Over at Washington Monthly, I'm reading comments about how Obama needs to learn that Republicans don't like him and should push for his agenda in spite of what they might say about him. And like, come fricking on! This was a silly argument in 2008 and after two and a half years in the Whitehouse, I'm pretty damn sure Obama's aware that Republicans are out to get him. No, he can't say that publicly, but let's give the man some credit for not being a complete moron.
As a clue to you naifs out there, just because someone is nice to you doesn't mean they're your friend. We don't all wear our emotions on our sleeves and Obama has a proven track record of sticking it to Republicans when it counts. As always, he avoids needless battles, never burns a bridge he might need later, and keeps his ammo ready for when he needs it. And that's why he's the most popular politician in America and we're not.
And as silly as it was in 2009 to act as if Obama could strong-arm Congress into doing his bidding without Republican support; since the mid-terms, that's utterly impossible. Yes, yes, I know. We were assured by progressives that a loss in November would bring a sea change of liberalism back to Washington; if only we punished Democrats for not being liberal enough. But alas, those seeds have yet to come to fruition; assuming they ever do.
Fighting to Fight
And so, what exactly is Obama expected to do? Disband Congress? Enlarge Cheney's Fourth Branch of Government to include a Jobs & Stimulus division that can pass and execute legislation on its own? We couldn't pass a bill in 2009-2010 without a few Senate Republicans joining us, and since the mid-terms, it's entirely impossible.
And sure, we could push for a symbolic jobs and stimulus bill to score points politically. But you can't just rush into that sort of thing, as it's a political minefield with more peril than pearls, and if you end up with Obama being labeled as a Tax & Spend Failure by the general population, then we're worse off than how we started. Just look at Republicans who rushed into supporting Paul Ryan's budget, just to see it drag them down like a lead weight. As it turns out, expressing your convictions and pushing bold actions can be worse than doing nothing at all.
As a reminder, Obama pushed various jobs and stimulus bills which actually succeeded, both politically and in reality; yet Republicans weren't punished for opposing them. In fact, they've used this stimulus to hit Obama repeatedly, and many people who benefited from the policies are so confused they actually think these policies made things worse.
And as much as people say a stimulus bill will shore up Obama's leftwing flank, history shows that his liberal critics dismissed his previous efforts entirely. As they say, your critics will always attack you no matter what you do.
Winning to Lose
So...if these real bills were political winners for Republicans and losers for us, why does anyone imagine that another round will help us politically? Sure, they're good policy; but they won't pass Congress so they won't be policy. We'd only be doing this for political purposes; yet the politics don't necessarily favor us and might work heavily against us.
We've got Republicans on the ropes thanks to Paul Ryan, while a fight over spending might be the thing they need to get back on the attack. That's the fight Republicans wanted all along when they started emphasizing the deficit again, and Obama foiled them by agreeing that the deficit is a problem and then pivoting it into limited cuts, infrastructure improvements, and tax increases.
That battle is still being waged, but Obama would lose it completely if he tries to push for more spending right now; even if it's just symbolic. That's the exact trap Republicans set for him, as their push for deficit reduction is useless politically unless Obama opposes them by increasing spending; and seeing as how Republicans have no real spending cuts in mind, it's obvious it was only intended as a political trap. I see no benefit to have Obama walk into it now.
As it turns out, politics is extremely complicated. Just as you can't get to the moon simply by aiming your spaceship towards it and firing the rockets, if you try to take a straight path to your political goals, you'll end up chasing it forever; if not defeated entirely. And if the only reason we're trying to do something is just to do something; then we definitely shouldn't bother at all.
As with everything in life, if you don't know why you're doing something, you probably shouldn't be doing it. That goes doubly so in politics.