What people say in Washington, what they do in Washington and what they think in Washington are all different things. As I write this, it appears that the US will avoid the potential cliff of debt default and continuing government shutdown. As Winston Churchill said “We can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”
I want to step back and look at this from a different, more political standpoint. Most of this is pure speculation, but I believe it bears us thinking about it.
We start with the premise that, despite all the talking heads rhetoric, Barack Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Eric Cantor, the Tea Party, the Republicans and the Democrats are none of them idiots or politically naïve. In this “debate” they have all made very calculated political decisions based upon one strategy or another. If you believe that Washington politicians work on anything other than political calculus, that they are somehow altruistically striving for the best interests of all Americans, like they say they are, you and I should have a conversation about a bridge I am selling. Some have won and some have lost and some have lived to fight another day, but all have made calculated strategic decisions and that’s what I want to talk about.
In my view, the President has won this battle decisively. In the White House, behind closed doors they are high fiving all around. Barack Obama is a Chicago machine politician. Nobody wants to say it or talk about it, but if you can’t see it you are blind. In the immortal words of Jerry Seinfeld “Not that that’s a bad thing.” It just is. He and his people played a masterful game with this budget deal because they saw an opportunity to deal a real blow, perhaps a crippling blow to their arch nemesis the Republican Party by possibly permanently dividing it.
The President, knowing he is toxic to Republicans, repeatedly and publicly marginalized and demonized the Tea Party. By doing so he was able to take the metaphoric high ground (not in any way the moral high ground) on the battle field. By coming out he laid blame while at the same time inflaming divisive passions in the opposition. He recognized that the adults in the Republican room would recognize the dangers to the economy and he believed, correctly, that the country would hate the Republicans more than him. At the same time, he drove the wedge deeper into a split that already existed in the Republican Party. His decision had nothing to do with Obamacare or the good of the country. It had everything to do with politics.
Of course he was able, and has been able, to do this without getting his hands too dirty. Like a good machine politician he has people to carry his water, namely Harry Reid in the Senate. Obama has completely solidified his position while dividing the opposition. Its really very simple divide and conquer is always a good strategy. Now, if he is unable to get anything done he can maintain this theme that the Tea Party is to blame. He can look like a conciliator while maintaining a relatively hard liberal line, because he now has a target for any problems. A designated blamee.
Now, he can and has come out looking like a diplomat, a cool head, a person who wants to get together and get things done. For somebody who has in fact created much of the divisiveness, that is quite an accomplishment. You have to admire his political acumen.
The Republicans and in fact the Tea Party has lost in this battle, big time. The President has boxed them into a corner where they will find it hard to come to unity. They made a strategic decision to take a hard line and use a crisis and the President called their bluff. Because it was a bluff. The old line Republicans were never going to let the crisis come to fruition. They may have made a strategic decision that basically said, look if we allow the Tea Party to carry on this brinksmanship one of two things will happen, either the President will cave and we will win, or the Tea Party will be damaged and we will take a hit, but we will get these idiots off our back.
All of them made a mistake. They all utterly discounted the reaction of the American people, even Obama. His rhetoric softened considerably when the polls came out saying that Americans hated everybody, that the Democrats were taking a hit, and oh, by the way, Obamacare wasn’t going so well.
At the end of the day, this has been political brinksmanship in the big leagues. It has had almost nothing to do with making things “right” for the American people.