Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 9, 2009

HOUSE REPUBLICAN EXPLAINS PARTY'S 'GOAL'.... What's that line about "Michael Kinsley Moments"? As I recall it's when politicians commit a gaffe by accidentally telling the truth.

"We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., an outspoken conservative who has participated on the GOP message teams. "Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint."

The quote certainly won't surprise anyone who's paid any attention to the House Republican caucus over the last several years. Of course their goal is to bring down Democrats' approval numbers. Of course they're more concerned with winning the daily "message war" than shaping public policy.

But as Greg Sargent explained, McHenry's candor nevertheless has salience for Democrats on the Hill: "It's likely that Dems will grab on to the quote today to bolster their charge that Congressional Republicans aren't interested in playing a constructive role in governing and see their hope for political revival in the eventual failure of the Democratic majority's policies."

Quite right. Most of the time, Republican leaders will maintain the fiction, at least in public, that they're serious about good-faith negotiations with the majority party. They'll say how willing they are to engage in a constructive debate, with the goal being improved public policy.

But once in a while, they'll drop the facade. We hear one GOP lawmaker say the party will emulate the insurgency tactics of the Taliban. We hear another say the party should position itself as "freedom fighters" taking on the "slide toward socialism." We hear another say the party's principal "goal" is to bring down Democrats' poll numbers.

As a practical matter, if Congress and the White House work together to pass meaningful and popular legislation, voters will be pleased and Democrats' approval ratings will probably improve. As such, if we take McHenry at his word, Republicans can't be constructive, they necessarily have to be destructive.

Again, I can appreciate why all of this seems to be in the water-is-wet category for obviousness, but it's a reminder of why Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they plan on looking to the minority party as credible and sincere governing partners. As Joe Klein recently argued, the president "should have no illusions about the good faith of his opponents."

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Patrick McHenry is the smallest of the small, the worst of the useless party hacks on Congress. I was absolutely convinced that he couldn't possibly be re-elected in the Democratic tidal wave that was sweeping the country.

But the people of his district proved to be equal to the task, much to my astonishment. Un...be...lievable.

Posted by: Curmudgeon on March 9, 2009 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

As in the Senate, there MUST be weakest links in their chain. Outreach to the most likely prospects can still be made.

Just a handful. If a few break the lockstep, maybe the dam will break, who knows. Surely don't spend a whole lot of effort until there's some sign of a thaw.

Out of hundreds, there must be SOMEONE more afraid of voter antipathy than party leaders and their threats. Maybe Steele will make adherence to party dogma seem as foolish to them as it already does to us.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on March 9, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "... it's a reminder of why Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they plan on looking to the minority party as credible and sincere governing partners."

It's also a reminder that liberal bloggers are making a mistake if they characterize the Republicans as "confused", "stupid" and "crazy" when in fact the Republicans are cunning and dishonest.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 9, 2009 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

But is there anyone more afraid of voter antipathy than say, Rush Limbaugh, the Almighty Overlord?

Posted by: Personal Failure on March 9, 2009 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, the Republican leadership anywhere here in America is sooooo last century! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 9, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

I think (or hope, anyway) that President Obama (!) and his team are not under any illusions about the real intent of the Rethugs (at least not after the Rethugs' behavior vis-a-vis the stimulus -- aka "porkulus" in reichspeak -- bill).
But I do believe that Mr Obama's continued noises about bipartisanship are a brilliant act of political theatre.
Remember the way he announced the passage of the stimulus bill? He gave great credit to the Republicans for their helpful input (literally infinitely more than they merited, since they'd done absolutely nothing constructive), and, IIRC, didn't at that point say a single negative plaint about their obvious obstructionism. (He's of course made some pointed observations about the "politics of the past" at other times, but not in that announcement.)
My theory is that he's going to continue behaving this way (in utter disregard of the actual facts) specifically because this is exactly how he earns such high approval ratings, even from Rethug voters, let alone the "moderates" or "centrists" or whatever we're calling the mass of voters who don't pay all that much attention.
If I'm right about this, it's analogous to the Rethug use of Michael Steele, and of all those o-so-visible minorities who show up on stage at Repuke conventions (even as there are close to zero actual delegates from minority communities).
It's a well-known (and to me convincing) theory that the Rethugs' playing these cards is not an attempt to earn actual Black votes (though they're clearly happy to get what they can, typically from those Black evangelicals who support the Repukes on abortion and gay-rights issues). But the main thrust of such moves is to convince Joe and Jane Sixpak that they're not the virulent racists that we know many of them to be. ("Oh look Clem, all those nice colored people -- or people with color, or whatever it is they want to be called now.")
Obama isn't making nice to make nice with Rethug pols or even Rethug voters. He's making nice so all of America that isn't the die-hard, sociopathic 23% will clearly see he's living up to his essential campaign promises of "post-partisanship" -- and that the Rethugs aren't.

Posted by: smartalek on March 9, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

There's another side to this strategy: it only takes a couple of sound bites that resonate with the public to change public sentiment. Then all the great policy wonkery in the world won't matter.

Liberals need to spend more time on marketing their ideas rather than simply assuming their obvious quality will win voters. Remember, voters supported the failed policies that led to this crisis. They can do so again.

Posted by: Robin on March 9, 2009 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

"But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010," said Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C.

Sadly, they are winning the "get-out-the-message-war".

"I was absolutely convinced that he couldn't possibly be re-elected.....But the people of his district proved to be equal to the task, much to my astonishment."- Curmudgeon

Perhaps the electorate was confused by his name...sort of a cross between an American Revolution hero and a fast food franchise.

Posted by: palinoscopy on March 9, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

The repubs are just representing their constituents, who are the die-hard, flat earth, birthers who hang on Limbaugh's every word. This constituency is severely over-represented in congress, despite the adjustments of the last 2 election cycles. 2 more elections like the last 2 and the proportion should be about right.

Posted by: JoeW on March 9, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK
As in the Senate, there MUST be weakest links in their chain. Outreach to the most likely prospects can still be made.
Why bother? The House Republicans are completely irrelevant. That's why ALL they can do is "message". Fuck 'em. Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 9, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Naturally, this sort of rare outburst of fact will do nothing whatsoever to forestall the Republicans from whining about bi-partisanship.

Thank goodness the media would never repeat such patently dishonest claptrap.

The Internet Says It
I Believe It
And That Settles It

Posted by: That Settles It on March 9, 2009 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

The repubs are paid to help the country, if they do not wish to do it they should not get paid, they are not there to hinder the president who is trying to mend a country which is broken, from 8 years of Repub rule.

Posted by: JS on March 9, 2009 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, let the damned fools win their little "message war." It's not a war; it doesn't even qualify as a battle, and barely amounts to a skirmish. Just turn a few thousand sane-thinking humans loose on McHumptyDumpty, assault his argument from many sides, and then just sit back as he tips off the wall and smashes his own shell to bits. I guarantee you---"all the king's horses and all the king's men" are predominantly Democratic now; the media will eventually get around to realizing that their ratings get better when they give more time to Dems, and less to the GOP's "rotten eggs...."

Posted by: Steve W. on March 9, 2009 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

McHenry had best concentrate on finding a wife before his constituents figure him out.

Posted by: penalcolony on March 9, 2009 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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