April 13th, 2009


Obama's policy

Arguably Nate Silver is one of the most shrewd political observers. His recent article on Obama's tactics is interesting:

A more robust interpretation/criticism of Obama's "bipartisan" positioning is that he is playing a game he knows he can't lose. For one thing, the President has the advantage of the bully pulpit, and (particularly when as rhetorically gifted as Obama) can therefore frame the debate in advantageous terms. For another, Obama has public opinion behind him on most of the key items of his agenda, such as health care, the stimulus package, and the reversion of the tax code to its Clinton-era norms. It is easier to appear reasonable when the average voter starts out agreeing with you. Finally, as Schmitt suggested more than a year ago, Obama may have known full well that Republicans weren't about to seek compromise, nor would it necessarily have been politically advantageous for them to do so. If partisan squabbling is inevitable, it is useful to have pre-positioned oneself in advance as its victim rather than its instigator.

The object of the game, moreover, is not really to appeal to Republican voters, whose numbers are too scarce to make them politically relevant. Rather, it is to put on a good show for moderates and independents, in the hopes of placing sufficient pressure on moderate Democrats like Evan Bayh and moderate Republicans like Susan Collins to back the Administration's agenda.

What I don't think Obama can be accused of, however, is breaking any promises. In fact, he basically telegraphed his strategy with the whole Rick Warren thing: make a show of appealing to conservatives here and there, and perhaps avoid issues that are symbolically important to the left but which drain one's political capital, while all the while continuing to push forward the core elements of a conventionally Democratic (but hardly radical) agenda. Very little about the Administration's strategy has been surprising. Whether it will be successful or not, we will have to see.