Monday, February 16, 2009

The Daily Strike-2/16/09-President's Day, Stimulus Post-Mortem, The Bizzarro World

I'm back from a great weekend in Syracuse and ready for the Daily Strike.

STIMULUS POST MORTEM: President Obama will sign the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law tomorrow, but the political battles, as many have noted, are just beginning. Each pundit seems to have their own take on the winners and losers. I think the bottom line is that Obama succeeded in both getting the bill passed and learning several valuable lessons as he embarks on other legislative battles. There seems to be consensus that he should no longer conduct serious outreach to House Republicans. That "big goose egg" the House handed to him on the stimulus bill (as Michael Steele put it) says a lot about the House Republican party. They're goal is to be unified in opposition. What benefit does he get by reaching out to the minority party if they don't reach back their hands in return?

In the Senate, it seems that the formula Obama took to gain passage of the stimulus was the "60 vote method." Give up whatever content in the bill you must to gain the couple of Republicans necessary to break the filibuster. There are two problems with this strategy. If you are going to pursue it, you must first propose the most extreme version of what you want. For example, if he wanted a $900 billion stimulus, he should have proposed a $1.1 trillion. That way, the "reasonable moderates" can come up with a "compromise" that makes them feel "centrist" without doing harm to the legislation. Second, if he can't get these moderates to go along with him, he should consider playing hardball. Many House Democrats have argued that if Republicans are intent on killing bills, they should actually stand up and read the phone book for 24 hours like they did in the 1960's with the civil rights bills. I'm not completely convinced that this will work because Republicans are tough, and would totally call our bluff. On the other hand, imagine the country watching Mitch McConnell read recipes on the Senate floor? How could that possibly be good for the Republican party? Eventually, the political pressure would build on the Republicans to allow the bill to come up for a vote.

The other major lesson, and one that the Obama administration has mentioned frequently, is that there is a giant disconnect between the consensus of Washington insiders and the views of the American people, as measured empiracally. The conventional wisdom among the media was that the bill was losing popularity, Obama had failed in his effort to be bipartisan, and that the Republicans were regaining their footing on fiscal conservatism. I see absolutely no evidence that any of this is the case. Obama remains very popular, the Republicans in Congress are extremely unpopular, and Obama has been seen as adaquately trying to foster bipartisan dialogue. One of Obama's great strengths as a candidate was to defy the assumptions of the media and Washington insiders by keenly reading American public. They need to take their use of that skill up a notch. They may not have had to concede anything on the stimulus bill if they didn't listen to the cable news chatter and Republican talking points. They took out some of the "questionable" spending provisions in the bill, like resodding the National Mall, because they were worried that the Republicans' message was getting through. There may be a point when Obama and his ideas are not popular, and when the American public will not grant goodwill to the President. Now is not that time. There will be some important debates in the next few weeks, on financial regulation, housing and the budget. Don't forget the electorate you represent. The data suggests that, as The Big Picture has talked about:

-it likes you
-it dislikes the Republican party
-it is patient, but demanding of significant policy changes
-it wants economic policies that will make its life better

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: The Republican party is convinced that they have won a victory this week by showing opposition to the stimulus bill, as evidenced by this web video from House Republican Whip Eric "Smug Voice" Cantor:

I think the party is divided between two groups. One group is made up of realist mainstream conservatives who understand that they may have to sacrifice their principles to help out their struggling constituents. This group is pretty much only governors, like Florida's Charlie Crist and Utah's Jon Huntsman Jr. The other 90 percent are living in what The Big Picture and I like to call "The Bizarro Quarter." If you look at a lot of polls, there's a consistent group of 25-33% that still like Bush, dislike Obama, and generally still strongly believe in conservative dogma. I would say almost all Congressional Republicans live in this quarter. And you can't blame them! When would they ever see non-bizzaros? They're districts are ruby red, because all moderate Republicans have been defeated in the past two election cycles. The only calls they get in their offices are from the far-right base, who will ignite a fire under them if they stray from conservative dogma. They listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, because they believe that the rest of the "media" is so far-left that it can't represent any shred of truth. In fact, all polling is done by these left-wing media clowns, so they don't really believe data that shows them being increasingly unpopular. Basically, they're living in a world made up of their own bizzare reality: The country is center-right, but voted for Obama because they were manipulated by the media and upset that the Republicans did not act like fiscal conservatives. Therefore, if they stay true to their conservative principles, they will retain power. If you understand this prism of thinking, you can understand why they would create a video like this. Saturday Night Live did a nice job of summing up bizarro world:

If they can't free themselves from this alternate reality, they will continue to act in the same manner and will keep getting drubbed in elections. Ladies and gentleman, the 2009 Republican party.

More tomorrow about the coming week in The Weekly Strike. Thanks to The Big Picture for his great post the other day. See you tomorrow!

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