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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority


The Washington Post has a very solid editorial about the so-called “scandals” today. It’s a damn shame that the Post’s headline writers decided to seriously distort what it says.

The Washington Post has an editorial today that takes a clear stance on the deeply bogus nature of the current GOP attacks on Obama. The title – “Obama a new Nixon? Oh get serious” — very accurately suggests the tone of the piece.
But, startlingly, directly below this title on the online Post’s opinion page is a subtitle that profoundly alters and deeply undercuts its message
The subtitle says “But Obama’s misdeeds aren’t trivial”
Whoa, Hang on. Stop the clock. Wait a minute. That’s a very nasty little allegation. It claims that Obama has actually committed “misdeeds.” Misdeeds that “aren’t trivial.” That’s a profoundly serious accusation and one that essentially says that there is indeed some degree of truth to the Republican attacks.
Now if that’s what the editorial itself argues then there’s nothing wrong with this subtitle. But, in fact, there is actually nothing in the editorial itself that supports this accusation.
Here’s how the editorial frames the basic issue:

Nixon, in a series of crimes that collectively came to be known as Watergate, directed from the White House and Justice Department a concerted campaign against those he perceived as political enemies, in the process subverting the FBI, the IRS, other government agencies and the electoral process to his nefarious purposes. Mr. Obama has done nothing of the kind.

The Post editorial writers then review each issue in turn:

(1) “The Benghazi talking points scandal is no scandal whatsoever. …there was no cover-up of the failure and no conspiracy to deceive the American people about what had happened.”
(2) “The broad search of telephone records from the Associated Press in search of a government leaker seems, on all available evidence, to have been a dangerous and unjustified violation of normal Justice Department practice, …[but] There’s no reason to believe that Mr. Obama knew anything about it.”
(3) “The IRS targeting conservative opponents of Mr. Obama for special scrutiny is horrifying and inexcusable….But there is so far no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of the practice.”

So, OK Washington Post headline writers, please explain exactly where are the “misdeeds” Obama committed – misdeeds that “aren’t trivial”
Well, the editorial does indeed say this:

…the president’s unwillingness to condemn [the search of telephone records] is sadly consistent with his administration’s record of damaging the First Amendment in its ill-advised pursuit of leakers.

O.K. But does that criticism actually merit a subhead that essentially contradicts the main thrust of the editorial and says “Let’s be fair, there is indeed some merit to the Republican claims”?
Aside from this, there is only one other direct criticism of the president in the editorial:

For its part, the administration this week has seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed. When the second-term team took shape a few months ago, we worried about the preponderance of staff loyalists over people of independent stature. Mr. Obama’s advisers are smart and hardworking, but when you think about his first-term circle — including Robert M. Gates, Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel and Timothy F. Geithner — it’s not clear this time around who might have the standing and the inclination to speak up when the president errs. Every second-term president needs that kind of help, even if he doesn’t relish it.

Wow. Is this really all the Washington Post headline writers have to back up their nasty little smear of a subhead? Obama’s frequently and openly stated hard-line policy on leaks? The fact that his second-term advisors might possibly not give good advice at some completely undetermined time in the future on some as yet completely undetermined issue? The absolutely damming fact that this week Obama “seemed at times arrogant and at others defensive and flat-footed?”
If the Washington Post’s headline writers think that these things are “misdeeds,” somebody better get these poor victims of a disastrously inadequate education a dictionary as quickly as possible; they clearly have absolutely no idea what the word “misdeeds” actually means and why it’s an extremely vicious, dishonest and explosive accusation to level at Obama in the current highly charged situation.
In fact, as an alternative, I’ll give you a real example of a damn “misdeed” – one that really “isn’t trivial.” It’s when the headline writers at one of the most influential newspapers in the country are so appallingly and pathetically timid and unwilling to take a completely uncompromised position that they deliberately undermine the thrust of an major editorial because they are absolutely terrified of being accused of being insufficiently “evenhanded” and not automatically blaming Democrats or Obama equally with the GOP regardless of the actual facts.
Now that’s a really serious “misdeed.” One that really “isn’t trivial.” Maybe the Washington Post should start following Obama’s example of how to deal with a scandal and start firing some people itself.

TDS Strategy Memo: mainstream political commentators are in deep denial about the GOP’s extremism and increasingly display symptoms that resemble Stockholm Syndrome

In general, analyses that attempt to apply psychological diagnoses to the views of political opponents simply produce a sophisticated kind of ad hominem insult. But on certain occasions such analyses can be genuinely useful if they suggest a productive change in Democratic political messaging and strategy.
Progressives and Democrats — and particularly progressive and Democratic political commentators — face a situation like this in dealing with mainstream political commentators’ extraordinary and appalling refusal to honestly come to terms with the dangerous growth of GOP extremism. The painful fact is that mainstream political commentators’ refusal to forcefully challenge this trend is now playing a central role in reinforcing and enabling the extremist behavior of the Republican Party
TDS is pleased to present a important new Strategy Memo that analyzes this critical problem:
Democrats: it’s time to change how we deal with mainstream political commentators: it’s not just “false equivalence” any more. They are in deep denial about the reality of the GOP’s dangerous extremism and are increasingly displaying symptoms that resemble Stockholm Syndrome.
To read the Memo, click HERE.

Come on progressives, Obama’s not making budget concessions to the “serious people” because he’s gutless or dumb. He’s doing it because they’re PR flacks for the economic elite that basically runs the country…..Oh, please, don’t tell me you didn’t know.

Come on, progressives, let’s be honest. Of course it’s necessary and proper for progressives to criticize Obama’s budget compromises as either bad economics or lousy electoral strategy — or both. Heck, that’s the progressive coalition’s job and progressives would be derelict in their duty if they didn’t firmly oppose the compromise of basic progressive positions and goals.
But there’s no reason to resort to armchair psychiatry or to otherwise impugn Obama’s motives – saying he’s “timid” “gutless” “a DINO (Democrat in name only)” “gullible”, “in wall street’s pocket”, “a corporate tool” “a phony progressive” and all the other personal accusations against him when deep down we all know perfectly well the real reasons why he’s doing what he’s doing.
Let’s face it. Every Democratic president has to walk a very fine line in dealing with the business community and the economic elite of this country. That group is not entirely composed of extreme right wing ideologues like the Koch Brothers (although there is a very disturbingly large group who are). Many are relatively pragmatic individuals who are willing to accept a certain range of progressive policies when the political climate of the country overwhelmingly favors them. The majority of American businessmen are not going to go on a John Galt-style “producers strike” and shut down all their banks, offices and factories to protest a modest tax increase nor will they try to foment a military coup because they don’t like Elizabeth Warren.
But on the other hand, any Democratic president absolutely has to maintain a certain working relationship with the business community or face huge obstacles to almost all of his domestic priorities. Had Obama seriously threatened to prosecute substantial sectors of the business and the financial community for their role in the financial crisis when he first took office in 2008, he would not have gotten the stimulus bill, the modest financial regulation bill that he did get or health care reform. There were only a few major business figures who went overboard with hysterical accusations that Obama was out to destroy the entire free enterprise system in 2009, but if he had really come down hard on business and Wall Street that attack would have been picked up and become so widespread in the business world that plenty of Democratic Congress and Senate members would have melted away from supporting Obama’s first term agenda like snowflakes in forest fire.
Now, sure, its loads of fun to imagine an alternate reality in which a fiery populist president “takes his case to the people” and develops such titanic, fierce, ferocious and powerful grass roots support that American big business has no option except to meekly accept the president’s firmly populist agenda. And yes, we can all cheerfully recite Roosevelt’s stirring line “I welcome their hatred” as the great rhetorical model for how a really tough populist Democrat could deal with the business community.
But, come on, let’s face it, if intense grass roots support for that kind of muscular populism had really existed in recent years, Dennis Kucinich or John Edwards would have won the Democratic primaries by a landslide in 2008, blowing away the far more centrist Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In 2004 Howard Dean would have walked away with the Democratic nomination without raising a sweat and in 2000, Ralph Nader would have outpolled Al Gore. Right wing populists like George Wallace and Ross Perot pulled a major slice of the national vote in their campaigns in past decades while no left wing populist in the post-war era has ever even come close. You can’t just go around simply assuming and asserting the existence of some huge, sleeping left-wing populist majority that is just waiting to be mobilized as if it were a given fact of American political life when somehow or other it never seems to be able to drag its butt out of bed and go out to vote for firmly populist candidates on election days.
So let’s stop with the alternate reality stuff for a moment and try to visualize the strategic situation as Obama has to see it when he looks across the table during a meeting with a group like the Business Roundtable or similar organizations of the economic elite. He starts out knowing that a large segment of American business won’t even sit down with him at all – that they are wildly, irrationally and passionately opposed to everything he stands for and are willing to invest huge sums of money to defeat him and every policy he advocates.
So the members of the business and financial elite who are indeed willing to sit across the table from him are the ones he really needs to keep at least reasonably neutral if he doesn’t want an absolutely united front of business opposition to everything he does.
Now the business guys at the table are not completely unreasonable. A recent opinion studyDemocracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” by Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern and Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt, indicates that the “1 percenters” — those with $8 million in net worth – are at least somewhat open to some relatively liberal economic ideas. Most agreed, for example, with improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. They also agreed that the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution and they also agreed that people with high incomes actually should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than those with low incomes. And they recognized the need for sensible regulations.
But on the other hand, the study also found the following:

When we asked respondents how important they considered each of eleven possible problems facing the United States, budget deficits headed the list. Fully 87 percent of our wealthy respondents said deficits are a “very important” problem facing the country. Only 10 percent said “somewhat important,” and a bare 4 percent said “not very important at all.” The high priority put on this issue was confirmed by responses to an open-ended question about “the most [emphasis added] important problem facing this country today.” One third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned “government over-spending.” Unmistakably, deficits were a major concern for most of our wealthy respondents…. [In contrast, unemployment and education] were mentioned as the most important problem by only 11 percent, indicating that they ranked a distant second and third to budget deficits.

So it’s not just the professional deficit scolds like Pete Peterson or the PR shop called “Fix the Debt” who are pushing the deficit fixation. Nor is it just the columnists and editorial writers at the Washington Post. The belief that dealing with the deficit is the most important national issue is pretty much a consensus opinion of America’s wealthy and business elite.
And now here’s the funny thing. If you ask progressives, most of them would passionately agree that “the one-percent” — the economic elite like those in the survey above — really run the show in America and make the political system dance to their tune. Many progressives will be happy to recite in vast detail how the economic elites in countries like Chile organized the overthrow of democratically elected populist presidents when the latter got the plutocrats really ticked off.
Yet, at the same time, when it comes to evaluating the political strategy and political compromises a Democratic President has to employ in dealing with the economic elite and the business community, the pivotal role and power of the 1% suddenly does not have to be taken into account. It’s like suddenly they don’t have any power at all.
But in reality Obama is faced with a basic choice: he can tell the sector of the business community that is indeed willing to sit across the table from him that he thinks the whole deficit issue is completely overblown – just like Paul Krugman says it is — and accept the fact that they will walk away from the table completely unsatisfied with his answer or he can say that he understands their concern and is willing to make compromises if the GOP will meet him halfway.
Now progressives can insist that as a matter of fundamental political strategy Obama should choose the first course rather than the second and be willing to accept the negative political consequences for his administration and agenda, no matter how severe they are. This is a debatable but defensible view.
But the point is that the choice between these two approaches is a serious choice between two political strategies, each one of which has profound consequences. It’s not some test of Obama’s moral fiber or personal machismo. Guys like Dennis Kucinich or Bernie Sanders, if they were actually elected president and had to deal seriously with the consequences of their decisions, would almost certainly still choose the first choice rather than the second. But neither one would say that there were no serious negative consequences to their choice or that they didn’t have to even bother to seriously weigh the costs and benefits of the alternatives.
So let’s stop being so damn sanctimonious and self righteous, arguing that Obama’s choice must be due to timidity, cowardice, conservatism, obsequiousness to the wealthy or whatever else because (in the words of a thousand irate, hyperventilating progressive commenters) “any idiot can see that the first choice is the only correct one”. A progressive can disagree with a president’s choice of strategy without necessarily attributing it to personal weakness or bad moral character.
Obama has made a basic strategic calculation about how far he has to go to propitiate some part of the economic elite that holds tremendous power in American society. Progressives can and should debate his decision and, if they disagree, criticize it on that realistic strategic basis. They should not get sidetracked instead by arguments based on extraneous and essentially irrelevant claims regarding Obama’s flaws of character, defects of personality or inadequate fealty to the ethos and ideals of progressivism.

The big change in the conservative argument about debt and deficits

Paul Krugman’s column today points out an important change:

Over the past few weeks, there has been a remarkable change of position among the deficit scolds who have dominated economic policy debate for more than three years. It’s as if someone sent out a memo saying that the Chicken Little act, with its repeated warnings of a U.S. debt crisis that keeps not happening, has outlived its usefulness….
…There has, of course, been no explicit announcement of a change in position. But the signs are everywhere. Pundits who spent years trying to foster a sense of panic over the deficit have begun writing pieces lamenting the likelihood that there won’t be a crisis, after all.
…What happened? Basically, the numbers refuse to cooperate: Interest rates remain stubbornly low, deficits are declining and even 10-year budget projections basically show a stable fiscal outlook rather than exploding debt.

Krugman goes on to discuss the new rationales now being put forward as replacement arguments for why America needs to immediately and radically cut Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs. But, from a strategic point of view, it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider just how much of a setback this change really represents for the forces that were trying to whip up a panic.
There has never been any argument (even from Krugman) that there is indeed a long term need to update and improve the American social safety net – not to dismantle it but to reinforce it for the future. These long-term issues are largely the result of demographic and other gradual societal changes that require carefully structured reforms to current programs.
But the essence of the “debt panic” strategy was to exploit the financial crisis of 2008 in order to demand massive and immediate, ideologically motivated reductions in the funding for those programs or even to achieve their effective elimination. The same groups and individuals that had kept a discrete and diplomatic silence about the ballooning deficits during the Bush era suddenly switched to the “crisis” message the moment Obama was elected. The plan shared by a wide range of conservative and business groups was essentially to “piggyback” the attack on the social safety net on the huge economic dislocations caused by the crisis in order to convince the public that immediate action was required.
It almost worked. Conservatives could have gotten a hugely advantageous deal back in the Spring of 2011 if the congressional GOP hadn’t decided to reject the first “grand bargain” Obama offered and chose instead to bet the farm on defeating him.
You have to put yourself in the debt crisis gang’s shoes to visualize what a huge fiasco this represents for them. Millions of dollars, massive organizational efforts, hundreds of TV appearances and thousands of articles, commentaries and op-ed pieces were all focused on the goal of building support for massive and immediate budget cuts that could be pushed through quickly, before the crisis atmosphere passed. But now, as Krugman says, the moment has slipped by and the debt crisis gang has to start all over again to come up with a basically new rationale.
To put it simply, from their point of view, the 2008 financial crisis offered the opportunity of a lifetime to rip a big gaping hole in the social safety net and because they overreached, they’ve let it slip away. For progressives, a moment of pleasurable schadenfreude is not inappropriate or unwarranted.

Dems: look closely at the language and metaphors that self-proclaimed “middle of the road” pundits use to criticize Obama: it provides an ironically revealing indication of their deep intellectual dishonesty.

Democrats really don’t need any assistance in finding examples of intellectual dishonesty in the writings of the self-proclaimed “nonpartisan” or “sensible middle of the road” commentators who criticize Obama but let Republicans escape with little or no condemnation. But there is one particular characteristic of this group that provides a psychologically fascinating demonstration of their subconscious bias toward the GOP.
Consider one of the most popular political metaphors of recent weeks — the demand that Obama should act like “the adult in the room,” basically by making completely one-sided concessions to the GOP. This “adult” metaphor is invariably presented by middle of the road commentators as something that is self-evident; to them, the demand seems entirely reasonable and politically neutral.
But the intriguing psychological fact about this metaphor is that it carries a very clear and completely unavoidable set of implications about the other side of the equation – the GOP.
If Obama is being called upon to act as “the adult in the room” this inescapably implies that the GOP is behaving like a bunch of children. Indeed, it actually implies a good deal more than that: it implies that the Republicans are acting like spoiled, undisciplined and misbehaving children. In most people’s minds, when children’s behavior becomes so unruly that it becomes urgently necessary to call on someone to act as the adult in the room it tends to suggest a whole series of subsidiary concepts — that the children needing adult supervision are behaving like spoiled brats, that they need a good spanking, that they are being indulged and pampered. That their parents are not doing them any favor. That they need tough love or they are going to grow up as deeply damaged selfish and self-centered adults.
Now, how many times have you seen a middle of the road commentator connect his or her call on Obama to behave like the adult in the room with any of these images of the GOP? The answer, of course, is absolutely never.
And in fact, this refusal to take their own language and metaphors seriously is repeated again and again in the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed middle of the road commentators.

Obama is called on to display “Leadership as President” because it is his responsibility in that high and exalted position but Republicans are not held to have any corresponding responsibility to show even minimal respect or deference for either the man or the office.
Obama is called on to display political “courage” but Republicans are not criticized for failing to show even the most minimal political bravery of their own.
Obama is called on to “rise above politics” but Republicans are not condemned for gleefully wallowing in it.

In short, virtually the entire range of sanctimonious, one-sided demands made on Obama by the middle of the road commentators inherently imply equal or greater failings on the part of the Republicans, but these implied failings are never directly expressed or criticized.
(Note: After two years of savage criticism by progressive writers like Greg Sargeant, Paul Krugman and others, middle of the road commentators have now finally begun to add a pro-forma sentence somewhere in their columns that quickly notes that “of course, Republicans can be argued to be more at fault than Obama”, but they quickly make up for this brief criticism of the GOP by throwing around a dozen or more terms like “Washington” “the political parties” “congress” and so on, all of which are calculated to indicate that they really believe both sides are equally to blame.)
So the bottom line is this: the same exact language that middle of the road commentators so widely use to criticize Obama simultaneously implies that Republicans should be viewed as “spoiled brats” who “need a good spanking” because they are “disrespectful”, “ill-mannered”, “ill-behaved”, “cowardly”, “selfish” and “self-indulgent,” but the middle of the road commentators absolutely never – never – follow their own language and metaphors to their logical conclusion.
This is not only powerful evidence of a deep intellectual dishonesty but — for people who are paid to exercise literary skill — it also demonstrates a genuinely startling inability to perform the task for which they were hired.

Dems: here’s an interesting case study in how a GOP pollster and two major MSM commentators work together to perpetrate a bogus “both sides are equally to blame” anti-Democratic narrative

The last two days have offered a fascinating case study in how a Republican pollster and the “objective” mainstream mass media can pull off a fast one to exculpate the GOP from responsibility for problems and create a “both sides are equally to blame” narrative instead.
This particular story began when leading Republican Pollster Bill McInturff released a poll and set of charts titled “The Washington Economy.” In his text commentary on the results he says

It is clear we have entered a new phase where the dysfunction and paralysis in Washington is having a significant and deleterious impact on how consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal financial situations…This sharp a drop in consumer confidence is a direct consequence of the lack of confidence in our political system and its leaders.

He then continues:

…we wanted to develop a new NBC/WSJ polling question that could be tracked over time. Its purpose is to measure whether people say negotiations between Congress and President Obama make them more or less confident the economy will get better. Our hope is that this question will provide guidance about the relationship between how people perceive what is happening in Washington and economic confidence.

Now here’s the exact wording of the question:

“Thinking about President Obama and Republicans in Congress and their negotiations about the budget, does it make you feel more confident or less confident about the economy getting better”

Well, OK, the wording does seem a little oddly convoluted but still perhaps of some value. But, if you’re a pollster, after you ask this question, shouldn’t you also ask whether people think that the fault lies mainly with Obama or with the GOP. That certainly seems like a reasonable question, doesn’t it? Particularly if your goal is really to understand how the public views the relationship between “what is happening in Washington and economic confidence.”
In point of fact, the major U.S. opinion polls quite clearly show that the American people generally blame the GOP more than Obama for the dysfunction and paralysis in Washington when the question of blame is directly posed.
Now maybe it won’t come as a great surprise to anyone, but in McInturff’s presentation there’s absolutely no review or discussion of the polling data on questions about the relative blame and responsibility people consider Obama and the GOP to have for the problems described. There is only the odd question wording “thinking about President Obama and the Republicans in congress and their negotiation about the budget, does it make you feel more or less confident about the economy getting better” – a wording that makes it impossible to distinguish who the public might think is mainly at fault. This very ambiguous wording then allows McInturff in his text to point the finger of blame at a very wide and disparate range of culprits including “Washington,” “the political system” and “leaders,” thus creating the false impression that it is his polling data itself that actually shows that the American people blame both sides equally.
At bottom it’s the political commentator’s equivalent of the stage magician’s sleight of hand maneuver, but one really can’t fault McInturff himself too much. He’s one of the more honest Republican pollsters and is entirely straightforward and open about his strong partisan affiliation. There’s no law that says he can’t ignore polling data that undermines the argument he is trying to make.
On the other hand, however, you would generally hope and expect that mainstream political commentators – individuals who majestically and self-righteously present themselves as objective and nonpartisan — would sharply point out McInturff’s obvious omission and provide the missing data from other opinion polls in order to clarify the matter.
But, nope, readers have no such luck. Instead, two leading political commentators of the Washington Post and New York Times both picked up McInturff’s report and happily went right along with the misleading “both sides are equally to blame” spin that he put on his data.

Has deficit reduction really grown massively as a “top priority” for Americans during the last four years?

A Pew poll released today has raised some hackles among progressives because at first glance it appears to show that public support for deficit reduction has grown rapidly since Obama was elected.
Seen in isolation, the key statistic does indeed sound disturbing. Four years ago only 53% of Americans viewed deficit reduction as a “top priority.” Today, on the other hand, 72% agree with this view, a very substantial increase of 19%. The Pew Center’s headline for the survey “Deficit Reduction Rises on Public’s Agenda for Obama’s Second Term” seems if anything to reinforce the impression that a significant conservative trend has indeed been detected.
But, in fact, what the survey actually provides is a near-perfect illustration of how important it is to look at polling data carefully and not to simply rely on headlines.
The statistics above come from a survey that Pew has periodically conducted over many years to track changes in the public’s policy priorities. The way the survey is conducted is that the subjects are read a long list of some 21 different items. The exact question they are asked to answer is the following:

I’d like to ask you about priorities for President Obama and Congress this year. As I read from a list, tell me if you think each should be a top priority, important but lower priority, not too important or should it not be done.

Now notice, the respondents can name as many items as they want as “top priorities.” They are not forced to choose one against the other. As a result, the fact that 72% say deficit reduction should be a “top priority” does not mean they have chosen it in opposition to other policy goals.
Read with care, the results actually tell a very different story than the conservative pro-deficit reduction “surge” that a quick reading of the headline would suggest.First, both “strengthening the economy” and “improving the job situation” are actually chosen as “top priorities” more frequently than deficit reduction. While 72% of the respondents felt reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, 86% thought “strengthening the economy” should be a top priority and 79% felt the same about “improving the job situation.”
In short, what was really going on was that most respondents were simply indicating that they thought all three of these items — and many others as well — should all be considered “top priorities.” They were not choosing deficit reduction instead of polices to create jobs, strengthen the economy or to achieve other social goals.
An even more significant fact that emerges from the data is that the rapid growth of deficit reduction as a “top priority” is actually a good deal less than it first appears. While the percentage of respondents as a whole who considered deficit reduction a top priority did indeed grow from 53% to 72% in the four years since Obama was elected, this increase was concentrated among Republicans. Among them, the number rating deficit reduction as a top priority rose from 51% to 84% — a whopping one-third increase. Among Democrats, on the other hand, it only rose from 64% to 67%, an increase so small that it was actually within the margin of error. Among independents, the percentage identifying deficit reduction as a top priority rose from 57% to 71%, an increase that was significant but one whose importance is also limited because many independents today are actually disgruntled Republicans. The number of “true” independents whose views actually changed would be notably smaller.
In short, what the Pew survey actually reveals is that more Americans considered that strengthening the economy and improving the job situation should be top priorities than considered that deficit reduction should be a top priority. Moreover, the growth in the percentage of people who chose deficit reduction as a top priority was largely concentrated among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
When one considers the fact that Republicans were blissfully and gleefully indifferent to deficits as long as George W Bush was president and only began howling about the subject the minute Obama was elected, the fact that their deep and oh-so-utterly genuine and sincere concern about fiscal prudence increased in the last four years is mainly proof that the RNC fax machine and the Fox News TV transmitters were in good working order during the period and not that any profound change had actually occurred in American political attitudes.
The moral of the story? The same one the consumer guy on TV and your lawyer always told you. Don’t be lazy, read the fine print.

Gimme a break

Dana Milbank is now complaining that Obama is being just too darn mean and rude to the poor little GOP:

…Arguably, Obama’s no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy approach is good politics. His first-term experience made clear that he gained nothing from Republicans when he took a passive approach. When it comes to getting things done in Washington, there’s no substitute for forceful presidential leadership. Teddy Roosevelt, whose oil-on-canvas likeness gazed at Obama from an East Room wall, probably would have approved..
[But]It’s tempting to wonder whether Obama could achieve more if he could establish personal connections with Republicans on Capitol Hill…until recent years, sharp disagreements were smoothed by personal ties. On Monday, by contrast, Obama showed unrelenting hostility toward the opposition, accompanying his remarks with dismissive shrugs and skeptical frowns.

Now Milbank knows perfectly well that the Republicans in today’s extremist GOP are an entirely different breed than the more collegial Republicans of previous decades. He knows that they are threatening to severely damage the United States of America by forcing the nation to default on its obligations and he freely admits that Obama “gained nothing” from his previous attempts at compromise.
But the iron fist of beltway journalism still requires him to pretend to be suffering from amnesia and to innocently wonder if Obama couldn’t solve all this nasty squabbling by just being nicer.
In journalism schools there is a technical term for this: it’s called garbage.

Are You Unemployed? Tired of Your Job? Thinking About a New Career? Guess What. You Can Become a Nationally Famous Republican Messaging Guru Just Like Frank Luntz. Take This Free Aptitude Test Today and See If You Qualify.

This weekend communications guru Frank Luntz offered his messaging advice to Republicans in a Washington Post op-ed. Take this free test and see how close you come to being just as profound a political thinker and strategist as he is.
Part 1.
Do you think Republicans should stop using the following phrases:
• Calling the economy “a hostage you might take a chance at shooting”
• Telling undocumented Latinos to “self-deport.”
If you answered that Republicans should stop using both phrases, congratulations, that’s Luntz’s advice too. You scored 100% on part 1
Part 2
Should Republicans make the following changes in their rhetoric:

• Instead of asking “should the rich pay more,” change the question to “Should Washington take more?”
• Instead of using the phrase “committing fiscal child abuse,” should Republicans use the terms “piling debt on our children” or “mortgaging the American dream.”
• Instead of being the party of “small businesses and job creators”, should House Republicans call themselves the party of “hardworking taxpayers”.
• Instead of “smaller government,” should Republicans talk about “more efficient and effective government”
• Instead of using the term “tax reform,” should Republicans talk about making the IRS code “simpler, flatter and fairer”
• Instead of using the terms “entitlement reform” or “controlling the growth of Medicare and Social Security”, should Republicans talk about “how to save and strengthen these programs so they are there when voters need them.”
If you said Republicans should make all these changes to their rhetoric, congratulations, that’s Luntz’s advice too. You scored a breathtaking 100% on part 2.
Part 3
Should Republicans:
• “Advocate a values-based approach”
• “Talk to Americans about accountability, personal responsibility and freedom.”
• “Be more empathetic”
• “Advocate a “balanced, responsible approach”
• “Listen to voters, rather than lecturing them.”
• “Speak to voters’ aspirations, not just their pocketbooks”
• “SHow how GOP solutions help the want-to-haves, not just the already-haves”
If you said yes to all these recommendations, congratulations, that’s what Luntz said too. You scored 100% on part three.
Now test-takers, hold your breath – here’s how you did:

If you scored between 90 and 100%, congratulations, you too can be a nationally famous Republican messaging strategist just like Frank Luntz.
If you scored around 50%, you can run for congress in any district that doesn’t have a bookstore or Democratic voter within 200 miles.
If you scored 20% or less, you can easily get a job at any talk radio station that advertises gold bullion, survival gear and commemorative DVD’s of “Birth of a Nation”.

Channeling the classic “reluctant gunfighter” meme – How Obama was able to get tough with the GOP during the 2012 campaign and yet still be seen as “the good guy” in public opinion polls.

Ed Kilgore’s extremely insightful analysis of Obama’s four-year grand strategy focuses on a key point that is not often noted in the post-mortems of Obama’s victory.
Progressives were quite reasonably frustrated and even outraged by Obama’s conciliatory, “bend over backwards to achieve a compromise” approach at many points during his first term and they can easily point to strong evidence that his apparent meekness was repeatedly perceived as a lack of decisiveness and timidity by the public rather than as sensible or levelheaded moderation.
However, quite paradoxically, these same characteristics actually rebounded quite powerfully to Obama’s advantage during the crucial months of the 2012 campaign. Even as Obama firmly and repeatedly attacked Romney, the GOP could not make the charges that he was “vicious”, “nasty” “negative” or “unfair” stick against him.
The psychological dynamics of how this occurred are worth considering with some care. After all, Americans do not in general admire leaders who seem “weak” or overly willing to compromise their beliefs and ideals. Quite the contrary, progressives are entirely correct when they insist that, in general, Democratic candidates should be consistent, firm and confident in their views and “stand for something” rather than appearing uncertain, shifting with the wind and seeking compromise for its own sake. Voters are also unlikely to accept last-minute redefinitions and “repackaging,” as Romney found out to his chagrin.
So how did Obama seemingly violate this general rule?
One significant psychological insight into the answer comes not from opinion poll data but from the decades of market-based experience of Hollywood scriptwriters – from the formulas that are used in the movies to create the hero or “the good guy” and the villains or the “the bad guys”.
There are, in fact, two distinct Hollywood formulas for creating “good guys” and “bad guys,” two approaches that actually map quite clearly onto the general approaches of the GOP on the one hand and Obama on the other.