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So a quick question about politics. It seemed likely to me that all the Republicans in the House were going to vote against our stimulus package, and that’s what happened. Given that we have a President who both campaigned on avoiding partisan politics and appeared to take seriously the idea of sitting down and talking with the other Party, any support from that Party would be viewed as proof of Our Only President’s post-partisan credentials. Although it might have been in the interests of one or two Republican Representatives to cross the lines and burnish their own post-partisan credentials, the discipline of that Party over the last fifteen years or so works against that, both in providing examples of the hammer coming down on such ‘moderates’ and in replacing such Representatives, either with Republicans who disdain bipartisanship and therefore gain nothing by engaging in it, or with Democrats. What’s left of the Republican Party in the House isn’t as vulnerable to such temptations, and then the Party did their job of whipping the vote into shape. I don’t blame them for that, except of course that as far as actual governing goes, it stinks.

But as we so often observe about politics here in this Tohu Bohu, there’s what happens, and then there’s the story of what happens. So what’s the story here?

There are two obvious and competing storylines, it seems to me. One is that Our Only President, for all his post-partisan rhetoric, when the rubber hits the road is the same old partisan politician doing the same old partisan things. The other is that Our Only President put this and that into the package and took this and that out of the package, all in negotiation across the aisle, but when the rubber hit road, the Republicans turned their backs on the whole thing.

So here’s a question to Gentle Readers all. Which story about what happened are you hearing? I don’t mean what actually happened, which is (surprise!) more complicated than that. And I don’t really mean which story are the specific outlets reporting, as some are reporting one and some the other, just as you would expect, and the some are having people on to argue it back and forth, just as you would expect. I will say that the cable news people are pretty obviously going with the one that’s good for Republicans, but again, that’s what you would expect. No, what I’m interested in is, as far as you can tell from the general zeitgeist, which story is becoming the story? Have you heard actual humans talk about it without being paid to do so? If so, have they settled on a story?

The power of rhetoric is, at heart, the power to tell the story of what happened, often before it happens. If Our Only President loses this one, it’s a bad sign.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

What I hear every day are effusive expressions of gratitude that Obama is the President. Almost all of my colleagues are either liberal Democrats or farther to the left than liberal Democrats, and they are relatively politically sophisticated, so it's not exactly a representative sample, but I think a large majority of Americans are mostly just pleased as punch to have President Obama instead of Our Former President, so I think you are assigning far too much importance to this story and the way that the media is attempting to tell it.

If Our Only President loses this one, it’s a bad sign.

It doesn't matter, because this is a story that is going to be irrelevant very soon. What's going to actually matter, come election time, is whether Obama's policies work. The Republicans, after all, are unpopular because of all of their failures (or at least, that's the story I've been hearing). People are hurting, they know the country is in bad shape, and they want to see things get better, or at least to receive some meaningful help from the government so that their lives don't fall apart. Frankly, except for a couple of votes in the Senate that they are in a pretty good position to peel off, Obama and the Congressional Dems don't need the Republicans to make policy and govern. We are in desperate need of good governance, and if that is provided, no one is going to care about whether that good governance was provided in a bipartisan manner or not. Bipartisanship is politically useful only a) as a CYA position for crap policies of the sort Our Former President specialized in or b) when you don't have don't have the votes to govern otherwise, as our Former President usually did not or c) when policies developed out of a process of compromise are actually better than policies developed by one party alone. None of those conditions apply to the present case. CYA is for corrupt incompetents who are in over their heads, the Democrats have the votes without any of the House Republicans at all, and the Republicans have nothing constructive to offer, even if they wanted to. In almost every case, addressing their concerns will lead to less effective policies being crafted, for no political gain that I can see.

Obama changes the tone in Washington every time he speaks in public, so it does not appear to me that a narrative about whether he has abandoned the "post-partisan" project or whether the Republicans have proved themselves to be uninterested in engaging in post-partisan politics matters very much to his political success.


What's going to actually matter, come election time, is whether Obama's policies work.

I suppose that's largely true, although there is a wide range between outrageous failure and unqualified success in which this sort of thing comes into play. But yes, you are right to remind me that at the moment, the general population just seems to be relieved and gladdened, and willing to give the man a chance, so that's all right.

I still think, however, that the story of what happened is important to the Republican Party, as they stuggle to find their new identity, and therefore to the health of our political politics. I don't think it's a good idea for our Federal government to run with a Republican Party that is as horrible as our current one is, even if it dips in numbers down to an impotent minority. I mean, it would be fine if there were a major seismic shift--in something like your earlier terms, if the Party of Evil were to dwindle to a third party, and my Party were to split into the Party of Boat-Rockers and the Party of Don't-Rock-the-Boat, with the Republicans who could still get into office forming a sort of Red Dog Caucus within the Party of Caution. Actually, I'm not sure that would be fine, as I suspect the Boat-Rockers would be no bigger than the Republicans now, and it's probably better to have my view represented as a caucus within the Majority Party than the other one.

Anyway, the point is that (a) you are right that this particular rhetorical battle will not be very important in the long run (or at least, the winner will be decided in hindsight based largely on the success or failure of the policies), but also (2) Barack Obama is spending and will spend a good deal of his rhetorical if not political capital on this post-partisan story, and if he can't put it over now, when it isn't terribly important and when the whole world is relieved to have him in charge, I maintain that it's a bad sign for later rhetorical struggles which may be more important.

Also, and this is just something that occurred to me when reading your comment, does it seem like the conception of what it means to fail as president has changed drastically around here? I mean, I was going to make some sort of argument about Ronald Reagan's rhetorical victories ameliorating the story of what happened around his policy failures, and the ways that the failure of the policies failed to make him really unpopular, and seriously, if you take away Our Previous President as a comparison, Mr. Reagan actually did become fairly unpopular when his policies were failing. It's just that the failures and the unpopularity of late have been so amazing, so mind-boggling, so gargantuan, that my perspective gets all screwed up and I get all dizzy and have to lie down.

Thanks,
-V.


the state governments have an annual funding shortfall larger than the multiyear stimulus package. we're still on the first page of the story of what happened.


The story I'm hearing is Obama speaks with forked tongue. It's a subtle story, and nobody's actually saying that, except for Rush Limbaugh, but it's the message that comes across to me, and it sucks.

For example, the newspaper across the table from me has the headline (6th page of the main section, but it's an AP story) "Parts of economic plan won't be very stimulating." Below the headline is a picture of President Obama with a faintly goofy grin on his face and the caption "President Obama jokes with guests..." followed by some details about where he is joking with guests. The actual article lays the blame firmly on congressional pork, but who reads the actual articles? The pretty clear message is that President Obama is fiddling while Rome burns, and it pisses me off!

peace
Matt


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