Thursday, October 8, 2009

What Was That You Said About Judo?

Dave: Oh, yeah. When the big man comes at the small man with all his might, it is the wise man who steps aside.
Lisa: Yes, but at the end of the match, one man is small and wise, but the other man is big and wiser.
Dave: Yeah, he knows not to mess with the little man again.

OK, granted, I know absolutely nothing about Judo except for what I learned from Dave Nelson, but I know a good pol when I see one, and the current president of the United States of America is a pretty good pol -- as is the current Speaker of the House. So how do good pols go about keeping their promises? Basically, by choosing battles wisely. What Obama has done so far (and I'm just going to say Obama, but I think it's more accurate to include the House and Senate leadership) is to choose battles this way:

1. There are some battles that the world has chosen for Obama, chief of which are the economy and Afghanistan.

2. Obama has chosen two major, very difficult battles: health care and energy/climate.

3. On a whole host of other issues, Obama has basically moved ahead where resistance was slight, and deferred where resistance was tougher. So Lilly Ledbetter, S-CHIP, a credit card bill, and a smoking prevention bill have passed through Congress; some procurement reform, hate crimes, and others are in the pipelines; and direct presidential action has relaxed relations with Cuba a bit, and ended torture (here's Polifact's list; here's the WH version). But there are also a number of places where Obama has acted as the "little man" and stepped aside. Would he have been better off fighting on those?

Today's example is an easy one. Steven Benen is upset, and rightly so, that Joe Lieberman is going to hold a hearing on the utterly fraudulent "czar" issue (perhaps Holy Joe just wants to know if there's a blessing for the czar...). Benen is also right to point out that Lieberman's enthusiasm for oversight was missing in the previous Congress. But, c'mon. Benen wants to call this a "told you so" moment for those who opposed allowing Lieberman to keep his chairmanship. I don't know about him, but it seems to me that a stupid hearing is a very small price to pay for Lieberman's vote on health care. If Holy Joe votes against cloture, that will be the told you so moment; if not, as seems likely as of now, it's an excellent example of choosing battles wisely.

The same strategy has been in effect across a number of issue areas: again and again, when opponents ready a knock-out punch on an issue outside the core of the Obama program, the instinct has been to step aside. That's true on Van Jones and ACORN, and it was true of peripheral health care issues such as the end-of-life stuff. Publius thinks this proves that Democrats are "a giant herd of fraidy-cats" and they would be better off just ignoring the noise, but I think that's dead wrong. Obama and the Democrats don't care if Van Jones works for the White House (once the truther stuff was out; they would have stuck with him otherwise, as they've stuck with numerous others). Nor do they care a lot about ACORN or end-of-life provisions -- that is, those things are low priorities next to passing a major health care bill.

Yes, that means that conservatives get some veto power. From the White House perspective, I'd think it's a pretty good deal if that veto power gets used on Van Jones and ACORN, rather than on things that really matter. No doubt, this is quite frustrating for those who worked hard to elect Obama and Congressional Democrats primarily because of some of those peripheral issues (but, really, who worked for Obama because of Van Jones?). It's frustrating because, even on some substantive issues, Obama would prefer to slowly lay the groundwork for avoiding a big fight rather than fight a tough but winnable fight right now; that certainly appears to be the story with DADT. It's also frustrating because, to liberals, it feels like the Bush/Rove/DeLay Republicans never backed down and never lost these sorts of fights, although that's not true either (and there were plenty of big fights that Bush/Rove/DeLay Republicans lost, too, starting with Social Security). And of course even if stepping out of the way sometimes is the correct strategy, that still doesn't mean that those who want to fight those fights should just shut up and accept it (even if they really think Obama is doing the right thing in the long run!).

Bottom line: let Lieberman have his hearing, and let Glenn Beck parade around with his Van Jones long as Obama's coalition can hold together on health care (and the other top priorities). Stepping aside at the right moments doesn't make the Democrats fraidy-cat; it's a strategy, not a revelation of poor character, and it either works or doesn't work.

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?