Readers of this blog will recognize that this isn’t the first time I’ve referenced Matt Taibbi’s seminal article from December, 2009, entitled “Obamania.” ‘Twas Taibbi who coined the phrase “Obamania” which I use today for this post as well. He wrote it during culmination of the frenzied battle over the PPACA (“Obamacare”), and I’ve returned to it more than once because it describes in some of the clearest language I’ve yet seen the curious phenomenon which has riven the political left in this country since President Obama’s inauguration. The article’s worth a re-read even now (especially the final three paragraphs), because the dynamics it describes haven’t changed hardly at all since that time. If anything, they’ve become even more entrenched.
This morning, for example, I had a “debate” of sorts on Twitter with a…how shall I put this, fervent Obama supporter, which illustrates the point. I won’t try to link to all the specific tweets as I did during my debate with David Frum on Twitter because this one went on longer, and frankly, was less worthy of note overall. But it started when the person in question tweeted the following:
Until Pres Obama happily SIGNS A BILL that cuts benefits for seniors and the poor, it’s simply untrue to tar him with cutting anything.
I didn’t check, but I assume this guy had been on something of a Twitter-tear about how mean it was for those he repeatedly referred to (a la Bob Gibbs) as “professional lefties” to actually be pushing back against Obama’s repeated remarks that he was open to a deal that included cuts to Medicare and/or Social Security. The above tweet (which was where I came in on his Twitter stream) appeared to be the culmination of said tear. And while it’s obviously true that there’s a difference between talking about cutting something and actually doing it, it’s equally true (at least, to most people not in the grips of this fascinating devotion to Obama) that signaling a willingness to discuss doing something means you consider doing that thing within the realm of the negotiable. What the above tweet fails to take into account (indeed, seems to try to deny) is that when the person who’s doing such signaling is the highest-ranking and (by far) most-visible Democrat in the land (the President), such signals have an effect all down the ticket on upcoming elections and the messaging surrounding them, as well as on where the entire party stands on doing it.
For example, Nancy Pelosi had recently been quoted as saying that the Democrats’ strategy (the prime one, anyway – I’m sure there will be others) in the upcoming 2012 elections would be “Medicare, Medicare, and Medicare.” With the President’s repeatedly-stated willingness to discuss cuts to both Medicare and Social Security, that strategy is now blunted, if not removed entirely, even if said discussions never in fact take place. The damage is already done. When the DCCC and Nancy Pelosi begin running ads trying to bash Republicans for wanting to kill Medicare (which they unquestionably DO want to do), all Karl Rove’s Crossroads group will have to do is create ads which run a loop of the President saying it’s time to talk entitlement reform and consider cuts to Social Security and Medicare, followed by one of those serious-sounding, deep-voiced announcers fake-regretfully observing that nobody wants to KILL Medicare, but that grown-ups, like the Republicans and the President himself – recognize Medicare needs to be reformed if we are to get our out-of-control spending back under control.
Hell, I can hear the GOP 30-second ad script(s) now: “The President himself understands that we need to consider all options, including sensible reform of Medicare and Social Security, if we’re to have a chance at controlling the runaway debt that is mortgaging our children’s financial future and strangling our economy’s chance to grow. Yet __________ (insert name of Democratic representative here) joined Nancy Pelosi and far-left groups in continuing to categorically oppose any changes whatsoever to entitlement spending. The President gets how important this is — why doesn’t __________ (same name of Democratic representative)? Seems like Pelosi and __________ (same name of Democratic representative) are just addicted to their tax and spend ways…”
Did you like the results of 2010? Then you’re gonna love the outcome of an election that’s peppered with coordinated ads like that one across the country, everywhere a Democrat tries to step up and say (s)he is a defender of Medicare. To be sure, citizens love their Social Security and Medicare (and with good reason)…but when the President of the United States AND the members of the opposition party all agree that changes (read: cuts) may have to be made to those programs in order to protect the very financial health and growth of the nation itself, then it’ll be quite easy indeed for the GOP to suggest that anyone who opposes such needed reforms seems both inflexible and out-of-touch…not to mention slightly unpatriotic. Disenchanted progressive voters (a significant number of them, anyway), remembering Obama’s abandonment of a public option, will be further disenchanted and less likely to turn out not just on election day but to do the ground work of running the kind of effective campaign that’s necessary to win in such a polarized environment. And independent and “swing” voters will be bombarded with ads in their district that show their Democratic candidate standing against not only his/her GOP opponent, but also their own President, on being serious about getting America’s financial house in order.
Game, set, match. Another brilliant eleventy-dimensional Pyrrhic victory for triangulation.