Friday, December 9, 2011

Obama's conciliatory rhetoric vs McConnell's total obstruction

One of the things regular readers here will be aware of is that I constantly come back to this theme of Obama's conciliatory rhetoric as ruthless strategy. In summary, here's what Mark Schmitt said about it way back in 2007.

One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict.

And Jonathan Chait takes it from there.

This apparent paradox is one reason Obama's political identity has eluded easy definition. On the one hand, you have a disciple of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky turned ruthless Chicago politician. On the other hand, there is the conciliatory post-partisan idealist. The mistake here is in thinking of these two notions as opposing poles. In reality it's all the same thing. Obama's defining political trait is the belief that conciliatory rhetoric is a ruthless strategy.

As I think about the smoldering war between the Republican establishment and its base that I just wrote about, its obvious to me that one of the contributors to it is the clash of strategies we could call Obama's conciliatory rhetoric vs McConnell's total obstruction.

If, as some progressives suggest, the goal is the complete destruction of the Republican Party, we just might be on the precipice of that happening. And wouldn't it be total karma coming back to bite the poutragers in the ass if all of this were to be happening because of President Obama's grounding commitment to bi-partisanship?

Here's how I see that happening. Since long before he decided to run for President, Barack Obama has been clear that he's willing to reach out to Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike to work together on pragmatic solutions to the challenges that face us today. If you're Mitch McConnell and your one and only goal is to make Obama a one-term president, what do you do in response? You can work with him and prove him both prescient and right. Or you can fight him on every front with total obstruction. We all know what he chose because it was the only path available to his goal.

In order to do that, McConnell was forced to occupy political space that was further and further to the extreme. As we're watching today, they're even positioning themselves against tax cuts for the middle class. And to get there, they've had to fire up their extreme base with everything from embracing the tea partiers to kow-towing to the likes of Rush Limbaugh. And that has led them to the brink of possibly nominating a red-meat throwing Newt Gingrich in 2012. How's all that working out for you now McConnell?

Meanwhile, too many on the left have lost their minds in only seeing the "conciliatory" part of Obama's strategy. We're now in the phase where the "ruthless" part is starting to take hold. The choice is still there for Republicans...they can either work with us or go down in flames with their base. That's the brilliance of our President Barack Obama.


  1. Smackdab on the noggin, Smarty! Hehehe

  2. Great Post - I have always been amazed at folks who criticize the President. Who are we to tell someone who managed to get himself elected at the age of 47 as the first African American president - how to treat people. His system for working with people in communities and in government worked pretty darn well. Too bad folks can't have a little faith and trust that "he's got this"

  3. Sorry- but I'm not seeing it. BHO talks a lot about bi partisanship, but doesn't walk the walk. He wasted 14 months of his term on Obamacare and did-not-get-one-vote-from-a-republican. Not one. C'mon, how bad does a piece of legislation have to be that you can't get Olympia Snow to vote for it? Really?- you could not even get a Linsay Graham vote?

    Obama has many great qualities and a compelling manner and never more so than when he pulls this: "I'm reaching out my hand of friendship to those evil heartless bastards who I hate so much" He only pulls that crap when he is on the losing side of a issue. Otherwise its "I won"

  4. Jim - What you're missing here is that in this piece I'm looking at the big picture over the last three years. Yes, Obama was able to get health care reform done - and with no Republican support.

    The reason there were no Republican supporters is because McConnell's strategy was one of total obstruction all the time. And he has been able to keep his Republican troops in line on that one for the most part.

    But the cost of McConnell's strategy, as I said in the post, has been to force Republicans into an ever more extremist corner. As a result, they're imploding as we speak.

    As I said in the last paragraph above, the "ruthless" part of this bargain is beginning to be manifest.

  5. As an open minded person I have to start by saying "You could very well be 100% right"

    But using that same argument one could say that this strategy has pushed the the Dems to the left as well. Or at least made them more dependent on the hard core wing and less willing to stretch to the big squishy middle.

    Reps picked up how many seats last election? You don't GAIN seats when you get more extreme.

    Agreed that the candidates they are pushing for President are all pretty weak, (and somewhat comical).

    I'm curious about the total obstruction observation- there is always somebody willing to cross party bounds (usually for a favor or payback- but that is how it gets done) So why not now? I would submit that no one thinks Obama has anything they want.

    I've heard this before when there is a (seemingly) defeat- (debt ceiling, mandate, Olympics,etc) somebody will tell me "Oh Obama is a genius! Its a brilliant reverse trick that will pay off big time"

    ..time will tell, but I think you and I agree that whatever is going to turn around better happen pretty soon.


When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...