Will the grapes of the House GOP’s wrath turn out to be sweet for the Democrats?

Culture, Politics, US culture, US Economy, US Politics

I already noted that the significant dilution of the stimulus bill, when it was only going to be rejected unanimously by the House GOP anyway, drove some people up the wall. “Now that [Obama has] offered concrete concessions to the GOP only to have them publicly throw them back in his face, there simply isn’t any super-secret strategy that can [..] make it all make sense,” wrote Stephen Suh angrily at Cogitamus. Why bother even striving for compromise?

This question will get more acute by the day, as a recent post by Kevin Drum illustrates. He reports on the Obama administration’s push to extend the February 17 deadline for TV stations to switch from analog to digital transmissions. Not exactly a hotly partisan issue, right? The Senate promptly arrived at a bipartisan bill – which it passed unanimously. Every Republican agreed. But then the bill went to the House.

Only 22 House Republicans voted in favour. 155 voted against it. Drum: “100% of Senate Republicans voted in favor but 90% of House Republicans voted against. Shazam! Apparently the House GOP caucus really has decided to blindly stonewall everything Obama wants, no matter what.” He posits: “This is even more of a wakeup call than the vote on the stimulus bill.”

Right. The House GOP leadership is startlingly open about its intentions too, observes Dan at Bleakonomy. It will block and obstruct whatever comes its way, so Republicans can freely blame the Democrats for everything when the economy hasn’t recovered yet in six months. Yes, six months – if things haven’t improved in six months, the Republicans intend to say that it’s all the Dems’ fault and that the stimulus “didn’t work” because they “didn’t have the input in this”.

Of course, the current crisis is turning out to be the worst in almost three decades and is guaranteed to have an impact lasting (much) longer than six months, so … GOP profit!

Yet still there are valid reasons not to come down on Stephen’s side of the argument … yet. (I mean, apart from the stimulus bill not actually being all that bad.) The obvious one is the enormous contrast between House and Senate Republicans on the TV bill. If the Senate GOP shows any remotely similar divergence from the House Republicans’ obstruction course on the stimulus as well, Obama’s strategy may still come to “make sense”.

Then there’s the question of strategy. I already linked to Josh Marshall’s argument that offering the Republicans significant compromises, only for them to reject everything anyway, will help to brand them as the party of ‘no’. Which will marginalise them even further in 2010 so the Dems can go the long haul. Kevin Drum links to more evidence on that count too: a poll conducted by Democracy Corps on January 14-19.

The “Congressional Battleground Survey” polled 1200 likely voters in the 40-most vulnerable Democratic-held seats, mostly located in traditional Republican territory (full results). Democracy Corps also conducted a national poll just now (Jan 26-29), which found comparable results. Turns out voters overwhelmingly approve of Obama, his approach and the stimulus bill:

  • 70% of the “Battleground” respondents supported “Barack Obama’s policies and goals for the country;” 44% supported them “strongly”. Only 22% opposed them. In the national survey, respondents supported Obama’s policies and goals by an almost identical 69% to 24%.
  • The national survey got to ask specifically about “Obama’s .. economic recovery plan.” Respondents supported it by 62% to 28%.
  • Respondents in the national survey were asked to choose between two different statements: A) “We must pass an economic recovery package now because there is no choice, then we can focus on reigning in spending and balancing the budget once our economy is on the road to recovery”; or B) “With a deficit of over a trillion dollars, we can’t afford to spend another trillion dollars on a costly economic stimulus package”. They went for A) by a comfortable 56% to 40%.

They’re also very clear about who’s to blame for the whole mess, and whom they trust better to deal with it:

  • By 61% to 31%, national survey respondents thought that the problems Obama and the Dems are facing “are mostly inherited from President Bush and the time of Republican control” rather than “mostly of their own making”.
  • When asked whether “the Democrats or the Republicans would do a better job” with a number of issues, the Battleground respondents opted for the Democrats over the Republicans on the economy by 54% to 29%, and preferred them by even larger margins on health care and energy policy.
  • They also trusted the Dems better on the budget deficit (+20) and “making sure that taxpayers get value for their tax dollars” (+16).
  • When asked what phrases applied to their current Democratic Congress(wo)man, Battleground respondents agreed by margins of 30% or more that (s)he “fights for people here” and “will work with members from both parties to get things done”, while pluralities disagreed that their Representative was “too liberal” or “out of touch”.
Thomas Fuchs created GOP100 - Deconstructing Dumbo

Thomas Fuchs created "GOP100 - Deconstructing Dumbo"

Unsurprisingly, “if the election for U.S. Congress were held today,” Battleground respondents would vote for the Democratic over the Republican candidate by 51% to 39%.

What these numbers mean in practice is still to some degree in the eye of the beholder. One may take these numbers to mean that the course the Democrats are pursuing is a boon strategically: show off your willingness to be bipartisan, and in doing so show up the Republicans’ determination to obstruct everything, no matter what the cost to the economy.

One could also, however, take these numbers to mean that the Dems have an excellent chance to be bolder and go further, and shouldn’t waste it. They shouldn’t hesitate to bypass the Republicans as the irrelevant minority they’ve made themselves into.

The latter fits more with my instincts. But we know that Obama’s long-term strategy is focused on driving a long-term wedge between the Republicans and public opinion, not on some Clintonite triangulation. He’s talked about the lessons from community organising, and how he wants the broad grassroots engagement from his campaign to leverage the political debate on a continuous basis. He wants to actively mobilise public opinion against those who obstruct his ambitious plans, one by one if necessary, in order to counterweigh the institutional resistance they will face in the Beltway and the mainstream media.

To make that work, it’s important to push the crowd along, rather than take their approval and run with it. That’s not how I would do it, but then you guys knew this was his modus operandi when you elected him; there’s no big surprise or disappointment there. And you’ve got to give the man that it’s worked very well so far, including, apparently, in the stimulus debate. As Drum rhetorically queried the Republicans on their obstruction strategy, “So How’s That Working Out For You Guys?”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. sozobe  •  Jan 31, 2009 @6:44 pm

    Interesting! (And love those logos.)