Friday, January 22, 2010

Just Win Baby

The votes are in Massachusetts and Martha Coakley has crashed and burned. For the first time in a long time a Republican is a Senator from the Bay State. Coakley ran a terrible, horrible, awful, wretched, and no good campaign but she was not the only clueless politician who got sent to the woodshed.

A much more important person was also shown the error of his ways. That man just happens to be the President of the United States. There was no real excuse for the political failure of Barack Obama; it was an epic failure of vision. Barack has always been a political operator first and foremost; but his election to the highest political office in the land brought out this trait for the worst.

Obama embraced the inner game of political Washington like a teenager embraces his first steady paramour. He was so into the inner workings of the game that he forgot to pull his head out of the machinery for an occasional breath of fresh air. In this error he was aided and abetted by his chief of staff Rham Emanuel.

The former congressman is exhibit one of how the toxic political swamps of the Potomac poison an individual. The poison seems to affect the nervous system first, causing major damage to the higher brain functions first and foremost. It is the only possible explanation for the lack of critical thinking that afflicted both Rahm and his boss.

The symptoms were clear from the very beginning. First was the hiring of an insider's insider Joe Biden for the slot of V.P. Gaff prone and hardly an original thinker, Joe Biden was a great Party stalwart who's possession of the number two spot was meant as an olive branch to Political Washington in general and the Senate in particular.

The next sign of brain freeze was the nomination of Rham. As leader of the DCC Rham followed the official D.C. playbook for winning; and still got his head handed to him. Despite, or maybe because, outsider Howard Dean proved Rahm wrong on both the strategy and the tactics that Rham preferred the congressman continued his Al Davis impersonation as it informed political strategy—just win baby.

The inside game of getting "the win" immediately got Barack Obama's administration in trouble. They first went for the easy win of Lilly Ledbetter. It was far too easy, and it lulled team Obama into a false sense of security. Team Obama then stumbled into the buzz saw that was the stimulus bill.

A politician with better antennae would have sensed trouble when he goose-egged with Republicans in the House. He goose-egged that vote after presenting a very modest stimulus bill considering the sickly condition of the economy at the time. Many economists were recommending a stimulus bill twice that on offer by the President. Worse for the president, to gain those zero Republican votes in the House he cut the direct funding to increase the tax cuts the Elephants wanted. Thus for increasing the tax cut portion of the bill, Obama got exactly two Republican votes in the entire Legislative branch; the two Senators from Maine.

But Obama was still listening to the conventional wisdom whispered in his ear by his consigliore " it's a win. Any win is a good win. Keep on this path, you're going to be great.' Thus did Obama traipse away from the buzz saw of the stimulus, and straight into the slaughterhouse of health care reform. The hubris of Obama's chief of staff amplified the similar fault in the POTUS. They ignored the obvious warning signs. They paid no mind to DeMint's out in the open political gamesmanship. The game of the Republicans was out there for all to see but Obama paid it no mind. He played the inside game, he accepted the conventional wisdom that any win was a good win.

Thus the Republicans were able to delay, to stall, to use salami tactics against the POTUS. It was the President who started the collapse. He took single payer off the table before the game was even afoot. Salami tactics are so much easier when your opponent starts with only half of a salami. Thus was born the "public option" the half salami, the ugly twin sister to Single Payer.

It was a bad program with an even worse label. Single Payer is simply explained as "Medicare for All." Nice, neat, no further explanation needed. The "public option," sounded like a really bad indie Rock Band. No one, not even its fiercest defenders, could explain it. The right, specifically Sara Palin, rush in with something that everyone could understand "Death Panels."

From there it was child's play to pick apart the bill plank-by-plank. The bill was government imposed rationing, it was a plot to kill old people, it was a plot to kill veterans, it was a plot to cut Medicare. It was a plot to turn us into a commie-pinko-socialist-black-nationalist-Islamic state. The tea party patriots had a field day with it. Dick Army's Astroturf Army took over the Summer debate and fearful Democrats ran for cover.

The anger and fear over health care was given an extra boost with the fall-out from the Stimulus bill and it's evil twin brother the Wall Street Bailout. When Wall Street went straight back to its overcompensated ways, ordinary citizens hit the roof. They were spitting mad.

With the national mood somewhere between maim and vaporize, political operators like Ben Nelson used this fact to strong arm concessions from the White House. It was a horrible move both on the POTUS part and Ben Nelson's part. Ordinary voters know a bribe when they see one. The mood of the electorate went from maim to pulverize. Political insiders like Blanche Lincoln, Ben Nelson and Hopeless Harry Reid saw their polls sink lower that a deep sea vessel in the Marianas Trench.

Also on the underwater excursion was Barack Obama. He had splashed down from the astronomical highs he had enjoyed right after the inauguration. He is treading water right, now but a fierce undertow threatens his political survival. He got here by not understanding the true nature of those pretty fish he saw earlier from his sky-high vantage point. Those were sharks in the water, and they are ripping large chunks out of his political flesh right now.

It did not have to be this way. While Obama is a cool customer by nature, he did not have to come off as a cold crass operator. He did not have to do a Clintonian sympathy party of "feeling your pain." He did have to show some results. He did need to show a little more passion. He needed to be less of a technocrat and more of a leader. The American people will forgive much if they believe that you have a vision beyond petty partisanship. That is why both the Gipper and Bush got away with so much evil. Obama's biggest problem is not his lack of Bubba's common touch; it is his lack of core principle. Even Bubba was not so obvious in his political gamesmanship as Obama. The Clintons had a well earned reputation for ruthlessness and crass political opportunism. It was called "triangulation." But even triangulation had a purpose. It was a way to strip out moderate to moderate-liberal policy out of the teeth of a Conservative political power structure. At least that was how it was advertized. Bubba was willing to take on the occasional windmill, to draw the occasional line in the sand. It did him a world of good. Obama seems constitutionally unable to stand firm against anyone other than his base. By chaining himself to the conventional wisdom that liberals will eventually come around, he set up a situation where the liberals told him to pack sand. Granted the message was transmitted to Nancy Pelosi, but the final recipient of the message could not be any clearer.

This is the final contradiction of the "just win baby" strategy of Barack and Rham, it is the failure of constantly searching for the middle ground. By "just winning," you lose. You lose to the right, you lose the left ,and eventually you lose the center. Eventually you lose everything.