Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lucy and the Football

After a day or so of wide-ranging praise for the Lecturer-in-Chief following his performance at the GOP retreat on Friday, the theme driving the news cycle has become one of “engagement.” Headlines like, “Obama Engages,” or “Obama Continues Policy Outreach to GOP” have proliferated. But this is not new.

In fact, Obama’s first year is the story of relentless, futile attempts at bipartisanship. The President has repeatedly reached across the aisle and allowed Republican influence on bills only to see the GOP vote in unison against that bill. The effect of these efforts has been that the President not only ends up with watered-down bill (see, e.g., the Stimulus Package) but he ends up simultaneously throwing away political capital and angering his base. It has been, quite simply, a year of Lucy and the Football.

Yet, there seems to be something different here. Since the State of the Union, and including last week’s Q and A session with the GOP, the President has aggressively communicated his efforts at bipartisanship. Rather than being victimized by his constant, quixotic attempts to invite Republicans into the tent only to have them burn the tent down, he’s put the GOP on its heels. He has made it clear, vocally and repeatedly over the last week, that the door is open to the Republicans, that they can come in, but they’re going to have to compromise. He is doing his very best to convert the Grand Old Party into the Grand Obstructionist Party. For this, I applaud the President.

Rather than castigating himself on the altar of bipartisanship, the President is going to make the Republican Party pay the price, politically, for their nihilism. The President should keep up his vocal, aggressive challenge to the GOP that they participate in government. Good on ye, Mr. President.

Now, go pass Healthcare.


Colin said...

Well, first off, there are at least a couple of headlines which don't agree with this narrative:

As for whether the GOP will pay a price for "nihilism" -- which seems to be Andrew Sullivan's favored term for Republican opposition -- I have to wonder what the evidence is for such thinking.

Last year Republicans opposed the stimulus bill and were punished with...victories in VA and NJ. A party line vote against health care reform (Rep. Cao excepted) resulted in the backlash of...gaining a Senate seat in MA.

Just not sure how Republicans suffer by remaining implacably opposed to unpopular legislation. Indeed, given the latest polling -- Blanche Lincoln seems toast and even Feingold is in trouble -- Congress could flip in November.

We'll see.

Jessica said...

People vote against the incumbent when they are unhappy with the status quo. The status quo this year has been watered down and/or unsuccessful legislation, thanks in large part to Republican obstructionism. A healthier political system would allow the party with a large majority to successfully enact legislation (which they were delivered a mandate to do), and then allow voters to vote based on the results. Compromise is necessary on both sides. Let citizens vote on the result, rather than preemptively killing any initiative brought by the other party.

Colin said...

Jessica, do you think it would have been wise to allow social security to be be privatized in 2005 and then allow voters the chance to make their voice heard in 2006? Would that have been a healthier political system?

I'm also not sure how Republicans succeeded in watering down legislation so much considering that Democrats didn't need any of their votes in the House and either one or zero in the Senate.

Ben said...

Colin, you know very well that the Republicans were successful in watering down legislation. While the Democrats could have passed legislation without Republican support for the majority of the year (let us not forget, Coleman refused to concede defeat for half of 2009), the Democrats, led by this President, were determined to engage in bipartisanship. This headlong--and to my mind, foolish--determination to reach across the aisle led directly to the events I described in my post. I invite you to revisit the Stimulus debate from late last January and all of last February.

And, while the WaPo article's headline doesn't match the headline's I quoted, the meat of the article certainly bears out my post: hanging the label of obstructionism on the GOP.

Your sarcasm aside, you grossly over simplify Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Colin said...

I truly don't know how Republicans succeeded in watering down legislation. But maybe I wasn't following the news closely enough.

For the football analogy to hold it seems to me Republicans would have come out first and said, essentially, "Sure, we'll vote for the stimulus provided it includes X, Y and Z" and then renege at the last minute, a la Lucy. But from what I can tell GOP opposition was pretty much announced from the get-go, such as this story from a mere 5 days into the Obama Administration:

But, again, maybe I don't recall correctly or am suffering from selective memory.

Your dismissal of VA, MA and NJ, meanwhile, strikes me as a bit of whistling past the graveyard. I mean, one can be a fluke, two an anomaly -- but all three?

Take pretty much any metric you want and GOP obstructionism/nihilism seems to be like a winning tactic. Republicans lead in the generic ballot, Obama has under 50% approval (although he seems to be enjoying a post-SOTU bounce), and Democrats are getting hammered in hypothetical matchups this November. Charlie Cook has 40 Dems listed as in "lean" or "toss-up" elections compared to only 10 Republicans. Even Sen. Boxer in true-blue California only leads her GOP opponents anywhere from 3-6 percent.

An obstructionist Republican party from 1993-94 certainly didn't hurt them at the ballot box, and I literally don't see a single indication to think it will be otherwise this time around.

Ben said...

"For the football analogy to hold it seems to me Republicans would have come out first and said, essentially, "Sure, we'll vote for the stimulus provided it includes X, Y and Z" and then renege at the last minute, a la Lucy."

I'm not whistling past the grave yard, I'm just not going to subscribe to a post hoc ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. We can have a greater discussion about the distinctions between VA, NJ, and MA, and their parochialness but that's really not relevant to the discussion at hand.

As far as your last comment, well isn't that the very definition of nihilism? Obstruction for the sake of success at the polls? There's governance to be done, man--and, whether you like it or not, and whether you remember it or not, the fact is the Republicans have been engaging in the crafting of legislation only to blow it up at the end. Yes, five days into BHO's administration they said they wouldn't support the Stimulus package, but you've got to keep reading the news all the way through the process: a smaller stimulus package, more emphasis on tax cuts at the expense of infrastructure, etc. only to not vote for the bill. Go read the history.

Ben said...

Colin, some good links for you (by no means exhaustive):

Here, here, here, here, and here.

Colin said...

Regarding a post hoc fallacy, while it can't be definitely proven that Republicans are benefiting from their prior opposition to the Obama Adminstration's agenda, it sure seems hard to argue they are really suffering. Maybe it's all just coincidence, but I have my doubts. But I really have yet to see any evidence which supports your theory Obama's current efforts to engage Republicans is a political winner which will cost the GOP at the polls.

As for nihilism, I don't pretend to know GOP motivations. I suspect there are two: a political calculation that it will benefit them politically (whereas true nihilism would be opposition for its own sake, and to no obvious end) and a philosophical opposition.

I read your links and they seem to suggest that Obama was making various offerings to attract GOP support while they remained opposed. Maybe I didn't read closely enough, but I didn't see much in the way of promised GOP support only to -- Lucy-style -- yank it away at the last minute.

However, I did consult wikipedia and it says that various Republicans offered amendments to expand the size of the tax credits. I don't know who these Republicans were or if they represented the GOP leadership's thinking, but I will concede the point.

In any case I have already gone on record as doubting the virtues of bipartisanship, which I see as hugely over-rated. My problem with Democratic legislation is the content, not the lack of GOP votes.