Friday, June 10, 2011

The Perils of Political Stimulus

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.


Doctor Biobrain said...

As a side note, I'd also like to address the folks who insist that Obama should do whatever he wants because he'll be attacked for it anyway. And that's to say that the main reason these attacks don't stick is because Obama doesn't do what he's being attacked for. Conversely, if he confirms the attacks by doing what he's accused of doing, they'll stick.

And so the people egging him on to ignore political attacks are wanting him to do the very thing that will hurt him. Just because you're being attacked for something doesn't mean it's wise to go ahead and do it. It's like someone on trial for a murder he didn't commit who goes out and commits the murder because the prosecutor said he did it. It kind of undermines your defense to do what you were accused of doing.

Instead, Obama continues to defy expectations and Republicans can't even figure out what the hell he's doing; as all their traps for him fall flat. And when he does something like having Osama and other terrorist leaders killed, it undermines those attacks even more and makes people who attack him for being soft look stupid. Sure, you'll never have Limbaugh or O'Reilly announce that Obama is a terrific guy. But by not doing the things they accuse him of, he makes them lose credibility while his improves. I fail to see how that's not a good thing.

Jay B. said...

Hell, you may even be right. But it doesn't matter. Unemployment is 9.1%, the economy is stagnating, the stimulus that he was able to get was underfunded and insufficient (though, of course, it was better than nothing) -- we have desperate need for more jobs, better infrastructure, a better energy policy and vast amount of public investment.

We have none of it.

I'm sure the strategy to ignore this and not upset the most-easily upset people in the world is savvy and utterly correct. But it doesn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that he is a President that is presiding over a terrible economy, economic uncertainty and he keeps talking about the importance of getting the deficit under control.

Sure the Republicans are gargoyles, but the Democrats in Congress and in the White House are also doing jack shit and Americans are still suffering and no one really seems to care.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Ok, Jay. I already pointed out in my post how we can't possibly get any legislation to fix this and even symbolic measures might make things worse. So...what's your solution?

Btw, if you like, I can find you lots of Obama quotes saying the same things you're saying. He's been saying this for a long, long time, but it doesn't do any good because Republicans not only don't want to pass these policies, but they'd be punished severely if they tried.

The problem isn't that Obama doesn't recognize the problems or care. The problem is...there's nothing he can do about it. Absolutely nothing. I'm sorry, but there aren't always answers to our problems and this is one of those situations. All we can do is wait for the next election and hope for the best. And the worst we can do is to attack Democrats and pretend that they're somehow to blame for this.

Betsy said...

The only problem here that might, just might possibly be addressed is to educate the public about the real problems. However I don't know how. When the real politicians speak nobody listens. Who listens to Obama's weekly chats? People listen to whatever fits their confirmation bias and that's that. Oh, the MSM covers poor Weiner--there's PHOTOS (whoo hoo), but what about real problems. I suppose if they addressed them people would ignore it all in favor of bitching about it. The real, big, problem is the electorate. How can anybody get it through enough heads what the problem is to enable Obama to win again? I know they are thinking about it as hard as they can in the White House--but so far I don't see any solutions. Even people who care don't seem to listen to speeches or pronouncements.......hate speech of any kind gets their attention, but you're a bastard----no YOU are, won't get the Dems anywhere at all.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Betsy, that's the main issue I'm working on in my latest post, showing how Obama talks about these issues constantly and says all the things a good liberal should, but nobody cares. And so he's attacked for not doing what he has been doing, as well as for not doing the impossible.