Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The President Goes On The Offensive

Aside from the obvious straw man arguments (who has ever said that "we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures"), I think this may be a mistake by the president on a strategic level. Everyone, including G.W. Bush, talks about being "bipartisan" in the beginning. It's one of those meaningless words that everyone throws out because it sounds better than saying, "I'm gonna shove this #%$*%!@ bill down your throat because I have the votes to do it!" The reason it never actually OCCURS is because "bipartisan" has come to mean, "you need to cross the aisle and agree with my policies". No conservative ever says, "I'm going to vote to increase government in order to be bipartisan" and no liberal ever says, "I'm going to vote to cancel this social giveaway in order to be bipartisan". It's always code for the other guy compromising HIS values, not you compromising yours.

Anyway, the president had a golden opportunity here to look like a true bipartisan, and I think he may be blowing it. The Republicans have been arguing against the Democratic CONGRESS and their bill, not the president. This is largely because he seems to have kept himself out of the details of the bill. He should have come out and publicly said something along the lines of, "The Republicans in Congress have made some very valid criticisms of the bill, and I would ask Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid to do their best to accommodate their concerns. At the same time, I ask the Congressional Republicans to be open to listening to new ideas." At this point, Reid and Pelosi would have had cover to make cosmetic changes to the most unpopular parts of the bill very publicly. Had they done so, the Republicans would have been left with two choices. Either they could have continued to oppose the bill and looked petty in the face of "compromise" by the majority party, or enough of them would have broken ranks to give the bill bipartisan cover.

As it is, the president and the Democrats in Congress now own this thing. By making it about Republican obstructionism, rather than legitimate concerns about the content of the bill, the president is choosing the same course as every partisan chief executive before him...making bipartisan noises while taking a partisan course of action. The Republicans have effectively been completely locked out of this bill. If the economy doesn't seem particularly affected by the bill, this could have a major impact on the 2010 congressional elections (assuming nothing else shiny distracts people in the meantime). An even worse case scenario would be if the unmodified bill fails to pass in the Senate. With the majority needed to shove it through (assuming no filibuster), the Democrats can only look ineffective in the face of crisis if they can't even rally the members of their own party to vote it through.

Obviously, this is all ignoring the actual content of the bill and just focusing on the politics of it. The bill itself sucks, and could be easily and vastly improved without much in the way of ideological compromise by the Dems. Is it really that hard to throw in a few tax cuts with expiration dates, keep the giveaways to real infrastructure projects rather than lawn maintenance, and try to fast-track a specific and limited set of projects past current regulatory roadblocks while keeping those regulations in place for non-stimulus projects?