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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Chait: Obama’s Challenge to Pragmatic Republicans Must Overcome Obstructionists

For a cogent analysis of the President’s Knox College speech, check out Jonathan Chait’s New York Magazine post, “Obama: It’s Not My Fault Republicans Are Crazy,” which observes:

President Obama’s economic speech today is putatively a broad-stroke overview of his economic vision — investing in physical infrastructure and early childhood education, restraining runaway inflation in the cost of health care and college, and marginally shifting the burden of government away from the middle class and toward the rich. In reality, it is a call for a responsible opposition.
Thematically, it is hard to build a speech around the opposition when you’re president, because people expect the president to lead and set the agenda. But the extraordinary tactics of the House Republicans have created an unusual and counterintuitive situation wherein the president’s agenda is mostly irrelevant. Conservatives simply refuse to negotiate with Obama in conventional terms. Their strategy is to threaten a series of crises — government shutdown, defaulting on the debt — in order to force the president to offer unilateral concessions.

Chait notes the House Republicans preference for hiking spending for “ludicrous farm subsidies” over Democratic-supported investments in needed energy breakthroughs, along with Boehner’s reversal on lifting the debt ceiling and holding it hostage for unspecified budget cuts. “But the deeper problem is the Republican opposition to negotiating the differences at all,” explains Chait. Under Boehner’s Custer-like leadership, “the GOP is increasingly rallying around the threat of a government shutdown as a last-ditch stand to prevent the implementation of health care reform,” adds Chait.
Chait credits the president with pointing out that “simply not manufacturing a crisis is an ambitious goal for the House Republicans,” while appealing to the few public-spirited GOP reps remaining “to not muddle along and to take bold action instead.”
“Obama’s ultimate goal,” adds Chait, “is not merely to insulate himself from blame if and when House Republicans shut down the government or threaten to default on the debt, but to build a coalition with pragmatic Republicans to negotiate around Boehner’s back.” Chait quotes Rep. Ryan expressing arrogant contempt for GOP pragmatists, and concludes “Obama’s speech laid out a compelling vision of long-term prosperity, but the inescapable reality he faces is much, much uglier.”
It’s hard to avoid the increasing indications that the GOP leadership’s circle-the-wagons strategy is not going to end well for them. Sadly, millions of Americans are likely to be denied the benefits of pragmatic politics before we get there.

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