Thursday, May 6, 2021

Jen Psaki's Brilliant Blow to Bothsiderism

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has once again made his intentions clear. 

As some in the media pointed out, that was reminiscent of what McConnell said in 2010. 

None of this should come as any surprise because, as I wrote more than a year ago, McConnell had already promised a return to total obstruction if a Democrat was elected president. 

During her press conference on Wednesday, Jen Psaki was asked about McConnell's most recent remark and demonstrated why she is such an effective spokesperson for this administration. 

First of all, she drew the contrast. If Republicans are 100 percent committed to stopping anything this administration tries to do, Democrats are 100 percent committed to delivering relief to the American people. Boom! The message: while Republicans play political power games, Democrats are delivering for the people.

But then Psaki did something that tends to drive liberals crazy. She talked about how the Biden administration was continuing to reach out to Republicans and said that the door is always open to work together on providing relief to the American people. Why would she add that? 

The first thing to note in answering that question is something former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren wrote back in 2011.

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.

Lofgren went on to point out that this Republican strategy works with low information voters who respond to the dysfunction in Washington with "a pox on both your houses." Even more importantly, it works with a media that is committed to bothsiderism. 

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias.

During Obama's presidency, I wrote a lot about his strategy of using conciliatory rhetoric as a ruthless strategy. Here's how Mark Schmitt described Obama's "theory of change" in 2007.

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. 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.

That strategy wasn't very successful - primarily due to the fact that the media's commitment to bothsiderism kept them from exposing the fact that Republicans had nothing. Instead, when we weren't being subjected to stories about how the two sides failed to reach an agreement, we were told that Obama was aloof and didn't reach out to Republicans enough. 

While the undertone of bothsiderism is still prevalent in the media, the direction the Republican Party has taken over the last few years made it much more difficult to maintain. What Psaki did during the press conference on Wednesday was to first of all point out the difference in focus between McConnell and Biden. But in reaffirming that the door is always open, she also drew a contrast with McConnell's obstruction. In doing so, she made it much more difficult to blame both sides for digging in their heels and refusing to cooperate. Well done, Madam Press Secretary! 


  1. That's really good, of course, and she put it well. Still, I somehow don't expect a presidential spokesperson to be all that guilty of both-siderism. When the Times and the Post get it, maybe we'll have a chance.

    Nancy has had a couple of posts now complimenting Biden on strategic smarts, and I appreciate that, although I didn't buy the other either. It argued that he was making the GOP suffer politically by having to block progress. But of course blocking progress is their entire political strategy, not to mention ideology, and they may still believe and have a case as well that it will work.

    The posts before that argued that the GOP lies and falls back on racism because that's all they've got, including not having a purpose beyond that and power for its own sake. Again I'm not convinced. They lie because flooding the country with lies has worked all too often; racism has been a strategy, too but also truly is ideology; and if they've abandoned a policy agenda of barring regulation while funneling tax monies to the rich, I sure haven't noticed it.

  2. Deep down, I suspect that many Democrats (myself included) would like to see some overt 'in your face' opposition to the McConnell obstructions, if for no other reasons than to show the Democratic Party backbone. I don't believe, however, that such overt and loud opposition will do much more than rile up the trumpistas who see only that kind of response as viable or worthy of respect. What I'd like to see is the Democratic Party form a solid alliance that 'obstructs' the solidly allied GOP obstructionism in the Senate. Just take 'em on loudly and without any chance for backdown. Kill the filibuster, demand policy not complaining from the opposition party or force them to shut up. (Yeah, and that's another form of one-armed rule, I suppose), but that's what we've seen to the detriment of America's middle and lower classes for the past way too many years. One parent, in a Hebrew school where I taught for several years, explained that his means of dealing with smart-mouthed children (his, especially) was that he never negociated with the enemy. Maybe, when the next round of invitations go out for bipartisan talks about whatever, if there is a meager and feeble response, just find a way to do the deed and get on with it. I can't believe that the entire GOP contingent in Congress is so cowed by tramp that they fear he'll defeat them at the primaries. And, if that is the real determinant behind their obstructionism, then the 'hard news' media must take on the righteous mantle of truth and call out these charlatans for the cowards they are.

  3. as of today,5/7/2021, I am officially a Jen Psaki fanboy...I mean, wow...what a wonderful and perfect spokesperson she is...Her Media Kung Fu is exceptional, her demeanor is brilliant, and with a flick of her hair, she can slay the most stupid questions asked by the most stupid of fake journalists, all without pause...or breaking a sweat...I would worship the ground she walks on, if I was that type...

  4. Obama tried this....maybe this time it will work.
    But that depends on how the Republican obstruction in congress plays in the MSM.

  5. By now, I guess we just have to conclude that Nancy's short-lived experiment with this site will not continue. Perhaps she has found another venue, but if not, I'm truly sorry. She has contributed a great deal with her convictions and her insights. I can only say that I apologize if my paying it the compliment of arguing back made it that much less rewarding for her and not worth the effort. The fault is entirely mine.


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