Gigantic Cloud of Smug
Tonight, Lawrence O’Donnell dropped some more knowledge about the debt ceiling negotiations, and I must admit to a sense of self-satisfaction that what he said tonight dovetails nicely with what I’ve been saying for a week (see e.g., here and here) about Obama governing and courting swing voters1 simultaneously:
Outrage notes have been struck today in the liberal blogosphere and elsewhere that the President was entertaining modest modifications in Medicare and Social Security that could save trillions, even though liberal democrats in the past have done exactly that. The President’s willingness to discuss raising the retirement age in Medicare or Social Security has met rage from some who don’t know that the eligibility age of Social Security has already been raised, that a gradual increase of a retirement age was enacted in 1983, increasing the full retirement from 65 to 67, and that increase had the support of liberals in the House and the Senate.
Now, if raising the retirement age is in principle bad, then it would follow logically that people who even oppose discussing it would be in favor of repealing the increase in the retirement age that has already occurred. Yet none of them have ever proposed repealing the current increase in the retirement age. Some of the new-found liberal defenders of Social Security that will reject any discussions in the program were voting Republican back in the ’80s when the retirement age was raised, or not voting at all, not even bothering to register to vote. Some, of course, were not yet of voting age. They are all capable of getting up to speed on these issues reasonably quickly, but until they know more history, until they know where we have been, they will not have any comprehension of where we might be going. The President’s been attacked today for considering the means testing of Medicare, as you heard him describe, the possibility of rich people like him paying a little more on premiums and co-pays on Medicare. As rich people on Medicare already know, that’s nothing new — they already pay more. The President is willing to entertain a discussion in which they might pay even more, and suddenly some liberals have found what is, in effect, a small tax increase on the rich that they can oppose.
All such objections from the President’s base of supporters are actually — this is a bit counterintuitive, they are actually helpful to the President. Adam Green, the head of the Progressive Change Committee, and a friend of this show has been among the loudest and most progressive objectors to the President’s consideration of cuts in Medicare and Social Security spending. Today his group delivered 200,000 petitions to President Obama’s campaign headquarters warning about entitlement cuts. These are 200,000 people saying they will not contribute money to or volunteer hours to an Obama reelection campaign if he agrees to any cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security spending during these debt negotiations with the Republicans, and these are people who have contributed to President Obama and have volunteered for him before. These protestors are actually helping the President’s negotiation position, strengthening it, as well as his public appearance of being reasonable in the eyes of independence and swing voters by adding credibility statements like this.
I’ve been in the room, in the White House, in the Capitol, with politicians who are the subjects of that kind of protest with their party when they are trying to compromise, and they always, always, cite that protest when negotiating with the other side. They always say, in effect, look at how hard this is for me to do; look out there; look at the protest I’m getting from my own party — my own people. They don’t want me to do this. And, in fact, in such meetings, I have heard politicians frankly admit that they cannot possibly compromise on a given point because of such protests. Make no mistake here, I am not in any way demeaning these protests as some kind of stunt. I am telling you, I have seen these protests have their intended effect, and I have seen them have additional beneficial effects for the negotiating strength of the politician being protested against, the politician being pushed by his own supporters in a certain direct — publicly pushed.
The politicians of governing are far more complex than the politics of campaigning. Indeed, it is the unwritten volume. There are a few great books out there about the politics of campaigning.
There is not one about the politics of governing. People who’ve lived and worked within the politics of governing get it. We can speak in a shorthand with each other. In fact, we often find ourselves tongue-tied when trying to explain the politics of governing to civilians.
If you’ve never been in the room while a presidential decision is being made by the only person who can make that decision, the President of the United States, then trying to make sense of governing negotiations while they’re ongoing and while you’re only allowed the occasional leak of what was said in the room, and the public statements of players, which, I promise you rarely have any important linkage to what was actually said in the room or what is going to happen in the end — it is next to impossible to make sense of what you’re seeing.
As the President said on Monday, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to, so the gigantic cloud of smug has dissipated as quickly as it formed. (Plus, this is serious shit, so smugness is tacky.)
I understand that people are nervous and may view it as crass that I approach politics like a game. Maybe it’s the lawyer in me. Who knows.
I will say this, however: What I find utterly appalling is the lengths to which Adam Green has gone for fundraising purposes for his “progressive” PAC. Joy Reid lays out in great detail the extent of Green’s misrepresentations, misrepresentations that have been, in my view, willful. (Extreme Liberal also details the lies concocted to push the PCCC narrative.)
Accordingly, while Lawrence does not demean Green’s protest as some kind of stunt, I sure as hell do. Green’s disdain for the President and for those who have the gall to support him is palpable:
It’s so hard to keep up these days.
In any event, this here dumb motherfucker wants to thank Adam Green and PCCC for helping Obama’s negotiating strategy. Unfortunately, I don’t have three dollars to send you. ::sad face::
I do have this for you, though:
1 You should definitely check out Politicians Don’t Care About “Independent Voters,” They Care About Swing Voters” by Dana Houle, which explains that politicians care about swing, not independent voters.