Tuesday, February 09, 2010

(now updated)

Jonathan Chait, writing about the bipartisan health care summit (early this morning, when it seemed as if there actually might be one):

I still find it strange how little understood President Obama's political method is. The first person I know who identified it is Mark Schmitt, over two years ago.... Obama's language is highly conciliatory, he wrote, but the method isn't:

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. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put ‘em on a committee.

... Obama knows perfectly well that the Republicans have no serious proposals to address the main problems of the health care system and have no interest (or political room, given their crazy base) in handing him a victory of any substance. Obama is bringing them in to discuss health care so he can expose this reality....

The problem is, Republicans have neutralized this tactic in a couple of ways. Primarily, they've persuaded much of the country that what Obama and other Democrats are doing is the exact opposite of outreach and bipartisanship -- it's a totalitarian juggernaut. And much of the country, in the center as well as on the right, now believes this -- never mind the fact that if this is a totalitarian juggernaut, it's the most slow-moving juggernaut of all time, as well as the least totalitarian totalitarian movement. (How long have we been talking about health care reform and financial reform and closing Gitmo and cap-and-trade, with nothing to show?) So, to much of the country, Obama's outreach doesn't look civilized -- it looks like a sneaky trick, a velvet glove that conceals an iron fist. This idea is preposterous, but it's what motivated, for instance, the Scott Brown victory.

And portraying Obama's agenda as having the potential to lead to The End Of Civilization As We Know It means Republicans don't have to have better ideas -- they just need to stand athwart Obamaism saying no. This allows them to abdicate all responsibility for governance -- they don't need to demonstrate that they have good ideas, or any ideas at all. Just the fact that they can prevent the Obamapocalypse is enough.

Apologies for the baseball metaphor, but it would be nice if Obama had another pitch. Republicans know precisely to hit this one, and they're doing so with impunity.


UPDATE: Via David W. in comments, I see that The Washington Post has a preview of a new WaPo/ABC poll -- and Taegan Goddard's headline is this

Most See Republicans as Unwilling to Compromise

Yes, but the gap is only 14 points -- 58% of respondents think the Republicans won't compromise ... but 44% think Obama won't. If Americans were paying attention to empirical reality rather than GOP spin, that gap would be massive. (Though I suppose the perception is that Democrats are just compromising with other Democrats, even though the Blue Dogs they're compromising with are advancing right-wing ideas using using right-wing framing.)

I am surprised to see that 63% of respondents want the White House and Congress to keep trying to pass a comprehensive bill. I wonder how many of them want them to pass a comprehensive bill based on existing ideas, how many want only a stronger bill, and how many want only a back-to-the-drawing-board bill starting from GOP ideas. But that's for another poll, I guess.

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