The GOP’s Tactical Mistake
I’m of the opinion that politicians are usually not quite as smart as they think they are.
They invited the President to their caucus retreat. It’s a pro-forma invitation. To their surprise, he accepted. And then he took control of the event by suggesting the media be allowed in. In a tactical mistake, the Republicans agreed. Why? Because, as usual, they were more concerned about what others would say about them (specifically and pundits and the media) than they were about how the situation would be seen by the public.
In the end, they end up looking foolish in front of both.
They were outflanked by the President. The desire to be seen in a certain light was overshadowed by the result they unwittingly enabled.
What am I talking about? What was the tactical mistake?
Quite simply the format of the meeting to which they agreed. They handed the President a perfect, uninterrupted platform from which to do exactly what he did – lecture them – with a minimum of risk to himself and maximum of exposure to his benefit. Decorum demanded they sit and take it. No Joe Wilson “you lie” on this one. Sit and take. And take they did – Obama was able to spin the myth of their intransigence and obstructionism as the crux of this year’s problems.
Rule One: You never give your political opponent a format that favors him and his message. The President understood the advantage he was being handed and decided that while it was a bit of a political risk, it was one heavily weighted in his favor and well worth taking. Anyone who watched it understands why.
The question and answer wasn’t much better – although Republicans did get him to admit their proposals did exist and were substantive. But other than that, the exchange was not at all what the GOP had hoped for.
Surely some among the GOP leadership must have foreseen that this format presented a gold-plated opportunity for Obama to do just what he did.
As for the President, he got the opportunity for a one-sided vent. Again, as usual, it was “just words”. But in this media driven political culture, “just words” are a means for scoring mostly meaningless political points, but points none the less.
It was a President in denial. And for those of us who’ve followed what’s happened this year (and what he has and hasn’t done) that was clear in his words. This was a man trying to justify himself and shift the blame for this year’s failure – as usual. Unfortunately, because he had the podium, that’s the only voice that was really heard that was able to remain on message. So he wins that rhetorical round. But it doesn’t mean what he said was true. It only means he got to say it without any real rebuttal.
My favorite line was “I’m not an ideologue”.
Of course he is. If he were the pragmatic politician he claims to be, he’d have pursued jobs and the economy as his first priority beginning last year. He didn’t. He instead pursued (and continues to pursue, in the face of majority public opposition) his party’s ideological agenda. Those are the actions of an ideologue, self-denial notwithstanding.
Hopefully the GOP will, should this ever happen again, change the format to that more like that which the UK has when the PM interacts with the opposition party in the House of Commons. No speeches or lectures, a true back and forth in which both sides have the opportunity to give as good as they get. I’ve admired and enjoyed that tradition of theirs for years. That removes the advantage of yesterday’s format and allows a truly “frank exchange” to take place.