Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is "the change we can believe in?"

Yesterday Ezra Klein wrote a fascinating post on a strategy dilemma for President Obama. His focus was tax policy, but it could apply to almost any issue.

Let’s agree that what matters isn’t how many jobs you “get caught trying” to create, but how many jobs you actually create. There’s virtually no evidence that if Obama makes more speeches on jobs, his poll numbers will go up or the labor market will improve. There’s lots of evidence that if he passes policies that create more jobs, his poll numbers will go up and the labor market will improve. The question, then, isn’t how Obama can get “caught trying.” It’s how — or whether — he can succeed...

A lot of observers wondered why the Obama administration didn’t push a payroll-tax cut in the 2010 elections. The reason, insiders said, was simple, if frustrating: If they did that, the Republican Party would publicly oppose it and they wouldn’t be able to pass it after the election. By staying quiet on the payroll-tax cut, they made it possible for Republicans to support it as part of the 2010 tax deal.

Recently, the Obama administration has been pushing an expansion of the payroll-tax cut. They want to extend it to employers, not just employees. But they’ve been more public about it. And sure enough, the GOP is suddenly finding itself opposed to a tax cut on business — man, polarization is a powerful force — and gripped by a sudden and, one imagines, soon-to-be-abandoned belief that tax cuts should be paid for.

All of which suggests that if any further jobs measures are going to pass, they’re going to have to start in backroom negotiations and only go public as part of a deal. Taking them public first in the hopes that you can then get them as part of backroom negotiations won’t work. So though I agree with Klain that the right political move for Obama is to push harder on jobs, if I were advising the president, I’d tell him to keep any policies that his legislative team thinks could actually pass out of his speeches. Because the right politics, in the end, won’t do him much good in November. The right jobs numbers will.

We've seen this happen over and over again. Many of the things Obama proposes (ie, insurance mandate, cap and trade, sensible immigration reform, small business tax breaks) are things the Republican Party of the past has supported.

But as we know from their actions as well as public statements by people like Majority Leader McConnell, the number one goal of Republicans is not jobs or governing, its to defeat President Obama. So no matter what he proposes...they oppose it.

When progressives who are political junkies see this, their response is to say "bring it on!" They're looking for battle royal with Republicans. But that's because they pay attention to the details of the policies and want a battle - no matter how messy it is.

What McConnell knows - as well as President Obama - is that the majority of people in this country just aren't paying that close of attention. What they see when that happens are ugly partisan fights and wind up saying "a pox on both your houses."

Let me remind you - once again - of what Obama said back in 2005.

A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

More than anything else, I believe that the "change we can believe in" that Obama promised was to work as hard as he could to end this kind of polarization and dog fight that has become the staple of our political process.

That doesn't mean giving up on our ideals, caving to the Republicans, or being naive about the intransigence of Republican leaders. It means that he believes that when American voters have a rational conversation about the issues - Democrats win. The fear, hysteria and rage play right into the Republican's hand. Here's Obama again:

Our goal should be to stick to our guns on those core values that make this country great, show a spirit of flexibility and sustained attention that can achieve those goals, and try to create the sort of serious, adult, consensus around our problems that can admit Democrats, Republicans and Independents of good will. This is more than just a matter of "framing," although clarity of language, thought, and heart are required. It's a matter of actually having faith in the American people's ability to hear a real and authentic debate about the issues that matter.

Rather than see this effort as a failure due to the ramped up rhetoric from the right, what I see is that they're howling louder just like a cornered wild animal. They know that if President Obama is successful, their days are numbered. So their only hope is to hype up the hysteria and try to get the President to lower himself to their level...not gonna happen!

In the meantime as Ezra points out - the long game is to stick to pragmatic policies that work because "the right politics, in the end, won’t do him much good in November. The right jobs numbers will."

That's why I believe that our number one task in supporting the President is to highlight those successes...relentlessly. Because the work President Obama does to get them often has to be "hidden in plain sight" in order to maneuver around Republican intransigence, we need to shout the results from the rooftops.

1 comment:

  1. To quote Smartypants, "the long game is to stick to pragmatic policies that work". Really? What exactly would those successful policies be? We've spent Trillions "stimulating" the economy, repaving perfectly good roads and overhauling healthcare which was going to create 2 million new jobs within three years, where are they? Unemployment is at a 30 year high and shows no sign of improving anytime soon, GDP growth is barely keeping up with inflation, we're now in a third war in Libya and POTUS wants to keep spending like nothing is wrong! Worse yet is there is no vision, no plan to invigorate the economy or encourage business to invest here. Rather we talk about the same tired points, raise taxes on corporations as if that will incentivize them to spend more to build factories here.

    Bottomline for me, when POTUS was elected my wife and I were both employed and made $170k/year between us. Today we're both unemployed with two kids and a mortgage. I've had all of the "Change I Can Believe In" that I can stomach. Just to be clear, I don't see anyone on the right who inspires me either so this is not motivated in any way by partisan beliefs. Currently the GOP and Tea Party dingbats have their heads so far up their collective asses that I'm starting to worry that America's best days really are behind us.