The Pussilanimous GOP
Posted in Politics by Peter W. Schramm
Here is Ken Thomas'
take on Obama's meeting with the GOP a few days ago. He thinks Obama came out on top; the Republican Congressmen gave him legitimacy. I like this paragraph: "The Republicans don't seem to realize that Obama's fall was the exposure of a
student body president as a schoolyard bully. Republican deference to him
enables him to play his former stellar role (albeit minus the Greek columns).
This is seen most clearly in the whining of two members that the Democrats don't
take their ideas seriously and that they are dissed as the party of No. Why
treat Obama as though he has moral authority to grant legitimacy? Is he going to
denounce Gramma Pelosi in front of them? (He didn't.)
5:05 PM / February 1, 2010
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Thanks, Peter. Rasmussen poll, via Powerline, shows a bounce after last week: https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2010/02/025506.php
I agree that Obama got the best of it (though Paul Ryan got him off balance for a moment), but not because the Republicans were too polite. Obama is a really good performer, and it should be a sobering reminder for any conservatives on a Scott Brown high.
I suggest a trip to YouTube and look at Mike Pence's question to Obama and Obama's response. Obama's response it a tap dance but it has its intended narcotic effect - and he is deft at always associating himself with authority.
But I am more concerned about Pence's question. Pence is a smart guy and one of the more articulate House Republicans (fwiw), but his questions assumes that his audience has already bought into a bunch of narratives about Carter, Reagan, JFK, ect. Obama is talking to the country, which includes lots of people who have bought into neither the conservative nor the liberal narrative of the last fifty years. Obama's response shows that he is speaking primarily with this group in mind.
And this "I'm not an ideologue" stuff. Ick. It reminds me of Obama's eulogy for Ted Kennedy where Obama explained that Kennedy wasn't a statist liberal, just a caring pragmatic guy. It says something for Obama's ability that he was able to pull off this act in front of the House Republicans. There should really be about a dozen standard (and hopefully funny comebacks) to such nonsense. That is a real WWRD (What Would Reagan Do) subject.
That swearing off of the "ideologue" is aimed at the large "independent" group who hate both parties. Yes, its yukky, but I believe it isn't working as Obama intends, based on the brute fact that he is now losing the "non-ideologues" 2 to 1, to Republicans. All us intellekshuls overestimate Obama's performances (I use the word advisedly). He appears again and again the same way, before mikes and cameras, and it has done him no good and perhaps now harm. He speaks for bad policies and is not solving the problem he was elected to solve. The GOP House members are right to treat him politely and delicately...and they did not agree with him by being agreeable. Yes, they could have been better prepared -- only Ryan and Pence knew where they wanted to go. Good advice though to have a Reagan response at hand.
I take Pete's cautionary advice to heart (as always) but I think I am more inclined to agree with Dennis here. While Republicans did some stupid things in this (not the least of which was to allow the President to lay down all the terms for debate--much of their perceived "politeness" was really a forced constraint according to the terms Obama set) the damage that Obama has done to his "brand" with independents may be irreversible. Part of his problem is that the expectation he put upon (or allowed to be put upon) himself was so unrealistic and ridiculous that it was bound to come back down to earth. The other part of the problem was that he purposely avoided any clear definition of who/what he is and what he stands for while campaigning. So many people who voted for him did so with a complete opposite expectation from reality. They were snowed and now they are angry . . . or almost angry. Can he smooth things over? Maybe. Can he ever expect to win them over again? I don't think so. Perhaps he can curry favor again among the segment of the population that votes based upon what they consider "cool" . . . but the segment that voted for him because they considered him to be a wise, even-tempered, thoughtful non-partisan now see him to be just another garden variety liberal. He is more than that--and something more dangerous than that, in my view. But I'm not sure that it is necessary to make this argument.
Re Obama winning back independents: I guess the proviso would be the condition of the economy by 2012. If we are growing without inflation and unemployment is falling, he might get them back and win re-election. Trouble is, no policy he promotes promises to help him. We really are living through the Great Depression of the 30s all over again in the sense that a new set of Progressivist regs, laws, and agencies are prolonging the slowdown. If things do get going again, it will almost surely be accompanied by rather nasty inflation, which won't help Obama either. The GOP is so inclined to sit back and be overwhelmed by the anti-Dem tidal wave. OK, but on retaking the federal govt. they will have no better grip than the Dems have had in their own 15 minutes of fame--unless, as most of you point out, they can jettison Progressivist excesses and restore the status of the founding principles as the only true guides to future reform.
Julie and Dennis, I am much more pessimistic than y'all when it comes to Obama winning back some of the white suburban persuadables that he lost in late 2008- now and as shown in Massachusetts. The erosion of support for Democrats among this group comes down to the interaction of four factors (well maybe not really, its just ones guy's opinion).
1. the disparity in the quality of the respective campaigns and candidates.
2. The fact that employment conditions had clearly worsened in the last year and that the Democrats, holding undivided (but not unlimited , ho, ho, ho) power in Washington were ging to take a hit.
3. The right won the argument on the dominant issue of the moment : Obamacare.
There are major potential problems going forward. Given Obama's skills as a speaker and organizer, there won't be as big a pro-Republican tilt when it comes to quality of candidate or campaign - to say the least. I would bet that the empolyment situation will be at least somewhat better by mid 2012. The US economy is amazingly resilient, and whatever new taxes and laws Obama gets through (and they will be fewer thanks to Scott Brown) will have been too few and too late to cripple the economy by 2012. And Obama will use his impressive rhetorical skills to credit every bit of economic good news to his taxes and spending policies. Which gives his a pretty good start on the 2012 argument on the economy. Its not an unbeatable argument, but it will be formidable.
Pete, will you please send me an e-mail? I have something to ask you privately. Thanks.
Does anyone have a credible explanation of why ("Fair and Balanced", "We Report, You Decide") FoxNews opted to cut off/away from Obama's mtg. with the GOP, 20 minutes early?
(We were blessed with the entirety of the GOP's [scripted] response, however)
I only would like to repeat and emphasize that prudence suggests that we should not overestimate Obama's supposed rhetorical powers. This is ultimately sophistry. Our master WH rhetorician is zero for three so far, having taken down 3 very important Democrats, as I believe, by appearing for them at the last moment. There is a reason the Presidency was designed to be "unrhetorical" and why Presidents gave few or no speeches at all until the end of the 19th century--except for Andrew Johnson, whose articles of impeachment included the speeches he gave to the people!* Presidents are primarily executives--enforcers of the law--not preachers in the "bully pulpit" until the first Progressivist, TR, changed that. And if all they do is rhetorize, as Obama does, and not act to enforce the law (principally the law of the Constitution of course), they wear down the public and fail as Presidents. Obama's homiletics will not get more persuasive with time. A stronger economic would be read as a sign of action, not rhetoric, and of course might re-elect him.
*This is from Johnson's Tenth Article of Impeachment which includes a long list of quotes from his speeches attacking Congress: "Which said utterances, declarations, threats and harangues, highly censurable in any, are peculiarly indecent and unbecoming in the Chief Magistrate of the United States, by means whereof the said Andrew Johnson has brought the high office of the President of the United States into contempt, ridicule and disgrace, to the great scandal of all good citizens, whereby said Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, did commit, and was then and there guilty of a high misdemeanor in office."
Dennis, I agree that Obama's rhetorical power should not be overestimated. He ain't ten foot tall and he did just lose the public argument over Obamacare. But he should not be underestimated either. He is usually able to disguise how liberal he is. That disguise can be pierced but doing so will take skill and care.
And I think it is useful to keep in mind both the power and limits of rhetoric. Circumstances might develop that might make Obama's rhetoric a lesser factor. If the unemployment rate is 4% in Fall 2012 (and there have been no perceived calamities), Obama could develop Tourette syndrome and still win reelection. If the unemployment rate is 12%, he might as well work on the next volume of his memoirs rather than on a bunch of campaign speeches.
But I suspect that 2012 will see neither of those extreme cases, which means that rhetorical skill, issue development, political organizing and coalition building could well make the difference regarding which party wins both the White House and Congress.
I do agree that the public might well see any economic improvement as a sign of Obama competence, but there are huge ironies and ambiguities there. Is a 7% unemployment rate a sign of success (I mean it is a 30% decline!) or pathetic underperformance? I fear Obama will make a superficially appealing case, and if it is not demolished, the economy could go from a liability to a strength. The greater irony is that the economy could be strong enough to bear (with some slowing up) the burdens that the Democrats pile on it, and that this would be used as an argument for institutionalizing the new statism. This is to say nothing of the free pass Obama has gotten on his abortion extremism.
On the rhetorical presidency: I'm ambivalent, but it was our greatest President who gave us our greatest political sermon.
On Article Ten: I have sympathy for some of the motives of the Radical Republicans who sought to impeach and remove Johnson, but Article Ten is a punchline.
Good post, Pete, I basically agree with everything you say here. Amazing what could be said in fewer than 300 words, isn't it? Garry Wills has made the point that Edward Everett spoke for hours at Gettysburg -- a good speech, if you read it -- while Lincoln spoke for a couple of minutes. This was consistent with the understanding that Presidents don't give speeches. Interesting that if you look through Lincoln's speeches as President, how few there are. Inaugurals are official and expected, but aside from that virtually nothing formal. Tulis's book The Rhetorical Presidency is the locus classicus for this. Reagan of course was a superb rhetorician in office, but his speeches were in support of his forceful actions in getting his agenda through Congress and even more forceful policy of destroying the USSR peacefully. Obama on the other hand is 'all sail and no rudder.'