Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I don't know what's going to be in the president's speech, but Barbara at the Mahablog got me thinking about this:

...a lackluster speech that is mostly about reasonable compromise may give him positive overnight poll numbers but no long-lasting support.

I assume Barbara intended "reasonable compromise" to be read ironically -- but what I'm thinking about is polling, and public opinion. I bet the president thinks pitching his speech down the middle, or down what passes for the middle these days (i.e., asking ordinary Americans to accept pain), will get him a boost in the polls.

And you understand why he might think that. He compromised with Republicans in the lame-duck session and got a very good response in public opinion polls. Democrats compromised with Republicans to avoid a government shutdown over the budget and the public overwhelmingly approved the deal. So splitting the difference with the GOP is what the public wants -- on everything. Right?

I don't think so. The public applauded the lame-duck session and the budget compromise because stuff got done. The public was applauding the fact that, ultimately, people did their jobs. Go look at that Pew poll in which people offered their own words to describe the recent budget negotiating process ("Ridiculous," "Disgusting," "Stupid," "Bull****," etc.) -- they don't like the endless squabbling. They liked that it was brought to an end.

That doesn't mean they like centrism on everything all the time. If the president seriously threatens Social Security and Medicare, he'll win pundit public opinion (maybe), but he won't win over the public. The public wants Social Security and Medicare to remain as they are. The public isn't confused about that. Threats to these programs, however "centrist," will be decried accordingly.

This isn't a struggle to get a bill passed -- the rules are different. I'm not sure he knows that.

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