Friday, February 13, 2009

Popular Obstructionism for Dummies

When Republicans controlled the Whitehouse and Congress, they adopted an overall strategic theme to paint Democrats as partisan obstructionists.  The idea was that the minority party needed to go along with everything Republicans wanted and any efforts to slowdown the Republican agenda was portrayed as an act of extortion against the American people.  And if you do a search just on the phrase "Obstructionist Democrats" in Yahoo, you'll get over 17,000 results.

And in order to stress this theme, they made a point of ensuring that Democrats wouldn't support their bills.  So they tailored their specific bills to be so repugnant to Democrats that the majority of them would be forced to reject it.  Sure, they'd try to grab a few "good" Dems to give an air of "bipartisanship," but even popular bills would be larded with poison pills that would cause headaches to almost every Democrat.  And their political appointments would need to be safe enough to pass, but controversial enough for Dems to oppose.

And the point was that they believed that being "obstructionist" was a huge negative, so they wanted to paint Dems as obstructionists as much as possible.  Not only did it allow them to push a hard-right agenda by making it seem moderate in comparison, but it also was meant to hurt Dems politically.  And so pushing a far-right agenda was not only possible, but a requirement of the strategy.  They needed to marginalize Democrats with every vote, or the "obstructionist" label wouldn't stick as well.

Reversal of Power

And so the question is: Now that Republicans are out of power, why are they doing this to themselves?  Why are they marginalizing themselves as obstructionists and setting conditions which make it impossible for them to work with Democrats?  They knew that "obstructionist" was a negative word and firmly believed that forcing Dems to vote against them was a smart strategy.  And I agree.  I think there are better strategies, but it wasn't a bad strategy.  So why are they doing this to themselves?

And the answer is that they just don't know any better.  This is the only strategy they understand.  They didn't just adopt this strategy because it made sense, but because being exclusionist was a key part of their entire identity.  They know who they are based upon who they are not: Liberal Democrats.  Beyond that, they have no identity.  They aren't for small government, or pro-religion, or anti-terror; they're anti-liberal.  That's the only principle they stand for.  It's their entire purpose.  

And so they're continuing with the same basic strategy as before, except this time, it's working against them.  Now they're the obstructionists.  Now they're the ones marginalized, with no power.  Now they're the minority putting partisan gamesmanship ahead of America's best interests.  And even worse, it's not the sham that they tried with Democrats.  It's for real.  They're actually doing exactly what they falsely accused Democrats of.  And it's going to seriously hurt them.  

Political Strategies

And right now, we still have many liberals who are gnashing their teeth at all this and still think the same games are being played.  But they're not getting it either.  They're really not into political strategy and the theatrical nature of the gamesmanship bugs them.  But as things go on, they'll see that they're wrong.  Because we will continue to get bills passed.  The stimulus fight is just the first in a long line of battles; not the be-all show-stopper they imagined it was.  

And in the end, while we're not getting a perfect bill, it's not so far off from what we originally requested.  And the only Republicans who "won" are the three Senators who wanted to show that they had some power.  And the ones who sidelined themselves got zip out of it.  They wanted to stop the entire bill, but couldn't.  They hope the bill doesn't improve the economy, but that's a political consideration that will never work.  As we've seen, Republicans credit Bush's tax cuts with preventing a deeper recession, while we say they served no purpose.  This bill will play out the same way, but in reverse.  And no matter what happens economically, this bill can't be used as an effective attack on us.

All they did was marginalize themselves as obstructionists, just as they wanted to do to us.  Because they knew that was a bad thing to happen to a politician.  Somehow, they fail to see how the situation is reversed.  And so they keep pushing themselves further down the hill and think it's good that they're gaining speed.  I hope they keep up with that.  

Bipartisanship was going to cause us some headaches, so it was nice of Republicans to demonstrate so clearly that we needn't bother.  They've announced their intention to be powerless obstructionists, and so now we can get on with passing our agenda.  Not that we can get everything we want, but we'll lose far less this way.


Anonymous said...

Obstructionist? I thought they were just being the "loyal opposition."

Green Eagle said...

"So why are they doing this to themselves?"

The Republicans act based on the very well justified expectation that the press will present everything in a manner favorable to them. Thus, when they were in power, Democratic filibusters were stakes right in the heart of democracy; Republican filibusters by the dozens are not even worth mentioning. Republicans in congress totally locking Democrats out of any meaningful role wasn't worth mentioning, while the Democrats are evil partisans when they don't do everything the Republicans want.

Sad to say, they are not at all being irrational to assume that the mainstream press will spin everything in their favor.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Green Eagle - While I agree with what you're saying, that's a disastrous plan for them, because the media just isn't that influential. Even going back to the 90's, the media HATED the Clintons, yet the Clintons remained popular. And while Bush had popularity, the honeymoon was over YEARS before the media realized it; and they STILL haven't grasped how hated Bush and the GOP is. Two of the Republican's biggest mistakes were impeaching Clinton and the Iraq War; both of which had big approval by the media and their base. But that did them little good.

And so the Republican focus on winning media approval is a huge mistake for them. Sure, the media will cover for them, but it will do little good. As Obama has proven, you can easily survive a media shit storm by riding through the wave, rather than always fighting it. The secret is to let out a little air from it, while staying on message. It'll die down and you'll be back in the saddle before you realize it. He did this repeatedly last year and is still doing it.

So while it's not irrational for them to think the media will carry their water, it IS irrational for them to think it helps. It doesn't and it makes them lose their proper messaging. If all they're doing is wooing Wolf Blitzer and Limbaugh's listeners, they'll keep losing. And so we see a very popular Dem president and a relatively popular Dem Congress, as opposed to an unpopular Republican Congress that's embarrassing itself more every day. They're repeating the same strategy that gave us the Whitehouse and Congress. That's not rational.

Green Eagle said...

I agree with you- it's turning out disastrously for them. Still, I believe they think this way- with the press covering for them, they are sure they can get away with anything. I disagree with the idea that this is not rational thinking. It is rational, it is just based on a premise that has ceased to be true.