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Monday, July 18, 2011  

Obama Would Win If He Had Embraced the Unpopular Policies I Favor

Go read Sullivan make the case if you feel like it. I've heard this argument made a lot of different ways over a lot of different issues:

My own view, however, is that Obama badly bungled this by not embracing his current position in the State of the Union and pummeling the GOP with it for months. Bowles Simpson was his commission after all, and yet he dropped it like a stone and pandered to his left when he had a perfect moment to pivot to the debt question.

We'll never know what would have happened if the president had chosen to embrace steep entitlement cuts two months after having his rear end handed to him by America's seniors, so I guess this scenario is possible. But try to think it through for a moment. I don't mean to be dismissive, but anyone whose case relies on 'pummeling' one's opponents with something less than a literal pummel owes us a little more explanation of how that's likely to bring about the intended results. What if, as during the health care battle, the Republicans just refuse to respect the president's rhetorical pummeling? What if they decided to make a political issue of Bowles-Simpson's big cuts to programs old white people like? What if they took the president's offer of a center-right plan and saw validation of their extreme-right alternatives, at least as a negotiating strategy? What if they have rational motives for not wanting a debt deal at all?

You can argue about Obama's decisions on this issue until the cows come home, but I just don't see how adopting an unpopular plan as a bargaining position, thereby selling out his base before negotiating even begins, and 'pummeling' the opposition with it had any hope of getting a deal done. I am well acquainted with the temptation to say 'if only political actor X would adopt my policy preferences, the public would be on their side and they'd win.' But that's very rarely the case, especially when dealing with very difficult issues like the long-term deficit. If anything, the president took a risk by being as involved as he is. He could well have urged Congress to raise the debt limit and handle the long-term fiscal policy separately, and reiterated that position throughout the whole hostage-taking campaign. Then at least you have the objective factors--Wall Street not least--pushing your opponents toward your position and you don't expose either side to a zero-sum political game. Or he could have pushed more aggressively for revenue-side fixes. Honestly, though, it's impossible to say whether any of these approaches would have worked, however much pummeling or bipartisanship or whatever would be involved. Our institutions and our national political culture give us this sort of crisis, and it's comforting but ultimately naive to imagine that a president can rescue us from it with the right rhetorical strategy.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 1:08 PM
Ron Paul 2012!
Followed the link from Andrew's blog. I agree with you. Andrew's wrong. Thanks for the post!
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