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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Lurches Back to “Checks and Balances”

In a lede that made me look quickly at the date to make sure I hadn’t pulled up something from nine months ago, Poltico’s Josh Kaushaar writes today: “The GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies is offering a solution to Republican candidates as they seek to find a compelling message for the 2010 campaigns: Run to prevent Democrats from having unchecked power in Washington.”
You may recall that “checks and balances” or “divided government” was a theme that was supposed to be the magic formula for victory for John McCain last year, enabling him to run against the terribly unpopular Democratic Congress (which unltimately got a lot bigger) without directly attacking Barack Obama. This, of course, was before the McCain-Palin campaign decided to run against Obama and the Democrats as a gang of socialists determined to redistribute wealth from Joe the Plumber to welfare recipients. So color me as unimpressed as the McCain campaign apparently was with poll data showing that, of course, Americans favor “checks and balances” as opposed to “one-party government.”
But whether it’s an effective message or not, you can certainly see how it would be attractive to today’s Republicans, who are determined to oppose everything Obama wants and to remain united around an increasingly atavistic version of “conservative principles,” even as the public makes it ever clearer that it likes Obama and doesn’t like conservatism. Standing up for “checks and balances” sounds vastly nicer than “obstruction” or “the status quo.” And claiming to be playing this essential constitutional role also evokes a certain aroma of bipartisanship, conveniently expressed through systemic opposition to the other party.
It’s unclear to me that congressional Republicans have either the self-discipline or the external power to tone down conservative attacks on Obama as either a secular or religious version of the Antichrist. But even if they can somehow pain a smiley-face on a policy of total obstruction, and sell it as an effort to maintain “checks and balances,” that’s a terribly bloodless sort of appeal to make to a country that’s worried about concrete things like jobs and health care.
Even the GOP pollster who’s hyping the “checks and balances” message as a nifty panacea for what ails his party, Glen Bolger, allows as how it’s “no substitute for policy alternatives,” which is a bit of a problem for Republicans who are increasingly united around Hoover’s economics, Cheney’s foriegn policy, and Palin’s social views. At least, I supposed, it puts them into a context of relevance to what Obama’s trying to do, and not on the margins, howling at the moon and cheering every downward tick in the stock market.

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