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Tilting at Windmills

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November 24, 2010

IF THERE IS 'SABOTAGE,' WHAT DOES THE WHITE HOUSE DO?.... It turns out there are quite a few folks who think it's plausible congressional Republicans may be tempted to keep the economy down on purpose to advance partisan goals. Greg Sargent suggests it's time to ask the next question: if that's true, what does the White House do about it?

To be sure, finding examples of observers who find the argument itself is plausible isn't hard. As I've noted, the list includes, to varying degrees, Yglesias, Krugman, Collender, and Serwer, among others. Andrew Sullivan argued the other day that congressional Republicans are "as close to organized vandalism as one can imagine," and reiterated the point today.

Greg asked in response to all of this:

If this is the case, however, what should Obama do about it? As Sullivan rightly notes, during his first two years Obama was able to accomplish an extraordinary amount despite GOP opposition. But now Republicans are set to take over the House, and the Dems' margin in the Senate has dwindled dramatically. So what should Obama do now? What new methods should he employ to use the power of the presidency to reckon with the new, emboldened opposition?

That's obviously fair. Noting that a major political party seems willing to place partisan goals ahead of the public interest is one thing; suggesting constructive courses of action is arguably more important.

So, here are a few thoughts on the next step:

* Govern around Congress: If emboldened congressional Republicans would rather destroy the president than govern, the White House should realize it can do quite a bit without Congress. Eugene Robinson recently noted, "Obama's focus should be on using all the tools at his disposal to move the country in the direction he believes it must go." John Podesta and Dan Froomkin have pieces that flesh this strategy out -- making use of executive orders, executive regulations, etc. -- in more detail.

* Adapt negotiating styles accordingly: If White House officials sit down with the GOP leadership to negotiate, expectations matter. If the president and his team assume Republicans are prepared to work in good faith to find effective solutions to agreed-upon challenges, they may present Democratic proposals with reasonable compromises in mind. If the president and his team assume Republicans are pursuing a scorched-earth campaign, willing to sacrifice the nation's needs in the hopes of destroying the Obama presidency, the compromise proposals -- and the duration of the talks -- would hopefully be pretty different.

* Make your case explicitly: It's one thing for a party to complain about the "Party of No"; it's another level of magnitude to suggest Republicans are willing to sabotage the country's interests to improve their odds in 2012. Any White House has to be cautious about attacking rivals' motives -- though the Bush White House effectively accused Dems of treason, and faced almost no pushback -- but voters need to at least be aware of the concerns. If Democrats believe Republicans may be sabotaging the president and endangering the nation, they're going to have to say so in order to initiate some kind of public conversation.

* Be prepared to run against a "Do-Nothing Congress": It worked for Truman.

I'm sure there are other ideas. What am I missing?

Steve Benen 1:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Comments

Call Glenn Beck's bluff. Unionize the TSA and send them marching in the streets to round up Republicans and ship back to the 1850s South where they belong.

Posted by: thorin-1 on November 24, 2010 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Make your case explicitly"

Probably the biggest mistake the administration made in healthcare...not explaining in simple, detailed terms what was in the legislation. They should have bee all over tv, everywhere, with a direct, easy to follow and comprehend explanation. They didn't do it and the right was allowed to take a complex issue and pervert and twist it to their own ends...in a very direct and easy to follow manner.

The white House should be doing that with the bush tax cuts and START right now.

Posted by: SaintZak on November 24, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

One way to stimulate the economy WITH OUT congressional approval is to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Most mortgages are under Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are under government control. What the treasury department can do is change those mortgages to an interest rate of about 4% at a 30 year fix since interests rates are so low right now. By changing millions of Americans' mortgage rates to such a low rate that will put billions of dollars back into people's pockets which Americans will have more to spend to boost the economy.

Krugman discussed this as a possibility in one of his September columns. There was a rumor floating around in August that the administration would do this as an "August surprise" but this never happened. This is one of the ammunitions that the Obama team can use if the Congress sits on its behind and "does nothing" about the economy.

Posted by: Maritza on November 24, 2010 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats need a more populist approach to communicating. Too many Ds are policy wonks . . . who only talk to other policy wonks. That's why they assume the public at large is "getting it" when they are not.

Both parties are pretty classist, but at least the Republicans are effective in their manipulation of less educated voters.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on November 24, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

They are organizing sabotage. The next step is to get the corporations to get in line (even more so then they are) with boycotts by their flying monkey TeabaKKKer brigades.

Blood politics has become an end unto itself. Get ready to see the political "lynching" of an American president by the disloyal opposition.

Posted by: Les Ismore on November 24, 2010 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

1) Attack the opposition where they are strong. The GOP's preexisting narrative is that it is strong on defense (ha!) fiscally conservative (bwa-ha-ha) and morally superior (bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha). There is plenty of evidence that none of this is true, indeed, the exact opposite is true. If the Dems can point this out loudly enough, with enough repetition, maybe they can turn the GOP's assets into liabilities. Related to that...

2) Do to "Conservative" what righties did to "Liberal." A lot of very liberal people don't call themselves liberal because over the last 40 years the GOP turned the word "liberal" into an insult. The Dems should attempt to do the same. Lord knows "Conservatives" have behaved in a manner that should make people think twice about self identifying as conservatives.

3) Learn how to work the refs (the media.) Right now the GOP has its mighty Wurlitzer and can push any story, no matter how silly (death panels, ground zero mosque, ACORN). The media needs to learn that it shouldn't take wingnut spew at face value. For that to happen Obama, and Democrats in general, need to learn to work the media.

4) Try to turn the Democrats into a cohesive unit. This one is problematic given the nature of Democrats. But a good start would be for Democrats in Congress to give themselves the same disciplinary tools Republicans in Congress have.

5) Educate the American people about the distribution of wealth in America and how it relates to progressive taxation. For too long Republicans have packaged tax cuts as the cure for everything from small pox to the love of Polka music. Supply side / Voodoo / Trickle Down economics have been in effect for 30 years, and in that time the middle class have been pummeled while the wealthy have grown wealthier. Related to this...

6) Turn the words "Tax Cut" into a sign of hackery. Republicans have way over promised on the potential good a tax cut can have. If you look at what was promised to justify tax cuts in the past and the actual outcome those tax cuts have had, you'll notice that tax cuts are far more useful as a political tool than an economic one.

7) Make the case for government as a whole. Republicans tend to say government is always bad, but as soon as there is trouble they come running to the arms of "Big Government." Point this out loudly. America is the greatest country in the world in part because we have the best system of government in the world. Related to this...

8) The GOP is doing its best to destroy America's government by obstructing on everything. They oppose nominees for positions just to be jerks, then once the vote comes up, after being delayed for months for no reason, often vote nearly unanimously for the person they opposed. No organization, no matter how well designed, can function without its key players. Point this out.

Posted by: Hans Solo on November 24, 2010 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Me?
I'd invite them to a bipartisan summit.
When they arrive, I go to hug the first person, kick 'em as hard as I can in his/her junk, and when they bend over in pain, I pull a crowbar from behind my back, cave in their skull, and ask, "OK, who's next? No? No one? Good, let's sit down and talk about my agenda."

There's a reason I'm not President. I just haven't figured out why...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on November 24, 2010 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Tout your successes repeatedly:

U.S. Jobless Claims Decline to 407,000, Lowest Since July 2008

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-11-24/u-s-jobless-claims-decline-to-407-000-lowest-since-july-2008.html

Posted by: Stephen on November 24, 2010 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

I really like these posts where you offer solutions, rather than the chronic hand-wringing that we on the Left adore so much.

That said: recess appointments. Appoint ALL of them. Immediately. And repeat as needed. Observe publically that these positions have remained vacant umpty-ump months (YEARS?) because Republicans have been blocking the votes.

Posted by: zandru on November 24, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Governing around Congress" is NOT an answer - it feeds into the GOP narrative that Obama is a socialist intent on grabbing power.

And it's a fundamentally UN-American way of doing things.

Obama needs to forcefully and clearly promote what he wants to get done to the American people. He needs to motivate the American people to apply pressure to the GOP to compromise.

Either he leads, or he lets Congress lead. If he wants to change America, if he wants to get reelected, then LEAD THE COUNTRY.

It's time for him to rise to the occasion and be the leader we thought he was when we voted him into office.

If you think your agenda is the better one, then put it out there and let the people decide - don't try to sneak it by them.

Posted by: JEA on November 24, 2010 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately, StZ, Obama already explicitly folded on the expiring Bush era tax cuts as his opening bargaining position, as usual. Just like the public option. His opening position was no PERMANENT extension of tax cuts on the over-250K incomes.

I don't think he even explained that continuing the reduced under-250K marginal rates is continuing the cut for ALL incomes, just not the part over 250K. Or unlike what George W Bush has just claimed, the tax cuts demonstably did nothing much for the economy. Or that in a recession, a little more taxes on people who are doing great doesn't hurt anything. Or that a lot of those "small businesses" are surgeons or financiers. Or that the new rates on the rich are the same as in the way better Clinton years, and a third of the golden age of Eisenhower. Or less than in the golden age of Reagan (I think). Or anything else to support the position he already folded on.

Unlike some on the left, I don't think Obama is entirely an evil corporate shill. There just seems to be a congenital flaw in his brain. It's not like he hasn't been getting various versions of exactly the same constructive criticism from everyone on the left for two years.

Posted by: emjayay on November 24, 2010 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

There are a lot of good suggestions here, but I find c u n d gulag's suggestion most appealing.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on November 24, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Bypass the media. Get out of Washington on a regular basis. Take the Obama show on the road and sell your vision. Campaign for it! Paint a picture - past, present, future - what your administration has done, what it's doing now, and where you are going. (This is in line with Steve's point re making the case explicitly.)

This will strengthen your grassroots support. You have plenty, but *seeing your conviction is inspirational and a crucial aspect of leadership. Oh and please don't bother trying to reason with those who advocate the wrong policies or none at all. They either get on board or get left behind.

Posted by: FC on November 24, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

It is pointless to make any suggestions about what Obama and the dems should do.

We all know what they are going to do. Bend over, say thank you sir, and beg for more.

Completely worthless.

Posted by: Bucky on November 24, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I've said this before, but if Obama and Biden quit now to spend more time with their families, would Nancy Pelosi be president? That would be so cool. And put Obama in the history books for sure. Hey, it worked great for Snowbilly.

Posted by: emjayay on November 24, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

The White House does a LOT to try and put its message out there. But the 'bully pulpit' doesn't work when no one is listening. Or more precisly when the press never covers anything.

Obama spent a good chunk of last summer going out on the road and giving speeches on healthcare reform. They were good speeches. They explained the policy well. Administration officials (cabinet level folks) did their best to get on the Sunday shows and other media outlets and echoed Obama's message.

The problem. The press largely ignores Obama's speeches. They ignore things like the White House White Board (which Steve rightly praises). They don't book cabinet officials on the Sunday shows. If its a choice between McCain or Selbious, they'll pick McCain. Look at the Sunday show line up for 2010. Gingrich got more appearanes by himself then almost every member of Obama's cabinet COMBINED.

The other problem. There is no Democratic echo chamber to counter FOX and the Republican media machine. When the talking points go out EVERY single Republican pounds them into ground. From pundits to congresspeople. They repeat the same sentences word for word at every opportunity.

When the Obama White House tries to put out a message Democrats seem to out of their way to outright contradict that message. Especially the blue dogs the media likes to book.

What the White House despartely needs to do is find a way to bypass the filter of the MSN. And the Democrats need to start playing AS A TEAM and support their President. Criticism is fine. But at least TRY to stick a consistent message.

Posted by: thorin-1 on November 24, 2010 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm sure there are other ideas. What am I missing?"

What you're missing would fill the Grand Canyon.

What should Obama have done differently re Health Care and CapNtrade?

Had the bills written in Sumerian. Threaten to put the 'boot on the necks' of the approximate 75% of us that thought them nonstarters. So many choices when you don't have to be bothered with the law.

Posted by: baltimoreJoe on November 24, 2010 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

@thorin-1. What about a regular (monthly?) press conference? The MSM *has to cover that!

Different times, but FDR worked with the press very effectively, regularly (once a week?) having the group covering him into the oval office for informal Q & A.

Posted by: FC on November 24, 2010 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus:
There is even an added benefit. After McConnell gets his ass kicked, Obama can just say that McConnell must have gotten his ass kicked by his wife. After all, it's no secret in DC that McConnell shares something in common with Larry Craig.

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience on November 24, 2010 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Gene Robinson. Move on, use Executive Orders and other Executive Branch powers, and govern without them. Regarding allegations Republicans want the U.S. economy to fail and would deliberately facilitate its failure, what other rational conclusion can be drawn from their policies before the 2008 election and their actions after the 2008 election.

Posted by: max on November 24, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Another vote for "Make your case explicitly". And when I say explicitly, I mean, hard-core, full frontal Republican shit-heads, barely legal explicitly. Drag the Republicans through their own filth -- you know they're begging for it.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on November 24, 2010 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

"...use Executive Orders and other Executive Branch powers, and govern without them."

So Dems should abandon principle and governance in order to get/retain power?

We already have one party that does that. We don't need two.

Posted by: JEA on November 24, 2010 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

JEA, using specific constitutional executive branch powers isn't abandoning principle and governance.

It is called doing your effing job.

Just because Congress isn't doing their doesn't give the executive a free pass.

Posted by: Bucky on November 24, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

If there is a shutdown of the government, with a threat of default of U.S. debt, I would keep in my back pocket an executive order authorizing the U.S. Treasury to raise the debt ceiling to make all payments on outstanding debt as necessary.

There will be a huge howl about this, that it is somehow illegal. It's Congress' job to raise revenues, whether by taxes or issuance of debt.

However, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution clearly says "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

In that, I would find the President has emergency powers to raise the debt ceiling if Congress won't. But only to ensure payment on the debt - i.e. preventing a default.

At that time, he would have to close all other parts of government, and suspend all payments outgoing that are not authorized by law or have proper self-funding (i.e. Social Security).

Posted by: Chris on November 24, 2010 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

There is no Democratic echo chamber to counter FOX and the Republican media machine. When the talking points go out EVERY single Republican pounds them into ground. From pundits to congresspeople. They repeat the same sentences word for word at every opportunity. -- thorin-1, @14:25

Some of that may be coming from lack of discipline within the Dem Party and some from lack of tame media. But I think there's also a third component: boredom with repeating the same thing, over and over again, ad nauseam.

We have a saying in Polish: "everyone uses one's own yardstick to measure others". Reasonably intelligent people assume that others are reasonably intelligent too; you explain something to them once, maybe twice, and their minds will process it without a problem; they'll understand it.

Repubs, OTOH, assume that everyone's an idiot, who has to be spoon-fed predigested pap, for hours on end, before they'll assimilate whatever the message is contained within. And, one has to admit that, perhaps, their assessment is the correct one. For here, right on cue, comes "baltimoreJoe", @14:26, who seems to have trouble distinguishing between tenses. The question was: "What should Obama *do*?". But, Baltimore Joe reads it as "What should Obama *have done*?", before veering off into a totally unrelated rant.

Posted by: exlibra on November 24, 2010 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

I believe the Republicans, last fall, set up a web site asking for public input regarding their platform. The R's then cherry picked the results and only used ideas that backed up their ideology.

Why not have the Democrats set up a similar web site, asking the public to come up with ideas on how the government could both spur job growth and cut waste. Then roll the results into a piece of legislation and put it to a vote. My guess is that cuts in Medicare and Social Security won't have much public support, but other "common sense" ideas would likely float to the top (provided Rush doesn't tell his ditto heads what to suggest, which he probably will).

When Republicans vote against these common sense ideas, accuse them of obstructing the will of the public, and deliberately harming job growth.

Posted by: delNorte on November 24, 2010 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK
I've said this before, but if Obama and Biden quit now to spend more time with their families, would Nancy Pelosi be president? That would be so cool.

Yes, she would. The Constitution is unambiguous that the Speaker is second in the line of succession, after the vice president, who is first. (Third is Daniel Inouye. Fourth is Hillary Clinton.) The Republicans would whine and scream and carry on, but there wouldn't be a thing they could do about it. Except impeach her, of course.

Posted by: navamske on November 24, 2010 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Start having hearings in the Senate and drag in GOP members from the House asking them about their TREASON. Let them defend themselves and their actions. Then when the hearings were over, start the DOJ investigations and end it all with the Republican'ts faaaaavorite tools, the military tribunal and death sentence.

Posted by: Gridlock on November 24, 2010 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Be prepared to run against a 'Do-Nothing Congress'."

Be prepared to run against a "REPUBLICAN-CONTROLLED Do-Nothing Congress".

FIXED.

Posted by: Joe Friday on November 24, 2010 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

The specifics of what progress and reforms Obama is after are more important than the posturing he adopts in dealing with a recalcitrant repug Congress. They dictate what strategy Obama employs in dealing with them. It is not, as you imply, the other way around.

For now, the unarticulated theme in the repugs message against Obama is that Obama is the one sabotaging America (eg, auto bailout = socialism, HCR = unconstitutional on several points, financial regulation = interfering with free markets, tax on the wealthy = punishing the most productive) and the repugs are here to save us from his destructive policies.

By pointing out the repugs are sabotaging American interests through failure to ratify START and inaction on the economy, you and other pundits undercut the repugs unrelenting message about Obama being a saboteur. For that reason, when the saboteur monikor surfaced, it got their attention and their ire. It was hitting close to home. And that is all for the good. As the repugs and their media understand, only repetition will make it forceful. So repeat after me....

Posted by: gone_west on November 24, 2010 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

He has to make sure everyone hears about who's causing the problem and why they're doing it.

And he has to make sure everyone hears it all the time.

All the time.

Posted by: cld on November 24, 2010 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Tell people what's going on. Dispense with the decorum, the comity, the gentlemen's agreements, the discretion that leads you to keep to yourself what you heard the GOP Senator say in the corridor about their true motives. Crack the whole sick machine open and tell people what's really going on. Hold a press conference every single day, telling people what you're trying to do and why it's not happening. Hit back at the lies and spin that the GOP (and Fox et al.) constantly use to put you on the defensive.

In other words, be Audacious. (Don't I know that word from somewhere?) Play hardball. Play to win. Break some rules. Be more aggressive than your opponents. Surprise people.

For God's sake - if not now, then when?

Posted by: DNS on November 24, 2010 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

@ Hans Solo - thanks - a good list.

Posted by: kate on November 24, 2010 at 10:43 PM | PERMALINK

Call the Repubs on their "Deficits Matter" thing. The Repubs used the slogan in their runup to the election, and now they want unpaid for tax cuts for the rich. Obama should flatly state that he will not sign any bill into law that isn't paid for. The Dems managed to make Health Care budget neutral and in fact somewhat deficit lowering. Challenge the Repubs to do likewise. You said deficits matter and we are on board. Any bill that adds to the deficit will be vetoed. Period.

Posted by: Shivas on November 25, 2010 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Unforuately, Obama's policies don't seem to be too different than Bush's. Which is why he has no message out there. There is little substantial difference between Dems and Republicans -- all they care about is governing for corporate interests. If Obama really cared about fixing this country, he'd start with repealing NAFTA and the othes like it because that's the only way we're going to get jobs and an economy for the real people back.

Posted by: Kim Kaufman on November 25, 2010 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK
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