Friday, January 30, 2015

A Walk Down Memory Lane on Washington's Dysfunction

For some of us its pretty galling to hear Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggest that the way to end dysfunction in Washington is for President Obama to move to the "middle," or to have to listen to a Republican presidential candidate opine about the lack of "adult conversations" in D.C.

Here's a timeline that explains why we feel that way:

1993 - Bill Kristol writes a memo outlining a strategy for Republicans on President Clinton's health care reform proposal.
Faced with forceful objections in the past, the [Clinton] Administration has generally preferred to bargain and compromise with Congress so as to achieve any victory it can. But health care is not, in fact, just another Clinton domestic policy. And the conventional political strategies Republicans have used in the past are inadequate to the task of defeating the Clinton plan outright. That must be our goal...

Simple, green-eyeshades criticism of the plan...is fine so far as it goes. But in the current climate, such opposition only wins concessions, not surrender...

Any Republican urge to negotiate a "least bad" compromise with the Democrats, and thereby gain momentary public credit for helping the president "do something" about health care, should also be resisted.
2003 -  Governor Deval Patrick recalls Grover Norquist's comments on plans for a "permanent Republican majority."
At our 25th college reunion in 2003, Grover Norquist — the brain and able spokesman for the radical right — and I, along with other classmates who had been in public or political life, participated in a lively panel discussion about politics. During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”
2009 -  As Michael Grunwald reported, these two ideas coalesced into a Republican plan on how to respond to the election of President Barack Obama.
...the Republican plot to obstruct President Obama before he even took office, including secret meetings led by House GOP whip Eric Cantor (in December 2008) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (in early January 2009) in which they laid out their daring (though cynical and political) no-honeymoon strategy of all-out resistance to a popular President-elect during an economic emergency. “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.”
2010 - Having implemented that plan in response to President Obama's proposal to reform health care, former speech-writer for President George W. Bush - David Frum - is ejected from the party for objecting to this strategy.
At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994...

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan...Too late now. They are all the law.
2011 - Former Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren explains the strategy.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
As I've pointed out before, President Obama has engaged a lot of different strategies to deal with this obstruction that have each had various amounts of success at different times. But as we head into the next presidential election, we're likely to hear a lot about the public's concern that Washington doesn't work.

This will be the big challenge for the Democratic nominee in 2016. I only wish it was possible for them to take Paul Waldman's advice.
So imagine if a candidate in the general election, or a president in his inaugural speech, said, "This is my program. I realize that the folks in the other party don't like it. There may be a few places where we can compromise, and if so, that would be terrific. But I'm going to treat the voters like adults and tell them that I'm not expecting a whole lot of cooperation. I'm going to fight for what I promised to do when I ran, and if you don't like the results, you can turn me out in four years."

That would at least be honest, and nobody would be disappointed when the result is partisan fighting.
Of course he's right when he says that would be honest. The question is...are American voters ready for honesty?

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