting.” Obama didn’t listen to us. Instead, the American people saw both Clinton and then McCain go nasty while Obama stood above it all and addressed their concerns. That’s exactly what’s happening with the Republicans right now. As Cesca said, it takes some patience to watch this Chess game play out. But I expect it will end with exactly the same results it has in the past. There’s a reason why Gallup’s latest polling is showing a new shade of blue breaking out all over the country.



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  1. Photobucket

  2. looking partisan in this whole business.  When the POTUS actually physically goes to Congress & spends equal time with both the opposition party & his own party on their turf (a symbolic conciliatory and relatively rare thing according to the pundits) –then doesn’t get one vote from them–the GOP’ers are the ones looking uncompromising, partisan and surly to those voters who voted for Obama because they felt he had the best chance of uniting a divided nation.

    “…DISILLUSIONED supporters of President George W Bush are defecting to Barack Obama, the Democratic senator for Illinois, as the White House candidate with the best chance of uniting a divided nation…”

    The GOP’ers OTOH, are obviously doing very little to help unite a divided nation. It seems that the GOP’ers are trying to play checkers at a chess match.  

  3. who were upset about the removal of the family planning aid from the stimulus bill, there’s this.

    A source present at today’s White House signing ceremony for the Lilly Ledbetter bill tells me that President Obama gave assurances that the family planning aid would be done soon — perhaps as soon as next week, when the House is set to take up a spending bill that would keep the government funded until October.

    Obama emphasized that the family-planning aid “makes the budget look better, it’s a money saver,” the source said. In fact, removing the need for Medicaid waivers for family planning saves states an estimated $700 million over 10 years.

    I included that second paragraph because states can use all the savings they can get!!!!!

  4. Apparently Obama has invited leading labor officials to the White House tomorrow where he will sign executive orders that are friendly to organized labor. No specifics yet.

    And rumors are that Obama might appoint Republican Senator Judd Gregg as Commerce Secretary. This would open the way for Democratic Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire to appoint a Democrat to replace him. Once we finally have Senator Al Franken representing MN, that would mean a possible 60 votes for the Dems!!!

    What’s interesting is that a couple of days ago, Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight looked at how many times each Republican Senator voted with the Obama administration. Gregg came in 2nd with 6 out of 7 votes. He found this unusual because Gregg has a fairly conservative voting record in the past. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

  5. It’s so interesting hearing the various “judgments.”  So far, it seems Obama is charging ahead despite the Republicans, the naysayers and you name it — ahhhh, very cool!

    Thank you for this one!

  6. He ain’t gonna’ appear!

    O’Reilly offers Rove place to hide from subpoenaDavid Edwards and Ron Brynaert

    Published: Thursday January 29, 2009

    For eight years, Fox News Channel served as the go-to place for former President George W. Bush, and other administration members, any time there was a breaking scandal or controversy that they wanted to get out in front of. Almost always, the practically open quid pro quo arrangement resulted in friendly, even helpful interviews, which allowed the administration to turn the page to something new. But now that there is a new sheriff in town, the gang that could only “shoot straight” on Fox might be in need of more elaborate and protective cover. Cue Bill O’Reilly. . . .

    Rove told O’Reilly that the only reason why he wouldn’t call Conyers’ investigation a “witch hunt” was because he didn’t consider himself a “witch.”

    “He’s sort of like Captain Ahab, and I’m the whale,” the portly Rove said of Conyers. . . .

    Rove thumbs his nose once again!  What’s next, another Sternly Worded Letter? Stay tuned!

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