Thursday, January 27, 2011

They'll Say What They Want

Greg Sargent has an excellent post today (following up on Ben Smith's catch; see also Michael Sheer) about conservative insistence that Barack Obama refuses to talk about "American exceptionalism" despite Obama's frequent, and in the SOTU, constant invocation of what a spiffy keen place the U. S. of A. is.

Beyond the specifics of this debate, this is a reminder that one side of a political argument really can't determine what the other side will say. You hear this all the time, often in wish form: If only the president would say X, then Republicans would have to stop saying Y. Or: the president's rhetoric boxed in his opponents, leaving them with no arguments.

This was nonsense back in the days of the explicitly neutral mass media, and it's if anything more nonsense today. Politics is not refereed by people who can disallow poor arguments; politicians can and will say what they think will work, regardless of how ill-supported it might be. That goes for "facts" and for arguments. Especially within their own partisan press, but even outside of it, both Republicans and Democrats are going to say what they want to say. That doesn't mean that presidents and others shouldn't make their best arguments, but those arguments just aren't going to end anything.


  1. Saying that that speech didn't have enough exceptionalism is easily one of the most disingenuous complaints I think I've heard in years.

  2. This very sensible observation leaves me with a question for the quantifiers: with regard to the apparent (though perhaps illusory) messaging failures of the administration in the first two years, to what extent did Obama & co. repeatedly say what their supporters now say they should have said in response to GOP misinformation-- re healthcare, re banking reform, re the stimulus? Did they only appear passive because no one hears anything you say when unemployment is scraping 10%? I suspect not; I *feel* that the messaging machine was defective (as Obama has admitted, though that could either be error or posturing on his part -- I governed good, but we messaged bad!) Why do folks think? Was admin messaging bad, or were the conditions for getting messages through insurmountable?

  3. Excellent question. I certainly think that there are plenty of times when I've heard "Why don't the Democrats [or Republicans] just say X" when some Democrats are in fact saying X. It's hard to know whether that's something that could change with better message discipline or whatever, or if it's just a fundamental fact of the world.

  4. Neoconservatives believe (correctly, IMHO) that the myriad problems of developing countries are in large part due to those nations lacking democratic institutions. Many further believe democratization can be achieved abroad through American influence, be it via blood, treasure or diplomacy.

    Perhaps you share the goals of democratization abroad without being sold on the methods to get there; perhaps you are thrilled at the prospects of the Twitter-fueled revolts that seem to be sweeping from Arab country to Arab country, maybe you even see social media as a much cheaper means of achieving the goal of democratization abroad.

    If you're willing to accept Twitter as a substitute for American imperial might in achieving the democracy project, you pretty much, by definition, do not believe in "American Exceptionalism".

    I'm not sure there's much more to Palin's ( critique than that.

  5. I think the problem with messaging -- whether in politics or even in personal communication --
    ** it often gets clouded by previous statements that cut into credibility.

    Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of this.

    For example, The President clearly said to Stephanopoulos "The mandate is a penalty not a tax."
    And not three days after it passed they are defending the legal challenge by saying it is a tax not a penalty.

    Things like this make you wonder do they think we are stupid?
    And then you disbelieve alot of what they say.

    ** fine differentiation.

    Again-- both sides guilty. I think Obama pays a higher price for this as he does it often.

    But a Republican example ( to counter-balance the Dem example I used above ) is Romney on health care and the ACA being basically the MA care he signed into law.

    His point is ... it is a good plan for MA, but not necessarily a good plan for every state.
    And definitely not a good plan for a whole nation.

    It is fine tuning, it is pointing out that in his view every state should be required to meet a certain set of standards set by the Federal Govt. for health care ... but HOW they choose to meet those standards would be up to them.

    Yes, I know there are parts of that in the ACA ... but not really.
    Regardless, the point of it is ...Romney has a fine point that differentiates his positions,and fine points just fly over the head of most people and you get "Romney is a flip-flopper."

    If you take these two things you can even see they go with personal life.
    Someone who has cheated on their spouse is going to have issues convincing them the perfume they smell like is just a hug from a co-worker.
    And any man who is married can attest to the fine definitions between rules a woman can make!!

  6. @chromehawk:
    Romney's flip-flop is about as pure as they get. Romney's justification might be "one size doesn't fit all," but it doesn't pass the laugh test. This is the same man who had a conversion on the road to Des Moines on stem cells, as well.

    I'm not saying that either party is better or worse on honesty (at least, in this post). But the Romney example is hardly dispositive of much of anything besides the pure shallowness of Mitt Romney

  7. >easily one of the most disingenuous complaints I think I've heard in years

    Translation: easily one of the most barefaced lies you've heard in years.

  8. @Matt

    I won't quibble on that because when coming up with examples, all examples have flaws.

    Add to that what I was attempting to do was use one Dem example and one Rep example ...

    Add to that I am basically a moderate conservative so my view of Romney's position is going to be different than my views of a "generic" Democrats position ...

    And it makes the examples appear even less.

    Personally I think the
    "My doing the dishes after I get home from work is MORE work. Your doing the dishes after you get home from work is making me happy, therefore not work!"

    May be a better example of fine differences in communication that we don't get.

  9. Matt Jarvis:

    Romney's justification might be "one size doesn't fit all," but it doesn't pass the laugh test.

    How so?

  10. Did they only appear passive because no one hears anything you say when unemployment is scraping 10%?

    That gets my vote. Obama and the Dems made one implicit campaign promise in 2008: 'We'll fix this mess.' They didn't. (Keeping the mess from getting worse doesn't count.) So the electorate tuned them out, and was likewise receptive to whatever jive the Republicans came up with.

    Flip side: If there is a decent recovery over the next 18 months (and for cyclical reasons there probably will be - Americans like to buy stuff), Dem messages will start getting through, and it will be the Republicans who get tuned out, except by their own fervent faithful.

    By the way, isn't this a reason for Obama NOT to (seriously) pursue any significant legislation. If times are relatively good in 2012, why let the GOP House claim any of the credit?

  11. I agree mostly with Rick.

    Ultimately, there are three potential settings in 2012.

    Unemployment above 9%

    At this point it will be brutal.
    And the blood bath will not be isolated to a party. Anyone and everyone will be vulnerable in a total throw the bums out 100+ Congressmen/Senators thrown out.
    And frankly, atabout that point I think America will be in agreement.
    Conservatives, Pregressives, Blue Dogs, Moderate Republicans.
    It will be pretty much "You all suck!!!"

    The only ones who could benefit from Unemployment that high would be those candidates with strong business credentials.

    While that may sound obvious for Romney ...
    it would also push people like former NM Gov Gary Johnson ahead of the "social"conservatives ( Johnson tried HARD to decriminalize marijuana ... so you can't call him a total conservative though during his tenure he used the veto more than the other 49 governors put together! Mostly on spending bills ).

    Pres. Obama would be toast. He probably won't even win the nomination. Not with something above 9%.
    And the Democrats would want SOME candidate with a chance to win.
    AS the President with the veto is likely the only firewall from a repeal of healthcare before 2014.

    Unemployment 8.0% - 9.0%

    This is the gray range.
    I suspect the key number in there is 8.4%.
    Anything above that and it will be a blood bath, but it will be whether the "communication" pins it on the Republicans or the Democrats as to who will be hurt the worst.

    Though at least structurally, with 23 seats of which 11 are in RED RED states, and with most of the loses in the house bluedogs in red districts ( they lost because they voted like progressives, and progressives won't win there )the chances are the Republicans will hold the house and regain the Senate.

    Presidentially, Obama is going to take heat for anything in this range because it is above the "If TARP passes we will keep unemployment below 8% ..." comment. However, with the improvement, particularly if it picks up ( say down to 9.2 by Nov 2011 and then down to 8.4 so it picked up twice as fast in 2012 ) he is no more vulnerable.

    The side line there will be "Give us 4 Senators and the White House and Health Care will be repealed."

    Under 8%

    Obviously the lower it is the better.
    At this point we can pretty much say the Republicans WILL retake the senate and hold the house due to the fact that people see things improving.
    They will harken back to the good old days of split government with R in the legislature and D in the White House ( Clinton ) versus the reverse ( Bush 2006-2008 when the bottom dropped out ).
    Not that the economy was running ( or dying ) due to those reasons ... but messaging will not matter. That will be how people *feel*.

    The Presidential election will then be
    A) Does a Palin get the nomination? If so ... Obama wins.
    B ) "Give us 4 Senators and the White House and healthcare reform is repealed." I don't know on this one.
    Plurality wants repeal.
    Plurality doesn't put you in the white house unless there is a credible 3rd party candidate.

  12. I don't think many voters are really predisposed to ticket split, in the sense of desiring and intending split government. (They may like both Obama and a particular GOP Senate/House candidate, but that is not ticket splitting for the sake of ticket splitting.)

    If the economy is still sucky in 2012, will business credentials be a plus? In that case I'd expect more of an angry populist vibe.

    On the other hand, if times are good, Dems have an easy argument, because the president has by far the biggest megaphone. The Senate terrain may be unfriendly, but as a Dem I'd rather fight on red terrain behind a popular president than on any terrain behind an unpopular one.


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