Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Obama now has Republicans cornered in budget negotiations"

Over the last few weeks we've been hearing complaints from both the left and the right about the fact that Obama isn't engaged in the current Congressional battle to pass a budget for the remainder of this year. Of course no one seems to be mentioning what a good job Sen. Schumer is doing on this (here's his latest) or that VP Biden has been in the thick of things since the get-go. The hue and cry has all been "Where is Obama?" From the left, this has especially been a critique of why he's not utilizing the "bully pulpit" to condemn the worst elements of the Republican's proposals.

This has presented one of those moments for me when I don't understand what Obama is doing, but after watching him for over 3 years, I figure eventually we'd see the strategy.

Lately Steve Benen has been postulating that if Obama gets into the battle, it simply intensifies Republican intransigence and gives them a target. That makes some sense.

But this morning it was Michael Gerson (Republican and former speech-writer for Bush) who put some meat on those bones. You have to wade through his partisan framing - but here it is:

...Obama now has Republicans cornered in budget negotiations. By accepting $33 billion in cuts for the remainder of 2011, Obama has taken the middle ground and exploited a major division within the Republican coalition. The administration has transformed a weak record into a strong political position...

This maneuver has also placed House Speaker John Boehner in exactly the position he wanted to avoid. Obama’s offer is more than reasonable. A $30 billion reduction, after all, was the initial Republican negotiating position back in early February. Given that Republicans control only the House, this level of cuts would normally be viewed as a remarkable success. But a portion of the Republican conference longs for a confrontation that results in a government shutdown, preferring a fight over a victory. And the only worse outcome for Boehner than a politically risky shutdown is a deeply split conference, pitting the Republican establishment against Tea Party purists — a result that would undermine all future Republican progress.

So Obama has managed to lighten his liberal baggage, turn Republicans against each other and ensure they would be (justifiably) blamed for a shutdown. Not a bad month’s work.

Once again, we see how conciliatory rhetoric can be ruthless strategy when the opposing party has given their radical fringe so much power.

Many on the left criticize Obama for not being more strident in his condemnations of the radical elements that have taken over the Republican Party. What I see is a calculation that those folks are the fringe in the country as a whole and engaging with them only brings the Democratic rhetoric down to their level.

But a strategy that deepens the divide between the two existing factions - all while continuing to present himself as "the adult in the room" - shows the real power plays that are going on behind the scenes.


  1. I like the way you think, and I hope and pray that you are spot on

  2. IMO, the problem on the right and the left is that they don't pay close enough attention to details. They overlook the work that PBO and VP Biden and their staffs are doing behind the scenes. Plus, they're used to having a president who is constantly in front of the cameras screaming about one thing or another and forget to realize that it's possible for a president to have a winning strategy that doesn't involve threats, intimidation, framing one's opponents as enemies, or unnecessary posturing.

    Boehner is being held hostage by the tea partiers in the House. They, backed by the Koch Bros., AFP, the Heritage Foundation, and other rw organizations and media players, have him by the short hairs. When Congressman Grimm, who is a member of the Tea Party Caucus in the House spoke out against the deep cuts in Ryan's budget, he was attacked by the Heritage Foundation and other rw groups. From Think Progress:

    "But while the Tea party movement pushes GOP lawmakers to “take off your lace panties” and cut the promised $100 billion in spending, GOP freshman Rep. Mike Grimm (NY) is scoffing at the proposal. After last month slamming “the extreme wing of the Republican Party” for bowing to “the extreme right of the tea party who would rather see a government shutdown than pass a short-term solution,” Grimm doubled down yesterday. The former FBI agent –who “was propelled into office by Tea Party activists” — said in New Jersey that adopting the Tea Party agenda would mean “shortchanging America.“


    This does seem to confirm what Gerson thinks is going on in the House. Boehner lacks the strength of leadership to tell the tea party caucus, or Ryan, that what they want is not feasible, he is too afraid of offending players like the Koch Bros., and he knows that a veto of the bill by the president is a very real possibility. The republicans are, in a sense, cornered by their ideology and their mandate from their corporate masters to do not what is good for Americans, but what pleases them.

  3. Nice to see that magii comments here.

    It is too bad that Michael Gerson gets it, but the frustrati will never acknowledge it. I am so completely stunned by their inability to see anything good in what Obama has accomplished. All they care about is swaggers. They hated George Bush for it, but now, that is what they want Obama to be. A smart Bush. Well, I will take that back--I am pretty convinced that many elitist dems think they are smarter than PBO.

    Unfortunately, many of them think of PBO as a boy. In my mind, that is a great part of the left's hatred. They think they are superior to Obama. Need I say more?


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