Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why Atrios Isn't a Political Consultant

First off, I'd like say that I'm a HUGE fan of Atrios and if he ever reads this and feels inclined to add me to his blogroll, I would be eternally grateful.  But while I rarely disagree with anything he writes, I'm not sure why Atrios is so bugged about Obama's attempts at bipartisanship on the stimulus bill and think he's totally wrong with his advice for Republicans.

He writes:
If I were advising the Republicans I would've told them to vote against the stimulus package. I would tell them to make the point clearly that if they were in charge, the bill would be a different bill. They're a competing political party and they need to, you know, highlight the fact that their vision for America is actually different.

But no, he's wrong.  That was horrible advice and it looks like things played out exactly as the Obama team wanted them to.  Because he had to reach out to Republicans.  Even now, media dopes like Mark Halperin are insisting that Obama failed to fulfill his campaign promise of bipartisanship.  And had Obama obviously not reached out to Republicans, such criticisms would gain traction and dog him.  But as it is, Obama did exactly what he needed to do, and while he didn't get the perfect bill, this was the only choice he had.

My Advice to Republicans

And Republicans had it all wrong.  Because they got totally played.  What they needed to do was push for as much as they could get and then plug their noises while voting for it.  Not all of them needed to vote yes.  Or even a majority of them.  But they needed to show that they would do it, not because they liked it, but because something needed to be done and the Dems were willing to blackmail the nation if they didn't get their way.  And that by forcing the concessions they got, they made a bad bill mildly more acceptable.  If the economy improves, they could say it was due to their hardwork in getting those tax breaks and other concessions.  But if it doesn't improve, then they can't be blamed because they were bipartisanly supporting Obama's bill, which they didn't like.

And so they'd get to attack Obama and the stimulus bill, but without looking like the partisan a-holes they are.  Because many people don't accept that there are intractable differences between the parties.  They want to believe that politicians are big enough to reach agreement.  That's why Obama kept saying he'd do it; because people want to hear it.  And if Dems behaved the way many progressives wanted them to, then Republicans wouldn't be blamed for voting against it.  But...since Obama reached out to them so publicly and clearly bent over backwards to include them, they completely destroyed any pretense of being above partisanship.  

And it really should be pointed out that this totally was partisanship by the Republicans.  This wasn't due to ideological differences because Republicans have no ideology; as demonstrated by the fact that they betrayed so many of their "principles" once Bush became president.  It's all about power and they were attempting to hurt Obama by denying him their support.  But instead, they just hurt themselves.  

And so not only does their opposition to the stimulus look partisan, it was partisan.  This wasn't about policy differences.  This was about party politics.  And that's exactly how it looked.

Moving Forward

And unfortunately for them, there is no second chance at the first impression.  Sure, they can start accepting his olive branch in the future, but then it looks like they're buckling under.  No, they needed to accept Obama's gesture this time and then they can act aggrieved later.  They can pick fights over less popular bills.  They can say how Obama is strong-arming them on everything and being a jerk.  Whatever.  But they needed to get this one right, and they didn't.  They had one shot to show that they're not jerks and they couldn't even pull that off.  And now they're tarnished with it.

And from here on out, this is going to stick on them in every fight they have with Obama.  And they can either stay relevant by working with Obama, or they can continue to sideline themselves.  But in no way will the blame be put on Obama.  The blame is firmly on them until they decide to do something else.  And I completely believe that this was Obama's intent from the start.  He knew this showdown would happen, he knew the Republicans would be jerks about it, and rather than brawl with them and give them an excuse for their bad behavior, he played nice and let them sideline themselves.

And so, no, this was not a smart move.  Atrios is a great guy and I read Eschaton religiously, but when it comes to political maneuvering, I'll take Team Obama any day.  It is inconceivable that he didn't see this coming and I think things worked out quite nicely.  And there's always time for spending increases later. 

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