Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Week and the Obama Method

WOW - what a week!!!! I haven't had much time the last few days to write about events as they happened. But perhaps that's a good thing because sometimes it helps to stand back and summarize the overall direction rather than get too mired in the particulars.

Speaking of the later, I must say that I had some fun last weekend watching frustrati heads explode about the budget deal BEFORE the details were known and then listening to them be just SURE Obama was going to go after not only Medicare and Medicaid in his speech on Wednesday, but they also just KNEW he was going to gut Social Security!

Meanwhile, those of us who have watched Obama closely held our cool and said...lets wait and get the facts. Boy, it feels good to be right!

But rather than say, "I told you so," perhaps it would help to examine why we see things so differently. People who paid attention to what Obama actually said during the campaign and watch his process closely now tend to have some idea about how he does things - but more importantly - we know his intentions. Those who thought Obama was some kind of progressive crusader have misconstrued his intentions and now feel betrayed. So they expect more of the same. Sometimes they even see it when it doesn't exist. That becomes a self-reinforcing loop for some of them (ie, Glenn Greenwald) and pretty soon they are completely lost when it comes to reality. Rootless did the best job I've seen of explaining how that happens.

Since Roger Aisles managed Nixon's campaign, Republican marketing has zeroed in on associating Democrats with "weak", "untrustworthy/unreliable", and either "effeminate" or "bitchy" depending on the gender of the target. Republicans on the other hand are tough, strong, decisive, manly or desirable. In the last couple of years the Republicans have made use of blogs and social media as well as the "alternative media" to pitch this story as "criticism from the left" or "principled opposition". So in addition to Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman of the Times referring to the President as "Obambi" and "this bland, timid guy who doesn’t seem to stand for anything in particular", respectively, DailyKos writes "President grovelling beaten lump Obama still believes in unicorns", and FireDogLake tells us about "further spineless capitulation". Once the brand is established, it is automatic and self-reinforcing and immune to "excuses".

Although President Obama seems to have faced down and fended off a very aggressive Republican attack via the budget process, the impression of capitulation has been sold so well that many people will never have a clear idea of what happened.

So the brand gets developed and anything that contradicts it - like actual facts - is dismissed as an "excuse." I'm constantly amazed at our brain's ability to do this...and how difficult it can be to change the contours of that "brand" once its been established.

But for some that happened this week when news about the facts of the budget deal were followed almost immediately with President Obama's speech on Wednesday. Since the frustrati had determined that he had been a weak negotiator on the budget deal, their expectations of the speech went totally over the top. I actually read things about him being worse than Republicans because even Bush had been unable to destroy Social Security. But that's exactly what they expected Obama to do.

And then BAM - came the speech.

In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?

They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.

Reality broke so hard against those expectations that a few of them had to stop for a moment to reconsider.

Finally, not long after the speech we had the delicious moment of Obama (supposedly) not knowing a mic was live (tee-hee) and saying things like this:

I said to them, let me tell you something: 'I spent a year and a half getting health care passed. I had to take that issue across the country and I paid significant political costs to get it done. The notion that I’m going to let you guys undo that in a 6 month spending bill?' I said, 'You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?'

It gets more and more difficult to maintain the narrative that Obama is weak and a poor negotiator through events like this. I'm sure some folks will still cling to it. But it was a good week for getting out the message that the Obama Method is alive, well, and most of all...effective. Sometimes its better to out-play your opponents than it is to out-scream them.


  1. 'Sometimes its better to out-play your opponents than it is to out-scream them.'

    I second that. :)
    And if you are this President I'd say it's always better to out-play them.

  2. Hi Smartypants,
    I went back and read your essay re: the master's tools and the Audre Lorde quotations. It brought tears to my eyes as I considered the events of this week alone. How lonely he must feel sometimes!

    Thanks for opening my mind even more as I try to comprehend what has been put before us. I shared it with my group.
    Thanks again.


Can Republicans "moderate" their position on abortion?

One of the most important stories coming out of recent elections is that, whenever voters have a chance to weigh in about abortion, they hav...