The Partisanship Trap

By Al Giordano

It's only Week Two of President Obama's term - 207 weeks to go - and some colleagues are already demanding that he revert to the dysfunctional methods of what they call "partisanship" when dealing with Congress.

Josh Marshall - one of the more moderately spoken voices of that tendency - argues:

I hear a lot of talk about whether Obama's governing approach can be 'bipartisan' if a good number of Republicans don't vote for his Stimulus Bill. But that dubious point seems to be obscuring a more obvious and telling reality: the Republican leadership in both houses has decided that it's in their political interest to oppose the Stimulus Bill no matter what.

I don't disagree with the statement of fact - that Republicans will likely oppose the Stimulus - but I also don't think that Obama is on the Hill speaking to House and Senate Republicans under any illusion that he's there to secure their votes for that bill.

Rather, he's setting them up under the glare of the mass media to be seen as the unreasonable party in contrast to what everybody watching him on TV is going to view as reasonable and respectful. In sum, he's using them as props, and turning their weakness - their own frothing desire for "partisanship" - against them.

He emerged from his meeting with House Republicans some minutes ago, broadcast live on Cable News with comments that will certainly make the evening news and tomorrow's newspapers:

...the main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation.  The American people expect action.  They want us to put together a recovery package that puts people back to work, that creates investments that assure our long-term energy independence, an effective health care system, an education system that works; they want our infrastructure rebuilt, and they want it done wisely, so that we're not wasting taxpayer money.

...the key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum.  There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that.  In some cases they may just not be as familiar with what's in the package as I would like.  I don't expect a hundred percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now.  All right.

The drumbeat for "partisanship" hasn't come only from the right, but also from some parts of the Netroots blogosphere and others that argue against Obama's respectful tone toward the opposition or against any willingness to compromise at all. They argue for less "bipartisanship" and a return to "partisanship," the suggestion being that Obama should ignore the Republicans and ram his agenda items through Democratic majorities in both houses.

There's some cognitive dissonance in that advice, as it comes from some of the same quarters that are, on other days, fully aware that Congressional Democrats and their leaders are no great progressive behemoth to depend on. Reid, Pelosi, and company, are, rather, serial equivocators who, the moment a major issue or conflict is in their hands, talk tough with words but buckle under to the special interests when it comes time to act in deed.

Which is why it's also interesting to read this account, via Politico, of Obama's meeting with House Republicans:

Obama seemed ready for the House Republicans to pounce, reportedly telling the gathered GOP lawmakers: "feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part [tax cuts]," according to two sources in the room...

Obama's aides cast the visit as an outstretched hand - and it got slapped.

That was the intent all along and it somewhat amazes me that some colleagues haven't seen it for what it is: For a new president with such enormous public popularity to set up Congressional Republicans to be perceived as slapping his "outstretched hand" was a chess move that suckered them into the tar pit of being seen as the obstructionists in Washington, and at that, they're now branded as additionally inactive on "the urgency of the economic situation."

The Politico story had another revealing quote:

"This is a very dangerous political vote for House Republicans, in particular those from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan," said a White House aide familiar with House districts. "Their constituents want them to take action to save the economy, not block progress." 

In other words, Obama's strategy is to set them up for another rout in the 2010 Congressional elections and to hasten, in the meantime, the process by which they wake up and realize their seats are vulnerable. The President doesn't need their votes on the Stimulus (therefore, this maneuver is not about the Stimulus, but more akin to a football team calling a running play to set up a later passing play). The truth is that so many Congressional Democrats are so undependable that Obama will need some Republican votes later on other legislative priorities, particularly in the Senate in order to get 60 votes for "cloture" to allow bills to be voted up or down: On the Employee's Free Choice Act, on Immigration Reform (and now he needs one more to offset the anti-immigrant junior Democratic Senator from New York), on children's health care and much, much more. To get to that point, he has to make individual Republicans feel vulnerable at the ballot box to Democratic challenge. Today's events are speeding that process up.

In the end, Obama's "bipartisanship" is one of the most Machiavellian partisan maneuvers we've seen in Washington in a long while, and I use that description in its most admirable context. The Republicans fell right into the trap today. Progressives that urge Obama to be more "partisan" should pay close attention to how the GOP is getting pwned before falling into the same trap themselves.

Also: At some point I may not be able to resist wading into some related debates going on around the blogosphere and to address some of the nonsense going on over at the children's table. Some bloggers continue to believe that they have standing - without having demonstrable accomplishment to back it up - to declare who is "progressive" and who is not. And I have to chuckle, after my decades of studious participation in authentic social movements, each time they claim to be part of something they call "our movement," to which I'll just say, "you and what army?"

One of them just made a run at the adult's table and got splendidly smacked down. If slapstick makes you laugh, you'll enjoy the replay. I'll just keep the scoreboard: Nate Silver 1, David Sirota 0.

Update: No sooner did that White House aide mention targeting Republicans in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio than this (related?) development:

It may be time to coin the phrase "pulling a Specter," because Sen. Arlen Specter (PA), the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, just did it again. After making a huge fuss questioning the independence of Eric Holder, Specter just caved and said he'll support the attorney general nominee.

"I can say with some confidence that there won't be a successful filibuster," Specter told reporters at a press conference gathered to share his thoughts on Holder in advance of tomorrow's Judiciary panel vote on the nominee.

Specter added that the strong recommendations Holder received from former FBI director Louis Freeh and former DoJ No. 2 James Comey were influential in swaying his vote.

"At no time did I challenge Mr. Holder's integrity," the Pennsylvania senator concluded. (But he sure came close, according to Holder himself.) "It was a question of judgment."

Specter faces reelection next year in Pennsylvania.

Watch, listen, and learn!

Update II: Here's video...

Does that look like a man who is being rolled? Or the one who's doing the rolling?

Update III: Poor David Sirota. He became laughingstock over at Daily Kos back in November and now fills the Matt Stoller memorial dunce stool over at Open Left. His peewings were apparently hurt by my observation, above, of the embarrassment he's caused himself in his schoolyard attempt to mix it up this week with the maestro Nate Silver.

Now he's dedicated an entire blog post to upturning his oatmeal at the children's table in a tantrum over me (and also in response to our thoughtful colleague Elliot over at Election Inspection).

My favorite line from the Netroots' resident fussbudget's diatribe is when Sirota calls me out saying:

"you are making very clear that you spend your life frolicking with ponies in a psychedelic fantasyland that most mere mortals never even dreamed existed."

(Translation: the guy from Narco News must be on drugs. Oh well, it's not the first time that a few words from me have stung enough to turn a mediocre faux-progressive into a frothing chemical McCarthyist. Good thing I find it entertaining.)

Now, what do Sirota's three boogeymen du jour - Elliot, Nate, and I - have in common that could be guiding these recent outbursts? Oh, right. We were three of the bloggers (along with the chess master Psifighter37) who throughout 2008, in primary after primary, January, February, March, April, May and June, and up to the general election in November, were predicting the results accurately while Sirota and some others screamed "Obama must do it my way or the sky is going to fall."

My one little mention of him today ("Nate Silver 1, David Sirota 0") apparently upset the guy so much that he couldn't even read between his tears my explanation above about the Machiavellian nature of Obama's moves on Capitol Hill with Congressional Republicans: that Obama is, one, weakening the Republicans in the eyes of their constituents in order to, two, hasten the day when they feel vulnerable before their state and district electorates, and will then have to play ball on future legislative priorities. He translated that to claim that I had argued that Republicans should be "cajoled with candy and niceties." Ha ha. (Since you're reading this here, you already know who, in this conversation, is humping the fantasy pony, or being humped by it.)

But I do thank him for spelling my name right more times than he misspelled it. And I appreciate being called out by such a consistently beautiful loser as Sirota, who has, according to his own Wikipedia promotions, lost far more battles than he's ever won in politics, has never organized or led a successful movement, has no grassroots base behind him, and whose predictions reliably have failed at each step along the way. The guy is a near-perfect barometer, an inverted compass: when Sirota says "heads," you can make a lot of money betting on "tails." I know I do.

Update to the Update: A Coloradan emails:

Ha ha @ Sirota! Remember when I told everyone during the DNC that he's not from our  mountainous neck of the woods? Yeah..this is why. My friends and I have a game each time we run into each other at social gatherings, and that is to count how many times he says "my nationally syndicated column..." He has a real nerve to talk about self-importance. Last I checked, the record was 7 in an hour and a half.

File Under: Rocky Mountain High Horse.


It's gotta be pathological

I've decided that I'm just never going to understand the "progressive" netroots these days. With all due respect to Al, I understood Obama's game pretty clearly today without having to have it explained to me. And it's not because I'm just that brilliant a political observer. It's actually pretty easy to figure out because it's just another version of the game he played in the election campaign:

1. Call on people to listen to their better angels and put aside petty fights.

2. Extend an olive branch and make a "concession" that's not really as big as it seems.

3. Allow himself to be slapped by the other side who thinks they've got a pushover on their hands.

4. Wait for the other side to overextend themselves.

5. Chide the other side for being childish and then proceed to do what he always meant to do anyway.

He did it to Hillary (most notably when dealing with the issue of delegate counts in Michigan and Florida), he did it to McCain (the debate rules), and now he's doing it to the Republicans in Congress. What amazes me is the other side falls for it every time. You'd think they would learn by now.

And you would think the "progressive" blogosphere would figure out Obama's MO by now, too. But time and again, they call on him to get in McCain's face, refuse to sit down with Bill O'Reilly, refuse to listen to the Republicans when in office, run more negative ads and on and on. The net critters never seem to realize that he might very well not be the President right now if he listened to their hounding advice.

It's like OpenLeft, MyDD, DKos and their various brethren are less interested in being "progressive" (which by definition means making progress and actually getting something done) and are more interested in just getting mad at somebody and shouting. Maybe they just never knew how to do anythingc else. I'm starting to think it's just pathological.

C'mon to the kids' table

Seriously, I don't think you should hesitate to get involved in what may seem like a petty, semantic debate over the meaning of "progressive," "partisan" and other terms.

I, too, thought it was perfectly obvious that Obama's conciliatory talk was not meant at winning GOP votes, but at maintaining strong approval and, therefore, enhancing leverage for the battles yet to come.

Those who denounce this most-basic strategy as some kind of betrayal risk undermining the "movement" that gives Obama strength.  And I'm not saying that criticism or pressure is bad; indeed, I'm sure that Obama wants and needs pressure from the left.  But there's a distinction between pressure in favor of particular policies and demagoguery that promotes nothing but cynicysm.

Simply put, I'd like to see you wade into these debates occasionally, simply to act as a counterweight and provide some needed historical perspective.  Besides, it will almost certainly be entertaining.

What I had been thinking...

I've thought that this might have been his strategy. I really hope it is, but I've been ignoring my own assumptions because, until now, they hadn't been confirmed anywhere else. I'm stunned that no one in the netroots has picked up on it. I mean, I read the above blogs all the time, and usually they're pretty sharp. This kind of strategy seems obvious to me; how come this is the only blog I've read that's even mentioned it?

Republicans will look like fools, as always

I have learned to have confidence that Obama is smarter than I am. The primary taught me that his strategic mind is far superior to mine. I just want to add that David Sirota is a hack. He doesn't even pretend to do research or reporting.

Love this remark by Obama at the meeting

During his meeting with the House Republicans, Obama was reportedly asked about coming to compromise on taxes by including an income tax cut. He responded by insisting that there was a need to focus at least in part on payroll taxes, to help families that don't pay income tax (most Americans pay more in payroll tax than they do in income tax), saying, "feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part." He added, according to NBC's First Read, that he understands there's a time for politics and for the GOP to "beat him up," and said, "I understand that and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself.

OK I straddle this fence.

I hear what you are saying and I agree. But I like those guys at OpenLeft as well.

In the agreement with you mode, look at the Michigan Republicans in the table below compared to the other states Republicans. They really want the auto bailout and are smarting at how easy Wallstreet got theirs and the hoops the auto makers had to jump through.:

H R 384 RECORDED VOTE      21-Jan-2009      4:44 PM
QUESTION: On Passage
BILL TITLE: TARP Reform and Accountability Act

Link to Full Vote - TARP Accountability Vote  
Democrats - Yes Vote No Vote Not Voting (Present)
CD Illinois Michigan Ohio CD Indiana Minnesota Missouri
1 Rush Stupak Driehaus 1 Visclosky Walz Clay
2 Jackson Hoekstra Schmidt 2 Donnelly Kline Akin
3 Lipinski Ehlers Turner 3 Souder Paulsen Carnahan
4 Gutierrez Camp Jordan 4 Buyer McCollum Skelton
5 Emanuel Kildee Latta 5 Burton Ellison Cleaver
6 Roskam Upton Wilson 6 Pence Bachmann Graves
7 Davis Schauer Austria 7 Carson Peterson Blunt
8 Bean Rogers Boehner 8 Ellsworth Oberstar Emerson
9 Schakowsky Peters Kaptur 9 Hill Luetkemeyer
10 Kirk Miller Kucinich Iowa Wisconsin Kentucky
11 Halvorson McCotter Fudge 1 Braley Ryan Whitfield
12 Costello Levin Tiberi 2 Loebsack Baldwin Guthrie
13 Biggert Kilpatrick Sutton 3 Boswell Kind Yarmuth
14 Foster Conyers LaTourette 4 Latham Moore Davis
15 Johnson Dingell Kilroy 5 King Sensenbrenner Rogers
16 Manzullo Boccieri 6 Petri Chandler
17 Hare Ryan 7 Obey
18 Schock Space 8 Kagen
19 Shimkus 9


Oh and

In a way it's good that "the left" complains in that it makes the trap look more believeable.

Obama's A-game

When I watched President Obama emerge from his meeting with House Republicans, he definitely didn't look like a man who just had his hand slapped, he looked like a man in the zone. His confidence and swagger struck me immediately.

Obama knows exactly what he is doing. He has set the trap perfectly and the Republicans have taken the bait. Very impressive for his second week in office, but he's been refining that move for a few years now.

I'm always happy to read your take Al, because he's the only one I've read who gets what's going on. It'd be nice if the rest of the "Progressive" net-roots would catch on, but we wouldn't want them to tip the Republicans off, would we?

I worked as an organizer for OFA, and it always bothered me to explain these things to CL's who would frequent my office, but I got used to calming them down, setting them straight, and getting them back out knocking doors.

Some people just need a little hand-holding, they're not used to effective political tactics coming from Democrats.

Labels, again...

thanks for the score card, Al.  It's chuckle worthy to see these egoists trying to get the attention Nate so well deserves!  He created something of value.  The other self appointed 'leaders' of whatever they want to call their 'movement' aren't of interest to me.  I still reject labels - and if really pushed, will only respond to KJL (Knee Jerk Liberal).

Its always so refreshing

I love these kinds of posts where you demonstrate what the forest looks like while so many argue about the placement of a tree.

Last night I saw Sirota on Maddow's TV show. I almost laughed when he criticized how Obama is handling the stimulus bill as "bad political strategy" and then went on to explain what Obama should do. I don't always see Obama's strategy as clearly as you do, but I've watched him long enough to say that I'd lay odds on Obama any day over Sirota.

Another liberal blogger who gets this stuff is BooMan. His website is at

I agree with Al!

I actually believe much of Obama's non-partisianship is based on actual respect for others. You know, plays well with others as in Kindergarden.

And I couldn't agree more with those claiming to speak for all Progressives when dissing Obama. Especially those that never gave him the benefiit of a doubt in the primaries. This guy is a leader, and we are so incredibly lucky to have him.

Maybe, but

While I think it is very plausible that Obama is setting the Republicans up in this way, I'm also very concerned at the degree to which he has substantively undermined the stimulus - pointless corporate tax cuts, reductions in mass transit, etc. etc. I understand he has to give something away, but at what point does the compromising stop?

I comment at a BB

within the website of a professional organization to which I belong.  In addition to discussions related to the practice of that profession, they maintain an "off-topic" BB where matters of general interest can be discussed, and where the conversation frequently moves to US politics.

There are various posters there who frenetically copy-and-paste the talking points from Townhall, Drudge, etc. and who emulate and worship Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.

I laid off during the election but I'm now back in there, and I'm amazed myself at how much more effectively I argue there thanks to Al, Daily Kos, etc., and my improved ability to search out information on the web to support my claims.

Having one particularly protracted debate with one of Rush's acolytes, who said something to me about enjoying arguing with me and how he would win, I enlightened him.

I explained that I was not arguing with him, because the incoherent and internally self-contradictory comments he posted did not rise to the level of argument, and I had no expectations of changing his mind about anything.  Instead, I used him.  I used his posts as a vehicle in which to respond with facts, figures and sources to back them up, so that the lurking readers who were watching our exchange would know definitively who was right and who was wrong.

That's what Obama does with the Republicans.

Dems letting GOP chase after

Dems letting GOP chase after shiny bipartisanship ball seems to get it more than most. I can also strongly second the recommendation of Booman Tribune. That blog and The Field are about all that keeps my sanity sometimes. Why do "progressive" bloggers persist in thinking that Obama is some naive Obambi. Do they seriously imagine he made it this far if he is that helpless in dealing with Republicans?

While I agree that there is some strategy in having lefty blogs "hold Obama's feet to the fire", they could at least be intelligent about it, which seems to be mostly lacking.

Politics vs. policy

Obama is a master of politics, and the so-called "progressive blogosphere" isn't. I have no doubt that Obama is right on the politics of the moment, and he's going to get what he wants. What concerns me is the policies that are going to be enacted.

There's not enough real stimulus in this bill, and far too many tax cuts. Obama could have played essentially the same political hand and increased the real stimulus by reducing tax cuts and still fulfilling his campaign pledge to cut middle class taxes. For example, the bill identifies about $50 billion in ready-to-go transit projects that it does not fund and funds a mere $9 billion. It would be easy to fund all of that transit, leaving the tax cuts still well above $200 billion. But his policy is too influenced by Larry Summers and others who are negative on infrastructure spending.

Paul Krugman is one person who has done a good job of criticizing these policy shortfalls. Bloggers in general should take his lead and focus on affecting policy rather than dictating policy. Of course, that would mean being pragmatic and farsighted instead of ranting at the events of the day.

Playing Our Part

We progressives can help this along by playing our assigned part.  We can rail against Obama, accuse him of selling out progressive ideals in general and the working class in particular.  Make a lot of noise about Obama the DINO. We can withhold money when we get begging e-mails from David Plouffe.

And this will help Obama claim that he went the course -- alienated his base and caught holy hell, all in the name of bipartisanship.

So Al, by providing the analysis in this piece, you are undercutting what Obama is trying to achieve.  How un-Machiavellian can you get?

Stupidest Mistake in Politics:

Underestimate Barack Obama.

Missing The Forest...

Looks to me like Repubs are getting played. While the Hill Repubs are so busy trying to find ways to oppose the stimulus base on "conservative principles", there is a narrative beginning to form around the current GOP.
Interesting post from Chris Cillizzia @ Washington Post

Is Rush Limbaugh the New Face of the GOP?

More Evidence...

More evidence of Repubs being played

From First Read: Details From House GOP Meeting

Money quote:

"Obama says tax relief for some working families must come from payroll so even families who don’t pay income taxes get relief and they will spend it.

He said “feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that part.

Obama said that there will be time to beat him up and a time for politics. He said "I understand that and I will watch you on fox news and feel bad about myself."

@ Kaleidescope

Kaleidescope - Very cute! That said, I think a far bigger problem that has to be fixed - because presidents only last four-to-eight years - is the weakness of the US left, much of it self-imposed, because too many "activists" haven't figured out that activism is not organizing and complaining is not by itself movement building. This blog is, in part, a school that seeks to draw the best and brightest to it and create a place where we can arm each other to be smarter at analyzing and acting on human events. The concept of the "useful idiot" only goes so far!

I agree...

particularly with Tim who writes

they're not used to effective political tactics coming from Democrats.

I think that's a critical part of understanding the Chicken Littles (should you wish to do so). Obama has assiduously avoided reciting any litany, progressive or otherwise (he's pretty clearly his own guy, with positions that are more nuanced than some other politicians', and his assessment of how to vote on a given bill is probably similarly complex). This has left room for doubt or suspicion on a number of issues (e.g. voting for telecom immunity), particularly among people who are used to being represented ineffectively. If Obama pushes Congress to strike the Medicaid waiver for family planning from the stimulus bill, these folks see this for its symbolism (anti-choice) rather than as possibly part of a longer-term, grander strategy that they can't comprehend.

And I can't blame them -- there's been precious little evidence of progressive strategy in the past decade. These reactions are a hard habit to kick, but the calmer analysis at The Field, along with Obama's concrete successes, really helps.

@ Cascadian

Those would be the tax cuts that Obama made a centerpiece of his campaign? Should he break his campaign promise then? Tax cuts are not necessarily a bad thing, if they are aimed at people who are struggling to get by, even while increasing the tax burden on those who can most afford it.

Larry Summers seems to be a convenient villain when the tax cuts were something Obama promised all along that he would do.

Playing Our Part

Hey Al:  On the activism part I completely agree.  Last night I was at a community forum in Eureka, California, a gathering of citizens concerned about a proposed big box development at a toxic contaminated former rail yard  (Home Despot and Best Buy) that will cripple downtown Eureka.

There were about 150 people there.  My assigned role was to present two sectitons on how to provide comments to the city in a way that is effective under the California Enviromental Quality Act.  The idea being that we want to delay approval of the project until after the upcoming city council election, at which we can tip the balance on the city council to anti-big box.

There were seven other presenters, on subjects like air quality, transportation, urban blight, toxic waste, etc.  We were all helping the people in the audience be more effective in their concerns about the development. Many presenters, as well as many people in the audience, made the explicit point that we were all getting involved in working to protect our city, exactly as President Obama asked us to.  Smiles all around when that point was made.

So, yes, getting out there and doing the work is by far the most important thing we can do.  Far more important than simply gesticulating at one's computer.  The real work is exhilarating, which democracy in action usually is.  It's good for us and, to the extent it matters, it's good for Obama too.

the mutiny will come

Al excellent article. the only thing I can add is that this technique or style Obama has, has in the past lead to his opponents self-destructing. it happened in IL and in the Presidential camapaigns. he hands them the shovel and they dig their own holes.

also at some point it is going to become clear the economy is improving, and it will. with Tim G at the spiget I just can't see Wall Street not going long soon. well, at that point he will pick up enough bipartisan support to hit the heavy social issues. the GOP will think about their own jobs and not the Presidential Election to come.

it will be everyone for themselves time. and the end of the GOP as we know it.

They're out of touch

They jump all over this kind of stuff because they are pissed that Obama really didn't need them to get elected. I was just one of many who went out and registered voters, and talked to neighbors, and made phone calls. Of all the Obama volunteers I met, so very few of them read the "progressive" blogs. Remember, Daily Kos was John Edwards central prior to Iowa. Remember, only John Edwards could win cause he was a white male and he had a southern accent. John Freakin' Edwards. I think he's a great guy, but ask anyone from North Carolina, and they will tell you they were't shocked at all about the pregnant mistress. They did a lot to push up Edwards and Obama still won.

They are just completely out of touch and I don't even visit Daily Kos anymore.


smartest 7 words written. 

Ok - OT - does anyone know the name of the blog, well known, but it's a guy who has a great writing style? Is that a poor question or what!??  (I think his website is just his first name like Steve or something) and he writes about Obama and other political current events rather infrequently. 

About 3-4 months ago, one of the Field Hands here posted a link to it and I loved it and this Field Hand said they primarily read Al's, 538, and this guy's blog.  I know my description is very weak,  Anyway, I apologize I can't be more descriptive but if any of you Field Hands have any idea, please let me know what the website is.  I would love to see what he has written about the Inauguration.


on Hardball,Mathews,Buchanan, and some radio wingnut

were discussing how wrong was President Obama in calling Rush Limbough by name, thus giving the lunatic a bigger stature, and making him the voice of the republican party....


I was LOL at their stupidity and total lack of understaning how smart our president is.

He actually want Rush to be the GOP voice...he plays chess while the village idiots in the media are playing Tic Toe


and Al...I was thinking the same as your marvellous post as I was watching the events of the day unfold.



The kids are taunting you now, Al

In this diary - - David Sirota begins:

Al Giordano and Election Inspection make arguably the most ignorant, least informed, stupendously idiotic assertion that Obama is trying to negotiate with Republicans on the economic recovery package in the belief that if he plays his cards right now, they will cooperate with Democrats when Democrats push more contentious bills like the Employee Free Choice Act.

C'mon, Al, get in the sandbox already.  I've got my popcorn ready.

Don't worry about tipping the hand.

We could rent neon billboards along the beltway and the Republicans would not change their tactics, even as President Obama undermines those very strategies.

They worked this to so many victories they cannot let go of it now. All along, their strength was twofold: it sounded so good, as only a soothing lie can, and they could claim it had not yet been really tried.

At this point, the public knows it was tried right into the ground, and the lies are not so soothing anymore. By eliminating any moderate voices, the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner; stepping out of this sizzling frying pan will create disenchantment and cries of "traitor!" by their very own base.

They trained them thus.

Pres. Obama's true brilliance - The Trap is Plan B

I think your read of Pres. Obama's strategy is right Al, with one signifcant caveat:  What makes his traps especially devastating is he provides a reasonable option as a first choice.  The trap is only sprung by his opponents overplaying their hand or trying to play politics when they shouldn't.

The Stimulus package is a perfect example of this.  What makes Pres. Obama's trap so incredibly effective is that he is setting it by being truly bipartisan, instead of just posturing.  He seems more than willing to accept the Republicans actually being bipartisan and making reasonable compromises on the bill as a Plan A.  If they are unwilling or unable and decide to play politics (like they seem to be now) the trap springs, but part of what I admire about our President, is I really feel like the trap is Plan B, not Plan A.


It is not worth your (or Nate Silver's time) getting in an argument with David Sirota.  That guy is stridently ignorant.  

Anyone remember Sirota's "race chasm" theory during the primary - how Obama only wins states with really high or really law African-American populations because whites don't vote for Obama when there is a high African-American population in their state.  Sirota got really angry when other people tried to very gently suggest that white people in the US differ a lot by region and the percentage of African-Americans in a state probably isn't really explanatory of white voting behavior (i.e. this is a pretty simple case of mistaking correlation for causation).  Of course, if Sirota's theory was right, Obama would have done quite pretty well in West Virginia and so-so in Kentucky, when it fact anyone who was paying attention to earlier primaries knew that he would lose big in both places (Nate Silver predicted this too of course, but it was so blindingly obvious that one didn't need fancy multiple regression analysis, just basic knowledge of American political geography and access to a map of county level primary returns).  Anyhow, the point is that when people point out pretty obvious flaws in Sirota's theories, he just digs in his heals and accuses them of stupidity or bad faith. Which is a sign of at best small-mindedness and at worst ill-tempered dimwittedness.    

Sirota also seems prone to making sweeping pronouncements about complicated matters of economic policy and, frankly, he doesn't appear to have any real understanding of.  But probably the less said about him, the better.  Suffice to say that his opinion on political tactics shouldn't count for anything.

I blow a kiss the hapless Sirota, above, in Update III.

@ Catherine Cain

I don't know if it's the blog you mean, but Steve Benen is now the primary author of Political Animal, at

how this is seen in the country

Great analysis. Most folks out there are mighty impressed that Obama actually goes out and talks to folks who disagree with him. It's such a clear contrast to Bush (for which they are mightily grateful) and it fulfills his campaign promise to listen and treat others with civility. Heck, it goes back to the basic message of the 2004 convention speech.

And this is how Obama continually builds political capital, real political capital, from the support and respect of the American people. Let the Republicans isolate themselves.

By the way, I think I'm going to e-mail Rachel to suggest that she give Sirota a rest and have Al on.




Children's Table

Ha, Ha!  That was damn funny.  At least there is a lot of entertainment value in your mixing it up with Sirota.

I'm not much of a fan of Matt Stoller, but, in fairness, he did decide to go work in Congress where he might learn something useful and grow up a bit.  Sirota takes the stupid to a whole new level.  Even by OpenLeft standards.


Love your update re: Sirota

thank you, thank you, thank you. Sirota is an asshole, period.  His OpenLeft post attacking you sucks not only because it is yet another unhinged attack, but more importantly, because it is a complete misrepresentation of what you wrote.

It's typical of him. Fabricate, misrepresent, exaggerate.

Your link to the Daily Kos diary is hilarious. But I will let you in on a little additional DKos history: although he has many followers there (mostly former Edwards supporters, given Sirota was a rabid anti-Obama Edwards fanatic), he actually lost any and all credibility at Daily Kos years ago.

Your link showed how Sirota was pretty much lying about Rangel saying Obama wanted to "expand NAFTA" or some such nonsense. Well, Sirota has a long and pathetic history of pretending any possible trade deal with Columbia is a "NAFTA expansion".

Yes, that's right. South and/or Central America apparently would somehow become part of . . . N (north) AFTA. Here's the link, and please note how he goes completely batshit insane in the comments:

It is this insane behavior that led many of us to seriously hate him. Not to mention the loony, non-stop self-aggrandizement.

Our president is a political genius and

by now we should know better than to question his calls. The vast majority of the time he is right - I had exactly Al's reaction to watching the Republicans carry on in their usual fashion after meeting with Obama - they are so being played.

And I'm glad to hear I am not alone in wondering why Sirota has any standing at all among progressives. He is a pseudo populist who does not seem to understand the issues he purports to advocate with such passion. I'm thinking in particular of his harangues against trade deals where I sense that he does not know what his is talking about. (For the record, I too object to most of the same trade deals but I don't believe that his arguments are any more nuanced or sophisticated than my simplicistic emotional reaction to them.)

Around the Bend

One of the things that always frustrates in the blogosphere is the manner in which style debates trump content debates. By this, I mean that too often up-to-the-minute commenters like Sirota (who appear to be ginning for that 10pm slot on MSNBC) resuscitate the general election confusion between tactics and strategies. The fact is that that Obama is working with knowledge of an agenda that, even though he painted it in broad-brush strokes during the campaign, remains known only by him and his inner circle.

Now, in an $800+ billion bill, there's a lot of room for folks to be simultaneously pleased and concerned. Removing family planning from the bill seems like a relatively easy bone to toss the GOP, especially after rescinding the Mexico City policy practically a few hours earlier. However, I am concerned at the low-balling of mass transit needs in this bill. TPM is making hay out of this but other groups like the Environmental Defense Fund are organizing calls and emails into representatives voting Wednesday on an amendment to increase funds for transit. My point is that we do NOT know that there is not a proper transit bill further on down calendar. Obviously, this is not to say that we shouldn't make noise about key issues--that's what this site is for, to remind us all that we need to organize the President--but in making big claims out of shoddy evidence progressive enthusiasts risk pulling a Sirota wasting real energy that might actually do something beyond mere fulmination. 

Obama's strategy appears to holistically marry legislation and politics in a way that few Democrats have tried in recent years/decades. And he does so having already counted the cards; in other words, he knows the strategic legislative (long term) plan in a way that very few can match. 

While I would still like to see Nate quantify "political capital," it appears that Obama has not only not spent a cent but is accruing more and more (say it!) power as we speak. All in all, this has been a very impressive week since the Inauguration. (I just want transit to get serious long term funding!) 

Of course what's really

Of course what's really funny is that Sirota doesn't seem to get that the Republicans, who had a nasty habit of doing the sort of things that Sirota is advocating, just got their you-know-whats handed to them two years in a row. Jesus that guy has no mind for long term strategy.

Well Al, he may have misspelled your name, but I'm a mere website!

"The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” JFK

@ Brendan

My point is that we do NOT know that there is not a proper transit bill further on down calendar. Obviously, this is not to say that we shouldn't make noise about key issues--that's what this site is for, to remind us all that we need to organize the President--but in making big claims out of shoddy evidence progressive enthusiasts risk pulling a Sirota wasting real energy that might actually do something beyond mere fulmination.

I wish many more progressive bloggers would pay attention to this. There seems to be an idea in some parts that if something is not in the stimulus package, that must mean it is not important. Rather, if it is important enough, it should be handled in its own bill and not shoehorned into the stimulus.

For instance, with transit, since the stimulus is intended to provide short-term funding only, wouldn't it be much better to handle it separately and set up a good regime of permanent funding? And I am not aware of anything to stop state and local governments from spending the money that they receive to help with their budget shortfalls towards transit issues. That is the level at which most transit is run, not at the federal level.

I think there is a lack of trust by many people that Obama will do what he said he was going to do, and so they are not willing to wait and see what his program is. There is also a tendency to see every action that they do not like as a "betrayal". The drama wears me out.

Volunteering & Obama Approval

Starbucks is getting some serious volunteering hours pledged:

And this recent survey is pretty interesting.  I think it proves Al's point of how President Obama is playing this.  I am from KS and found his approval there astounding.  Also, Alabama, Kentucky etc.  It is a link on 538 so you might have all seen it already.


Pretty Impressive!

GOP isolating itself

Slightly OT - Looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be the first bill Obama signs into law, in a ceremony on Thursday. Apparently Obama already told Ledbetter she'll be there when he signs it.

I'm feeling all wonderful about this, and I wonder if the male-dominated blogosphere is WAY misunderestimating the emotional impact.  All of us who couldn't support Clinton's bid, and all those who were behind her, and this is the first bill Obama signs.

The only Senators to vote against it were Republican males (all but Specter).  I guess I'm just stunned that the GOP seems not to know or care how this looks to the majority of the country that isn't both white and male.  If they're isolating themselves all by their lonesome, and Obama's aikido suckers them farther out....  It's fun drama to watch.

Eating our own

What's up with Open left?  Attacking Al?  What's that all about?

well played, sir

Just wanted to chime in that this (Obama letting the Republicans make asses of themselves) was my read as well. IMHO, he tipped his hand with the "I won" comment the other day, making it clear that he was going to work for bipartisan problem solving, but he wasn't going to sell his soul to do it.

I, at least, think it's pretty obviously working, too. Watching Boehner come out and declare that no Republicans should vote for it before the meeting even happened was especially idiotic. Reminds me (as another poster commented) of when the Repubs shut down government during the Clinton era and looked like idiots in the process.

Oh -- and superb work riling up Sirota's feathers. He's kind of become unglued over there. Someone should tell him that real  progressives are pro-psychodelic fantasyland.


I agree that Obama is the one who will come out shining in the end when all of this stimulus talk is said and done. The Repubs do look very petty and misdirected in the news coverage I've seen. I especially enjoyed hearing that Boehner met with his legions behind closed doors before the President got there and implored them to vote no on the stimulus. Does that sound like a man who has control of his army? I think not.

Yes, our Pres. looks very much in control and he knows what he is doing. From the Executive Orders about closing Guantanemo and the FOIA, to his interview on Al Arabiya, I wish progressives would understand that we have never had it so good.

Kudos to you Al, for getting it.  

Now if only the President would deny Karl Rove's bogus claim to Executive Privilege...wouldn't that be something?

Kid's Table?

The next "Chicken Little?"  I think so.

While it's fun sometimes to make a mess at the Kid's Tables, I'm finding I need to return to the Adult Table more and more often.  Thanks Al!

Sirota and Maddow

NLinStPaul mentioned Sirota's appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show.  It pains me to say that Maddow herself, who did such fine work on Air America Radio, seems to have fallen prey to the same "Obama's doing it wrong" "Obama's a traitor to the left" syndrome (another example: her stuff on Afghanistan).

ACORN gets it.

Damn, ACORN needs to get this guy out in BigMedia much more.

Their spokesperson Austin King goes onto Pox Newz and calmly delivers a smackdown on the condescending bobbleheads, and thus earns a seat at the Adult Table.  It reminds me of the approach Obama is taking with the Stimulus, where you just take it right to them and let them embarrass themselves.  Obama's dinner with the wingnut writers was all part of this plan as well, and it's really working well so far.

Just as I think this ACORN guy probably won some unexpected Pox viewers over, or at least softened them up to the idea, of civil disobedience to stop foreclosures, which Al has suggested as well.  People here might want to learn about this program ACORN has started in this regard.

Wish to see more reporting like this

Republicans stiff Obama on stimulus before he arrives on Capitol Hill

President Obama had not even arrived on Capitol Hill yet for his personal attempt to lobby reluctant Republicans on his $825-billion stimulus plan when House leaders started telling GOP colleagues to vote against it. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the Republican conference, said: The Democrat bill won’t stimulate anything but more government and more debt. The slow and wasteful spending in the House Democrat bill is a disservice to millions of Americans who want to see this Congress take immediate action to get this economy moving again. The thumbs-down seemed particularly ungracious given the unprecedented nature of Obama's outreach. First, most presidents ask Congress to come to them -- not the other way around.

Sirota - a new verb

Al, your critique of Sirota is not just useful in his case, but as pointing out a broader cancer within the netroots. Distinct from chicken-little'ism, which looking at a set of facts and trying to get others to panic as much as you are, Sirota'ing is taking a set of facts and deliberately misconstruing them to make your concern appear relevant.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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