Monday, September 7, 2009

What Matters

On the substance, such as it was, of the Van Jones affair, I'll pretty much agree with everything Publius says in this post. Basically, this wasn't a fight worth fighting for Obama.

What Publius doesn't really say (although he implies it) is that the Van Jones affair just doesn't matter very much. Nor does the "fight" over Obama's school speech. I can clarify that a bit...outside the Beltway, virtually no one cares about this stuff, and most people haven't even heard of it. Those who have heard about it and care are either hard-core opponents or supporters of the president. No one is going to change their vote or behavior because of Van Jones.

Among Washingtonians, the only potential danger here is to the president's reputation. That's real, and can matter -- the president certainly doesn't want a reputation for being easily rolled. But reputation isn't just about winning and losing; it's also about picking the right fights, which Obama certainly did in letting Jones go. How you lose matters to reputation, too. Quietly and quickly dumping a guy over Labor Day weekend gets you reputation points; fighting it out for weeks only to lose anyway loses reputation points. (Fighting it out for weeks and then winning might gain points for the part of reputation that's about being tough, but might lose points for the part of reputation that's about prudence; in the Jones case, fighting for weeks would lose points for the part of reputation that's about fitting into the ideological mainstream). Most importantly, minor flaps like this just don't register very high on the reputation meter unless the president himself elevates them.

Stuff like the Van Jones affair and the school speech thing may be interesting (just as the president's speech to Congress this week is apt to be interesting), but that doesn't mean that they are important to the success or failure of Obama, the Democrats, or any particular bill or policy. From that perspective, they just don't matter.

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