Thursday, January 29, 2009

What's Up With the "Bipartisan Brand"?

If I were a Republican member of Congress, a no-vote on the House stimulus package would have been a no-brainer. No matter how deep this economy's fallen, no serious analyst can credibly claim the proposed legislation was about reviving the economy (folks on the right called the bill a "crap sandwich," but this is a family blog and I normally don't use that descriptive language myself).

So I've been thinking about the political spin on both left and right today. Jon Henke, at
The Next Right, quotes Ben Smith (who suggests Obama's got the "bipartisan brand") and argues:

The only way to beat the hand Obama is playing is to take the initiative, to change the subject, with new policies and arguments that put Democrats off their game. And even that will take quite some time.

I don't see much evidence that Republicans are able to do that right now. There's just no larger, unifying framework for a transformative policy agenda, and no apparent policy innovation being done. Without the unifying agenda and policy innovation, Obama will continue to set the agenda, and Republicans will lose ground at every step.
While certainly the GOP needs to seize the initiative, it's a bit hard when the economy continues its free-fall, for example, with new housing foreclosure numbers this week that were nothing short of mindboggling. And with the continued shake out of major retailers, it's trite, frankly, to suggest getting the Dems off their game's going to "take some time."

Not only that, it's pretty much a joke to argue Obama's all about "bipartisanship." In his presidential leadership of Congress
this week, "it was clear that his efforts so far had not delivered the post-partisan era that he called for in his inauguration address, when he proclaimed an end to the 'petty grievances' and 'worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics.'"

On the left, Nate Silver, the numerical wonderboy of election projections, says
the GOP played a bad hand:

The House Republicans are opposing popular legislation from a very popular President, and doing so in ways that stick a needle in the eye of the popular (if quixotic) concept of bipartisanship. They would seem to have little chance of actually blocking this legislation, since they are far short of a majority, and since the Senate Republicans, who can filibuster, have thus far shown little inclination to go along with them - with moderates like Susan Collins of Maine and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire voting routinely with the Administration ....

If the stimulus bill proves to be unpopular - and it might well - a House Republican can tout the fact that he voted against the package. But with the unanimous vote - as well as the near-unanimity on measures like the Ledbetter Act and Digital TV - the Republicans remove the emphasis from their individual judgment to that of their party. It is not clear why they would want this: the Republican brand, even under the best of circumstances, is not likely to be significantly rehabilitated by 2010, especially when the Republicans do not have agenda-setting powers.

Thus the Republicans, arguably, are in something of a death spiral. The more conservative, partisan, and strident their message becomes, the more they alienate non-base Republicans. But the more they alienate non-base Republicans, the fewer of them are left to worry about appeasing. Thus, their message becomes continually more appealing to the base - but more conservative, partisan, and strident to the rest of us. And the process loops back upon itself.
For being touted as last year's big breakout analyst, Silver's pretty sloppy. The bailout bill is not wildly "popular." Gallup finds a "slim majority" backing the package, and Rasmussen indicates that public support for the plan has slipped over the last few days (to 42 percent). For a president whose public approval is in near-stratospheric levels, these stimulus numbers are hardly impressive. (Related: "After Less Than a Week in Office, Barack Obama's Approval Rating Plunges 15 Points.")

Further, this notion that the Republican brand is in a death spiral is hardly a novel insight. More than a year before the 2008 primaries wrapped up
journalists were bemoaning the GOP's evisceration and the dearth of Reaganesque heirs-apparent. The party's in for a long-term period of rebuilding and revitalization, and any construction project begins with the foundation. Rush Limbaugh's not getting all the attention from the president on down for nothing. And Sarah Palin's aggressive moves to consolidate her front-runner status are being facilitated by a media establishment ginning for some star power.

Finally, for all the talk of a dramatic Democratic electoral landslide, and the teary-eyed emotionalism of this month's inauguration,
the U.S. has not sustained a partisan realignment. This fact means the upcoming elections at the national level will be close, and while no one on the right should get their hopes up for 2010, President Obama will have to run on his record in 2012, not the GOP's. Cries of "Republican obstructionism" might make good talking points for Democratic partisans today, but with foreclosures and long-term unemployment on your watch, blame-shifting's not going to help.

The Republicans are doing just fine in voicing a vigorous opposition. The "bipartisan brand" is radically overrated. President Martin Van Buren was known as
an advocate for vigorous partisanship. He argued that the party in power needs a loyal opposition to represent other parts of society that it could not. The point's certainly not lost on this week's GOP.


cracker said...

Its too early in my opinion Professor,

FYI....I was laid off on Mon. (Bloody Mon.) My wife and I are Ok. We have family and a strong caring community. We have a house we bought 2 years ago. Her situation is solid So far. But we have a titch of anxiety.

My health insurance ends in 30 days, then its full price, we'll see what fits in the budget.

We are a frugal, middle aged couple, both our 401s are not worth any excitement right now.

You get the picture.

I have written, the Mayor, My Congressman, both Senators and my Governor.

I will share with you the one line that bares repeating here.

In this time of "change" this time of "unity of purpose", My wife and I believe in this Nation and our Great State....We know there is a real challenge here at our doorstep, a challenge that will take time and courage and perseverance to endure, We can do that....and know that We will do everything in our power not to let this "new direction" include us losing our home. We know that you will do the same.

So, maybe TMI, but now you can say you know someone who is facing the realities of this present situation.


Average American said...

Good luck to you cracker. Sorry to hear about the job.

The House Republicans did a great thing today by their 100% rejection of the porkulus bill. A lot of bullshit has to get cut before they get on board with it. A few more weeks won't kill us nearly so bad as all the waste the dems put in there would. I think the number of Americans who are against this thing is a lot higher than the polls show and the Republicans look good for voting against it. Hurry up 2010, we need "change" and we need it soon!

AmPowerBlog said...

Sorry to hear it, Cracker. God bless you and your family.