Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 29, 2011

CAN'T ANYBODY HERE PLAY THIS GAME?.... At face value, congressional Republicans went into budget talks playing a strikingly weak hand. They're an unpopular party, pushing unpopular spending cuts, going up against a more popular president. Of the three main players -- the House, the Senate, and the White House -- the GOP controls about one-half of one-third of the relevant institutions.

And yet, who seems to be calling the shots here?

The New York Times had an interesting summary of the lay of the land, emphasizing the fact that Democrats seem to realize they let this debate slip away from them.

Both parties remain uncertain about which of them would bear the brunt of public anger if Congress cannot agree on financing federal operations for the final half of this fiscal year and government agencies shut down or drastically scale back the services they can provide.

Even many Democrats believe that House Republicans have gotten the better of the antispending, antigovernment argument. But Democrats insist that is because much of the public does not appreciate the impact the Republicans' $61 billion in proposed reductions would have on spending for popular social programs if those cuts were to become law with just half of the current fiscal year remaining.

Democrats are right; most of the country has no idea the extent to which the GOP's proposed cuts would be devastating to key domestic priorities. These are cuts that, if put to a poll, the vast majority of the American mainstream would reject out of hand.

But here's another thought: maybe most of the country has no idea how brutal these cuts are because Dems haven't told them.

In 1995, when the Gingrich-led Republicans confronted the Clinton White House, the president had a mantra he'd repeat endlessly -- it was called M2E2. Clinton would say he's prepared to negotiate with Republicans, but wasn't prepared to go along with deep cuts to "Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment," four popular measures voters didn't want to see slashed.

In 2011, Dems never quite got around to picking their own M2E2. Criticisms of the GOP plan have been all over the map, made more complicated by the fact that Democrats themselves have been far too quick to buy into the dubious notion that Americans actually want a focus on the deficit instead of the economy.

This debate quickly got away from Dems, but it didn't have to be this way. Republicans are winning, at least for now, with a very weak hand.

If I'm a Democratic strategist, I would have recommended a couple of things. First, pick a handful of the most jarring cuts in the GOP plan, and repeat them ad nauseum. Ideally, they'd be cuts most Americans would find offensive -- "Republicans want to slash funding for education, medical research, job training, and homeland security. We think that's irresponsible." Say this over and over again, and sooner or later, folks will start to know that the GOP wants to cut education, medical research, job training, and homeland security.

Second, turn the GOP line around and start calling the cuts what they are: job killing. There are multiple independent analyses -- from Macroeconomic Advisers, Ben Bernanke, Moody's Analytics, Economic Policy Institute, and others -- all saying that the Republican plan would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs. John Boehner gift-wrapped this by saying, "So be it" when asked about the GOP plan to deliberately make unemployment worse.

Dems made some hay out of this for a while, but let it fade. It should have been the only thing the party talked about for weeks -- Republicans want to make the jobs crisis worse, on purpose -- but it wasn't. They could have come up with a simple little slogan -- "the GOP plan is bad for the middle class and bad for jobs" -- that could have been easily repeated, instead of, "Don't worry, we like cuts, too."

Sure, I realize it might be frustrating to Democrats in Washington to be on the defensive right now, but much of this is the result of the party choosing not to go on the offensive when it had the chance.

Steve Benen 2:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

I don't know what you mean. I find the Democrats more offensive with every passing day.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on March 29, 2011 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Water is wet. The sun rises in the east. The Dems are spineless and inept at messaging.

Posted by: Holmes on March 29, 2011 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe the Dem's are sleeping with the same Republican lobbyist.

Posted by: Dean on March 29, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Democratic strategist?" Aren't they extinct like the dodo.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

I like this bait and switch:


In 1995, when the Gingrich-led Republicans confronted the Clinton White House, the president had a mantra he'd repeat endlessly -- it was called M2E2. Clinton would say he's prepared to negotiate with Republicans, but wasn't prepared to go along with deep cuts to "Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment," four popular measures voters didn't want to see slashed.

In 2011, Dems never quite got around to picking their own M2E2. Criticisms of the GOP plan have been all over the map, made more complicated by the fact that Democrats themselves have been far too quick to buy into the dubious notion that Americans actually want a focus on the deficit instead of the economy.

The buck stops.. uh.. over there.

Posted by: bay of arizona on March 29, 2011 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

DNC- Do Not Care or Dumb Not Creative?

Posted by: KK on March 29, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't it make you want to scream and pinch their little heads off!!! Here the Democrats had the chance to put the Republicans away for the count and they gave up instead.

It isn't as if this is a surprise because they've been doing it and doing it and doing it. There was the bit about making the republicans vote on tax cuts for the wealthy before the last election. Fail. There has been the bit about getting a real financial reform bill that would prevent another catastrophe. Fail. There was a chance to get Medicare for all in the health reform bill. Fail. There was a chance to get hedge fund managers to pay income tax at the level of their secretaries, not half of that. Fail. All of these options had widespread popular support, and the Democrats gave up on all of them.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on March 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

The Constitutional requirement that money bills begin in the House is not completely vestigial. And there are still filibusters in the Senate.

So it's more like 'sixty per cent of each of two thirds of the government'. What's that? ((0.6 * 0.67)*2)?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on March 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

... but we're talking about EXTREME deficits here, that require an intelligent response, not pointless partisan dribble.

Posted by: Neo on March 29, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

More and more it looks like the Democrats are the Washington Generals of politics -- they're only there to lose.

After all, if the Democratic Party wasn't out there pretending to be on the side of working people, somebody might get the bright idea to form a political party that actually is!

Posted by: SteveT on March 29, 2011 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats seem to be bumbling fools, and nothing more! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 29, 2011 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't national messaging have to come from the national level. You know, you-know-who? The guy who is so respectful of completely closed minded ideologues that he wouldn't want to offend them by contradicting them in any way. Except to call them out once or twice, after folding.

The Reagan White House famously had a message of the day or week which they reinforced by stagecrafted visuals and sound bites crafted to be shown on the evening news. Crass, but it worked. Administration by advertising agency.

Bush II went a little too far with the flight suit and Mission Accomplished, although it probably worked really well on the rubes. This White House I guess is too pure and saintly to indulge in anything like that. Chicago style politics my ass.

Posted by: emjayay on March 29, 2011 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

It's pretty obvious what's going on here. It's not that the Democrats are feckless or cowards or bad negotiators. What's going on here is that the Democrats are on the same side as the Repbulicans. It doesn't matter that the polls indicate that most Americans hate what the GOP wants to do. What most Americans want is immaterial. What really counts are is what the fat cats who finance all policiticans, Democrats and Republicans alike (and give cushy, do-nothing jobs to their wives and kids)want.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on March 29, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

We're losing services but not losing taxation. Only the super-rich and mega-corporations are getting anything out of this deal. Why is that so hard to say?

Why is it so difficult to ask, "If lowering the the taxes on the top 1% is good for business why have the decade old Bush Tax Cuts done nothing to help employment or the economy?"

Why do we always capitulate? Why does the Right get away with calling us traitors and communists. but we cannot even begin to question their bullshit?

The only answer that I can come with this this: too many Dems serve the same masters as the Repugs. I can understand why so many Americans hate the government. It is difficult to have faith in many of our elected officials, up to and including Obama.

Posted by: Mitch on March 29, 2011 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

The guy at the national level is tough. At least on the rest of us. He seems happy to see the middle class fade into the mists of history as long as we do it quietly, and we will. Where the hell are we going to go?

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 29, 2011 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think you would want to use the exact same phrase, i.e. "job-killing" because it will give the repub lie currency. Instead, use the Donald Trump term: "they want to fire teachers, they want to fire cops, they want to fire firefighters" or "they want to make more jobless people" "Job-killing" gives their term legitimacy.

Posted by: ribber on March 29, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I used to wonder how on earth it came to pass that democratic party officials had lost sight of the power of political rhetoric.

It then dawned on me they hadn't.

You now fault them with missteps, miscues, and overall strategic miscalculation.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

It's not the party you credit it with being.

Posted by: JW on March 29, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I love my Democrats, but Steve's absolutely right that Democrats appear to be absolutely incapable of making use of the political dynamite the GOP routinely hands to them. The "we-won't-respond-to-every-little-thing" laissez faire attitude of White House Communications has had me pulling out my hair for quite some time now. Ditto for all the rest of the impotent media responses from Democratic talking heads. Austan Goolsbee and Anthony Weiner are big mouth bright spots, but they can't do it all by themselves.

Take a chance, Democrats! Doesn't the polling out of Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. TELL you that Republican policies are not popular!

Posted by: June on March 29, 2011 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Dems come to Washington with a multitude of ideas on how we can make America a Better Place to Live.

Reps come to Washington with just one goal: Destroy the Democratic Party.

Posted by: DAY on March 29, 2011 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Take a chance, Democrats! Doesn't the polling out of Wisconsin, Ohio, etc. TELL you that Republican policies are not popular!

Republican polcies are popular, all right...with the DC Democratic establishment.

Posted by: Doctor Whom on March 29, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I think for democrats a couple of arguments are to be made here in 2011 that really could not be made in 1995. First, President Obama, should remind everyone that if the economy and the recovery are weak and that's why we needed to extend the tax breaks then the same EXACT argument should be made to defend spending. This money doesn't leave the country....cutting government spending at this stage puts the private sector at risk.

Second, 9 PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT!!!!!! HELLO!! HELLO!!! we have millions of people out of work this is the last thing we should be doing is making government cuts that will lead to higher unemployment levels. You know they have low taxes in Soweto and Bangladesh, low taxes doesn't ensure a robust economy or job growth.

In my view the arguments are simple and straight forward the problem with the Democrats is that they have given into the Republican and mainstream media position that we can only cut discretionary spending which will lead to robust growth and full employment and argument that is LUDICROUS!!!!

Posted by: latimlf on March 29, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

[do you find living in such a small town in Virginia a hindrance to working out your anger issues? thank goodness for roadstar internet, otherwise you might never find such a wide audience to feel superior to - mod.]

Posted by: eschaton regular on March 29, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Dems are really poor at playing offence, but they have a real shot at winning the end game with a counter-offensive after a shutdown. It won't be too late to publicize the draconian cuts after the shutdown occurs. The public really doesn't like these cuts, but they aren't terribly well-informed yet. That can change.

In some ways, the best way to win this battle is to let the government shut down; that will capture the public's attention in a way that the normal Washington politics don't. When the public starts caring about the government shutdown and they see the GOP craziness on full display, the GOP will be in a terrible bind: unite with the crazies or cut a deal with the resurgent Dems.

Posted by: danimal on March 29, 2011 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Yep let's go after the stereotype....Dems, weak and feckless...GOP, strong and bold!!! Have you guys been watching CABLE??? Not everything is black/white...we've gotten quite a bit done and I believe the Dems are doing the 'give them enuf rope' syndrome...

Posted by: SYSPROG on March 29, 2011 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Good Lord, Doctor Whom - that's not very Gallifreyan of you.

Posted by: June on March 29, 2011 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

We're in This Together (WITT) vs. You're on Your Own (YOYO).

Or, why not bring Dr. Dean back???

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on March 29, 2011 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

The people that are in the Senate, in Congress, in the White House; they are not ignorant. They obviously have goals and motivations that are different that what the 'Common Democrat' has. The question is if we have true representation because obviously what a majority of the people want is not being addressed.

Posted by: Dean on March 29, 2011 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Democrats want to slash funding for education, medical research, job training, and homeland security. Fortunately they don't want to slash those areas as deeply as the Republicans do."


winning!

Posted by: some guy on March 29, 2011 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't the polling show that people don't support what the Republicans want? Why is the consensus that the Republicans are "winning" and that Democrats are "on the defensive"? No one is even talking about the budget anyway.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on March 29, 2011 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

They can't possibly be that stupid. You an only assume that they wanted to lose. If that is not the case, ritual suicide is the only answer that would satisfy me.

Posted by: SW on March 29, 2011 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats speak with many voices; they don't have the same authoritarian bent of the Republicans. But it is also the case that while many of these voices have clearly made the case, and I am recalling strong statements by Menendez, Sherrod Brown, even Harry Reid, ALL the publicity, including from the progressive blogs, goes to the republicans.

Obama speaks, says strong things, and the media not only forgets instantly they claim he never said a thing.

Democrats speak, but no one hears.

They are trees falling in the forest.

A couple of weeks ago, the polls showed clearly Republicans would be blamed by a vast majority of the public if the government shut down.

What happened? Relentless media attention exclusively to Republicans even when they are saying the stupidest things. Headlines to Palin for saying Libya is a 'squirmish' nothing to Obama except he's "TRYING" to get his message out.

What does he have a speech impediment? Should he be on the airwaves 24/7?

If the news media do not report Democratic insights, words and actions, then Republicans win by default.

Posted by: jjm on March 29, 2011 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

There are multiple independent analyses -- from Macroeconomic Advisers, Ben Bernanke, Moody's Analytics, Economic Policy Institute, and others -- all saying that the Republican plan would cost the economy hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Forget analysis, how about the REAL WORLD results of what the American RightWing wants to copy from the British RightWing:


U.K. business confidence declined in March to the lowest in two years, suggesting the economy may struggle to gather strength in the second quarter.

A gauge of sentiment, which aims to predict economic developments four months in advance, fell to 1 from 3 in February, London-based Lloyds Banking Group Plc (LLOY) said in an e- mailed statement today. The share of companies that were less optimistic about economic prospects increased to 44 percent from 36 percent in the previous month.


KRUGMAN

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 29, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

I mean, look at this:

Even many Democrats believe that House Republicans have gotten the better of the antispending, antigovernment argument.

Is there any evidence that this is true? Or are these "many Democrats" the ones who always believe that Republicans are right about "antispending" and "antigovernment" arguments, saying now what they always say, like the Third Way/DLC/Blue Dog crew?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on March 29, 2011 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans want to slash funding for education, medical research, job training, and homeland security.

Weak tea. How about "want to fire teachers, slash funding for cancer treatments, cut jobs, and open us up to terrorists."

Stop fighting for abstract concepts like "education", and start fighting in terms of real-world effects.

Posted by: biggerbox on March 29, 2011 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

"They're an unpopular party THEY JUST ONE A WHOLE LOT OF SEATS LAST ELECTION, pushing unpopular spending cuts MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN REALIZE WHAT'S GOING ON THANKS TO THE MEDIA, going up against a more popular president MORE POPULAR BUT LESS THAN 50% APPROVAL. Of the three main players -- the House, the Senate, and the White House -- the GOP controls about one-half of one-third of the relevant institutions. BUT CONTROLS THE SENATE DUE TO THE 60 VOTE FILIBUSTER RULE, CONTROLS THE HOUSE OUTRIGHT, CONTROLS THE SUPREME COURT OUTRIGHT.

Posted by: T2 on March 29, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is in NYC tonight to raise money for DNC at a $33,000 a plate fish fry. The news story points out the DNC has $10 million in the bank, the RNC only $2 million. Here's thought for the DNC: take a couple of million and buy a God Damn media campaign for the next month!

Posted by: robert on March 29, 2011 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

@robert - RIGHT ON!

Posted by: whichwitch on March 29, 2011 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

What good does it do for them to say these things when the news won't carry it?

It's not like any prominent Democrats will be on the Sunday shows or whatever.

Posted by: Crissa on March 29, 2011 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

robert -- The DNC will probably do just that.

They will try to convince Wall Street and Investment Bankers that business interests will be protected. This will help garner campaign contributions to keep incumbant Democrats in office; and it will help set up interviews for high-paying, influence peddling positions when Democrats eventually leave office.

Whose side are they on? Theirs.

Posted by: jeri on March 29, 2011 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Now that this post, and the entire thread of comments, have pointedly reflected the reality that the Obama administration and the Congressional Dem's have played this entire situation -- every single element: the policies themselves, their certain real-world impacts, the politics, and the "messaging" (or lack thereof); all of it -- as wrongly as could possibly have been done...
Isn't this the point at which you should all be blaming those like me for not having worked hard enough to get out the vote for the Dem's last fall?
Or is that on another thread today?
I don't know whether it's consoling or horrifying that we on the left appear to be just as good at ignoring major cognitive dissonances as our friends on the extreme right...
Oh, wait, yes I do:
It's completely and totally horrifying.

Posted by: smartalek on March 29, 2011 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

We need more Reps and Senators who are like Alan Grayson and Anthony Weiner and vocal. The others seem to think the GOP will suddenly play fair when the evidence is against this idea.

Posted by: mishanti2 on March 29, 2011 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

"If I'm a Democratic strategist, I would have recommended a couple of things. First, pick a handful of the most jarring cuts in the GOP plan, and repeat them ad nauseum."

Repeat them where? Where can people hear this? The mainstream media isn't going to distribute this message. And you know Fox isn't, so where do people hear this message ad nauseum?

Posted by: Nancy on March 29, 2011 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Oh wait, wait. I just thought of a place who could get the message out. How about the, you know, the one we elected, oh yeah, the President? President Obama! Let's ask him.

Posted by: Nancy on March 29, 2011 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

In fairness, President Obama appears to be doing better than Clinton was in the middle of his budget fight (pre-shutdown) in the summer of 1995, at least according to CNN, which has the public preferring Obama to the Republicans 46-45, where as in July 1995 the public preferred the Republicans 48-42. The tide turned strongly toward Clinton when the federal government was shutdown, which I hope will be the case if the government is shutdown again. But I do concede that messaging and shaping narratives aren't the strong suits of either President Obama or the present congressional Democrats.

Posted by: puakev on March 29, 2011 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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