Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Barone on Inspiration vs. Persausion

We’re losing confidence in our president, Michael explains, because it’s getting clearer and clearer he has no detailed conception of what we wants to get done. He’s bad at legislation partly because he no experience in it and partly because he seems indifferent to the factual concerns that should animate tough policy choices. The last Democrat to be in his favorable situation was LBJ, who knocked himself out getting the schemes of his policy wonks through Congress. The results, of course, were a lot more negative than not. So on balance we should be sort of happy that BHO is no LBJ. We should also be worried, of course, that he might turn out to be a quick study who will learn from his recent bad experiences. We certainly shouldn’t count on his favorability rating continuing to drop.

Discussions - 7 Comments

The results, of course, were a lot more negative than not.

I doubt that very many folks would agree with you that LBJ's legislative accomplishments were, on balance, negative. There's a lot to balance. Think of Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, NEPA, NHTSA, Head Start, National Trails System Act, truth-in-lending, urban mass transit.

Obama is running a play that worked great during the stimulus debate. That dosen't mean it will work on healthcare (please God let it fail), but the strategy has a logic and history of success not hinted at in Barone's article. Its components include,

1. Letting the House Democratic leadership craft the most leftwing bill that has even the slightest chance of passing Congress. This pushes the debate leftwards and focuses whatever public hostility that results onto House Democrats from safe seats.

2. The President stays aloof from the details of the debate, but comments from above. He makes extravagent promises for what the eventual bill will do (green jobs for everybody) and promises horror if a bill doesn't not pass on his timetable (like nine percent unemployment). The key point is that the President is not commenting from the center, he is commenting from above.

3. He swoops in at the end and says that all the squabbling children of Congress have had their say and that it is time to pass the bill that the congressional Democrats have hammered out among themselves. Sure no one has read it, but it is the best that we are going to get considering the fierce urgency suggested by the President's very serious expression and tone of voice.

This strategy is dependent not only on Obama's personal popularity but on the public perception of him being above the legislative fray. If he wants a public plan, he can't shill for the public plan in the early stages of the debate. He needs the congressional Democrats to carry the ball as far leftwards as they can and then he carries it over the goal line. The price of this is that journalists will attack him as uninvolved during the early stages of the debate.

While this strategy worked fine in the stimulus debate, there are reasons to hope it will work less well now.

1. His popularity is lower.

2. The stimilus didn't hit people where they live. It was being payed for with borrowed money. The idea that the deficits will get you (through inflation, higher taxes down the line, whatever) is really abstract - as Democrats from 1984 will tell you. Healthcare involves issues of taxation, choice, and benefit levels that people have a direct and personal stake in.

3. The Republicans have done a good job of tying Obama to the least pleasant parts of government-run healthcare. There is less complaining about Nancy Pelosi locking Republicans out of meetings and demanding that Obama get involved in the details, and more opposition to Obamacare.

This strategy is dependent not only on Obama's personal popularity

Obama has no personal popularity. What sort of world do you people inhabit? What sort of polls are you looking at?

Think of Medicare, Medicaid, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, NEPA, NHTSA, Head Start, National Trails System Act, truth-in-lending, urban mass transit.

I'm thinking of them, and retching as I consider the trampling on the Constitution that these things represent.

John M, try to dial back the hostility and see if you can read my second point numbered 1. FWIW, According to RCP's average of polls, Obama's job approval was in the low 60s during the stimulus debate and has drifted down to 53.4 at the moment. The last two polls show him at 48 and 52 approval. Not impressive by historical standards, but the lower his job approval is, the tougher it for him to provide cover for Democrats in competitive House districts and Senators from purple states. His early popularity could be rationalized away by reference to the high ratings most Presidents get at the start of their term. Thats true in one sense, but Obama was broadly popular during the stimulus debate - to the extent that we can measure such things. On Feb 13, when the Senate passed the stimulus, Obama's RCP average was 65.5 approve, 25.5 disapprove. More the point, his stragegy during the stimulus debate was largely dependent on those high approval rates. To the extent that he is replaying that strategy in the healthcare debate, his lower approval rates make the job tougher. If his approval rates were in George W. Bush 2007-2008 territory, it might make more sense to say Obama has "no personal popularity"

John M - Despite the recent drop in approval ratings, Obama is still without question the most popular figure in the world. Pick up any major news publication in the world and you're likely to see his face plastered on the front page or home page. It's also important to remember that he occupied this position months before he was even elected. Thus the McCain-Palin campaign's failed attempt to compare him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton - celebrities.

Obama is a classic bubble phenomenon--a green, underqualified, underprepared poser who got extremely lucky. His entire career has been purely about shimmying up to the next level on the greasy pole, with ZERO in terms of substantive accomplishments along the way. Other than writing two books about himself, he has none, zip, nada, squat, bupkus. As unemployment stays stubbornly high while people keep hearing about what his half-baked socialist plans will cost us, watch the air continue to leak out of his balloon.

The key indicators that the political class is keeping an eye on, even more than the Big Zero's fading poll numbers, are the gubernatorial races in VA and NJ. McDonnell has been nationalizing his race--running pretty squarely against Obama--and has already built a double-digit lead over Creigh Deeds in the July 29 Survey USA poll. Deeds, meanwhile, won't even let himself be seen with the president, an interesting sign indeed about which way the wind is blowing. How the VA and NJ polls stand as the fall wears on is going to have a big effect on the healthcare debate.

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