Friday, November 30, 2012


I know I'm supposed to be thrilled because President Obama and the Democrats are, for once negotiating as if they have a strong hand:
... Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they're facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

...Previously, Obama's pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House's belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn't, the media would side with them, realizing they'd sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don't believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don't negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House's preferred policies, let them propose their own.
I applaud this new approach. But there's one problem with it: toughness is not the Democrats' brand. Reasonableness is the Democrats' brand. The GOP base votes for Republicans knowing that they're stubborn, intransigent, my-way-or-the-highway sons of bitches. The base likes that about Republicans. And even swing voters seem to tolerate that about Republicans, probably because Republicans are good at persuading swing voters that intransigence is sometimes necessary -- particularly on economic issues, because Democrats love taxing and spending so much.

By contrast, Democratic voters -- apart from the small percentage of us who are strongly left-leaning -- like Democrats in part because they seem willing to work with the other side. (And remember, polls consistently show that self-described conservatives vastly outnumber self-described liberals, which means that, if Democrats are winning elections, they're winning by gaining the votes of the big chunk of self-styled moderates.)

So, right now we have the GOP leaking the president's opening bid on averting the "fiscal cliff." And the Republicans have the "liberal media" eating out of their hand. Here's how The New York Times describes the current Obama proposal:
The proposal, loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts, met strong Republican resistance. In exchange for locking in the $1.6 trillion in added revenues, President Obama embraced the goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, with no guarantees.

He did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports, but did not specify an amount or any details. And senior Republican aides familiar with the offer said those initial spending cuts might be outweighed by spending increases, including at least $50 billion in infrastructure spending, mortgage relief, an extension of unemployment insurance and a deferral of automatic cuts to physician reimbursements under Medicare.

"The Democrats have yet to get serious about real spending cuts," Mr. Boehner said after the meeting. "No substantive progress has been made in the talks between the White House and the House over the last two weeks."
Those three paragraphs could have come straight out of a GOP press release.

This is a snapshot of one moment, of course -- perceptions will change. But right now, we shouldn't think the president is winning the spin war. He's losing it. Yes, the public supports tax hikes on the rich, and, yes, the public knows Republicans are being intransigent on that, but it's likely that the public wants Democrats to make concessions because the public always wants Democrats to make concessions.

Of course, if Democrats win the negotiations, it probably won't matter who won the spin war. But the spin war is likely to influence how the negotiations go. And the Republicans are winning on spin.


I'll add that Republicans are actually doing a good job of faking reasonableness themselves. Sending out a few folks, such as Representative Tom Cole, to concede the Democrats' tax-the-rich point is brilliant -- the public won't notice that the party has no intention of actually doing that. Charlie Pierce notes the Kabuki nature of this:
Cole's limited appeal to reason was so profoundly ignored that nobody even got mad at him for having proposed it. Boehner still likes him....
Of course Boehner still likes him, as does the rest of the GOP. He's not out there trying to move the discussion. He's out there to put a falsely reasonable face on an unreasonable party.


Victor said...

I hope that maybe President Obama and the Democrats have learned that, no matter what the feck they do, the MSM will spin things the GOP's (Graying Old Peckers) way.

So, do what they've got to do, and then work on educating the public. Something I didn't think they were capable of. But the election may have proved otherwise.

Also, a lot of the people who worked or volunteered for the Obama campaign, have decided to stay in place, and work on change from the ground up, working as activists, community organizers, and/or running for local elections.

And nothing is better to move change forward, than people in a neighborhood or town that locals now know, to help steer the conversations the Democrats way.

This is how, after Goldwater lost, the Republicans started taking over this country - from the bottom up.

Maybe finally the Democrats have learned this lesson.

As soon as my new Congressman is inaugurated, I'll be calling to see what I can do to stay active.

Unknown said...

The polls are strongly in the Dems favor on both tax cuts for the wealthy and no spending cuts on ss/medicare..

Just because the "liberal" NY Times, and usual suspects like Morning Joe are selling the debt hysteria crap doesn't mean people will accept it.

In 2010, the GOP posed as defenders of Medicare from "cuts" and then voted for the Ryan Plan, which destroys Medicare. That game failed in 2012. Yes, polls show Dem supporters prefer compromise to confrontation, but posed against the strong preference for tax raises and the wealthy and no cuts to SS etc., the latter will win out.

Palli said...

Hanging tough is the way to "work with" republicans, the other side. There are 3 sides- the third side is 97% of Americans who are now finally being considered-if only by the democrats.

trnc said...

Obama didn't get much credit from the media when he ditched the public option before negotiating health care. By starting with a stronger proposal, he has room to negotiate. If the repubs actually negotiate (doubtful), dems can negotiate back. Don't know if the Times will say "he started at X, but has given up Y," but the dem pre-negotiation was completely counter-productive.

Swellsman said...

I think your assessment of why people vote for democrats is a little off. I have a hard time imagining anybody voting for a politician because he or she is willing to compromise on their goals.

The poll to which you link shows that Democrats are in favor of compromising, if necessary, "to get things done." Presumably, those "things" are the goals politicians were installed to accomplish. Yes, the GOP is more truculent than the Dems, but that just means the Dems are, in fact, reasonable. It does not mean that compromise is in itself part of the Dem brand.

Your post reads a little as you believe Democratic congresspeople will feel the need to compromise with republicans because if they don't then democratic voters will punish them for that-- as if voters look to compromising as a political value in itself. I just do not see that.

The New York Crank said...

Compromising "to get things done," if that's the way the poll worded it, is so vague it's meaningless.

Obama has proposed a program. The ball's in the Republican court. If they don't like the proposal, let they say precisely how they'd change it. They're reluctant to do that, because that's where they will start to look bad.

"Let's not cut taxes for the rich, and let's chop the living jeepers out of Social Security and Medicare" is what he right wing want, but it won't fly. Obama would be a fool to start hacking at these things for the Republicans.

Hang tough, Mr. President. For once in your life, just hang tough.

biz5th said...

Good grief - is there anything the Democrats can do that you would approve of? You say they are losing the spin war by actually negotiating from a position of strength. If they were more conciliatory you would be screaminga about their lack of spine.

I have no idea how this negotiation is going to turn out, but at least the Democrats seem to be applying their leverage. You need to lighten up a little.