Friday, January 21, 2011

McConnell vs Obama...a lesson in strategy

First, a little refresher on McConnell's strategy from Joshua Green.

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”

And then a bit on the implementation from Greg Sargent in his article titled Why Americans think Obama is too liberal.

What McConnell was really saying here is that if any Republicans signed on to Obama's proposals, it risked suggesting to the American people that Obama's governing approach was moderate or even somewhat centrist -- something that could command some agreement. By contrast, when no Republicans signed on to Obama's proposals it made it far easier for them to paint Obama's agenda as ideologically off the rails to the left, which is exactly what they did.

If no Republicans were willing to sign on to Obama's proposals, that had to indicate that something was seriously amiss and that there was cause for real alarm about the overreaching nature of his agenda, right?

Other than Obama's speech in Tucson, this is perhaps why the lame duck session's accomplishments did so much to calm the fears of the American public. What got passed was not necessarily more centrist that previous accomplishments during the 111th Congress. Its simply that the voters saw that Democrats and a few Republicans were working together.

I suspect that McConnell didn't expect Obama to blink when he got all of the Republican Senators to sign on to a letter saying that they would block legislative action on every issue being considered by the lame-duck Congress until the dispute over extending the Bush-era tax cuts was resolved and an extension of current government funding approved. But he did blink - and negotiated on those issues. Looks like McConnell didn't have a "plan B" in case that happened and moderate Republicans were free to join Democrats on issues like DADT and the Start Treaty.

While I'll give McConnell props for coming up with an effective strategy that probably worked well enough to ensure Republican victories in the 2010 elections, Obama out-manuevered him in the end.

So once again, while the frustrati screamed, Obama was playing the long game and enters the 112th Congress on a stronger footing that anyone (including McConnell) had expected.

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