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We’ve all seen them, been annoyed by them.  Those revolting children in the store or restaurant or anywhere you happen to be, throwing a temper tantrum and screaming at the top of their lungs because they want something and they can’t have it.  But as much as we’ve loathed those children in the darkest places of our hearts, we’re all of us essentially kind people and few of us have ever wished ill on the children themselves.  I mean . . . they’re children for God’s sake.  They don’t really know what they’re doing because they’ve obviously never been taught how to behave properly.

No, in those circumstances I think most of us save our private ill-wishing for the parents of the brat causing such a ruckus, who are demonstrably incapable of controlling their little Hellspawn and who are almost certainly responsible for the kid’s willingness to behave so atrociously in the first place.

President Obama might want to consider this as he continues his quest to be seen as “the only grown-up in the room.”  ‘Cause it seems to be backfiring on him.

Apparently, when negotiating last month’s debt limit debacle, President Obama was determined at all costs to make sure that he appeared to be the reasonable party to the negotiations.  To this end, he offered the Republicans massive spending cuts in exchange for small increases in tax revenue; when the Republicans rejected this offer, he anticipated they would be seen as acting unreasonably and that this perception would redound to his political benefit, especially with independent voters.

But, of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Immediately after the debt limit deal was announced, Markos threw up a poll showing that the President’s deal garnered approval from only 33% of independent voters.  As Markos said, “if the goal was to impress and win over independents, then mission failed.”

And as we’ve seen since, while the American public may hold the Republicans more responsible for that fiasco, there is still plenty of blame to go around:

Republicans in Congress shoulder more of the blame for the difficulties in reaching a debt-ceiling agreement than President Obama and the Democrats, the poll found.

The Republicans compromised too little, a majority of those polled said.  All told 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.

The public was more evenly divided about how Mr. Obama handled the debt ceiling negotiations:  47 percent disapproved and 46 percent approved. (emphasis added)

So everybody came out of that sewer smelling bad, and President Obama came out smelling slightly less bad than everybody else.  That’s not exactly a win though, is it?

And keep in mind that – as Mike Lofgren explained so cogently in his recent Truth Out article  – undermining the American people’s trust in the government by rendering it as dysfunctional as possible “remains a prime GOP electoral strategy.”  The Republicans appreciate, as apparently the Democrats do not, that so called “independent voters,” the ones Obama thinks he can impress by being a grown-up, are really better understood as “low information voters” who pay almost no attention to politics:

One thing that especially resonated with me about Mike[ Lofgren’s] piece is the importance of “low information” voters. The mainstream media absolutely fails to understand how little attention average Americans really pay to what goes on in all forms of government.  During our 2008 race, our pollster taught me (hard to believe it took me 24 years to learn this) that the average voter spends only 5 minutes thinking about for whom to vote for Congress.  All the millions of dollars of TV ads, all the thousands of robo-calls and door-knocks, and it all comes down to having a message that will stick in the voters’ minds during the 5 minutes before they walk into the voting booth.

The media likes to call this group “independents,” which implies that they think so long and deeply about issues that they refuse to be constrained by the philosophy of either party.  There may be a couple of people out there who fit that description, but those are not the persuadable voters campaigns are trying to capture.

As Lofgren explains it, because Republicans know that our He Said/She Said media will never saddle only one party with the blame for our government’s dysfunction, they also know that by convincing low information (“independent”) voters that the government is simply incapable of working they can prevail upon those voters to send them to Washington where they can further loot the Treasury.  In other words, no matter how much blame the Republicans may have taken initially for their role in the debt ceiling fiasco, they nevertheless anticipate being rewarded electorally next year for having spent months parading our country’s political dysfunction before the world.

And who knows?  If the Democrats are the ones low information voters believe to be in charge (because the Democrats, after all, hold the White House) and the government looks like it simply can’t function, maybe the Republicans are right.  Maybe we’re in for another round of “throw the bums out” – only this time the bums being thrown out will be the fairly impotent Democrats who haven’t been able to set the agenda since last November, and not the Republicans who actually have been running the joint since then.

* * *

Which is why Obama’s belief that being seen as “the grown-up” will help save his re-election is hopelessly misplaced.  I always thought that Obama was a little more street-smart than this, but it seems that he actually believes that how the Beltway pundits portray him will make a difference with the independent voters he needs to win.  That sounds nice, and in a high-functioning democracy with a truly objective press it might even work.  But we’re saddled with a press too “politically innocent” to ever objectively report that one party has gone insane, and the independent voters Obama wants to capture don’t pay any real attention to that press anyway.

Instead, what those voters pick up on is the image of our country in shambles and Obama – the “grown-up” – incapable of doing anything about it.  This is a prescription for an electoral nightmare.  As theyoungturks phrased it last Thursday:  “Here is what all voters, and especially independents, despise and disdain in a politician – weakness.  Nobody wants to see their leader get beat to a pulp every night and then bow his head again.”

Ultimately, there comes a time when behaving like a grown-up no longer looks reasonable, but simply looks weak – like adults who can’t control the children they brought with them to the mall.  Boehner and Cantor and McConnell and DeMint may all be running amok in the store, but when Big Daddy Obama refuses to even speak sternly to these kids – let alone actually punish them by, say, I dunno . . . refusing to get them whatever shiny new ozone deregulation they asked for – it makes him look weak.  It makes him look like he’s a grown-up who nevertheless can get steamrolled by children.  And what’s worse, it makes it appear to the other adults that he – and not the children -- is the one responsible for all the havok the kids are wreaking.

And then, in the darkest places of their hearts, all those other adults begin to wish him ill.

Cross-posted at Casa Cognito.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    Politics is the never-ending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

    by swellsman on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 10:19:04 AM PDT

  •  Being the grown up..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, neroden

    Being the thoughtful grown-up is definitely not playing well.

    My suggestion - still be the grown up in the room but do what my mom used to do - bring along the wooden spoon and dole out a spanking or too when the kids go to far.....

  •  Unintended Consequences of His Strategy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    swellsman, neroden, churchylafemme

    Progressives see through him as someone who gives the store away in bargaining. Ironically, his give the store away strategy makes him seen even more partisan in the eyes of people who are more conservative and would be seen has more bipartisan had he acted in a more partisan way!

    It sounds strange, but I know of a family law case where the wife, based on her expert's findings, demanded $1 million. The husband's expert found that 100K was reasonable. But the husband wrote a letter to the wife and said: Let's cut to the chase and avoid extra attorney fees and act like adults. I'll offer you 450K. The Wife countered with an offer of 900K. Shocked by the stubborness of his wife, the husband countered with 460K. The wife lost her temper and accused her husband of negotiating in bad faith and walked away from negotiations. After thousands and thousands of dollars in litigation costs, the jury awarded the wife 540 K.

    You see, the Husband is Obama and the wife are the GOP. Obama does not negotiate in the culturally accepted way. He starts off offering to give the GOP alot of what they want to begin with. The GOP says no until they get 90% of what they want. Realizing that he has already given away the store, Obama is forced to act desperately in the final rounds of negotiation.

    Progressives see him giving away the store. But the public only tunes in in the final rounds of the negotiations and Obama appears to be just as unreasonable to them as the GOP. From the point of the GOP, Obama does very little moving once they make their first counteroffer! Moreover, they view Obama as a socialist so any offer or counteroffer made by him is viewed by conservatives as unreasonable.

    Obama is better off just to negotiate in a traditional competitive way. It takes two to be bipartisan. Moreover, most people think that Obama is partisan because they believe that it takes two to fight.

    •  Yeah, that sounds about right (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      neroden, Nice Ogre, churchylafemme

      Way back when I was buying my first home I tried negotiating the way you describe Obama and the husband negotiating.  I found a home I liked, I had it appraised, I took into account what the Seller was asking, and I came up with a counteroffer that actually represented what I was willing to pay.

      The Seller countered, and I told him that no, my offer was firm.  The realtor got exasperated with me and told me that I was refusing to negotiate, that everyone understands that the ultimate price is going to end up being somewhere in the middle of each party's initial offers.  I told the realtor I wasn't negotiating, that I had extended what I considered to be a reasonable offer and if it wasn't accepted I'd buy some other house.

      There are two points here:  (1) you can get away with this if you're negotiating over something you can walk away from - raising the debt limit wasn't one of those things; (2) no matter how reasonable you may think you're being w/r/t your offer, "everybody" has an understanding that negotiations involve haggling, so if you extend an offer that has no room for you to get beaten up on you've really left yourself no room to maneuver

      I can respect Obama's intention, I guess, to try and cut through the bullshit and simply get to a reasonable resolution by offering one right out of the gate, but I have to disrespect his naivete in not realizing that there is no way his political opponents would ever accept whatever his first offer is.  There is a certain way in which political negotiations are expected to work, and by extending a reasonable offer to his opponents first Obama throws away any chance he has to actually obtain a reasonable outcome.

      Politics is the never-ending story we tell ourselves about who we are as a people.

      by swellsman on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 11:31:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Being a 'thoughtful grown-up' (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, khereva, churchylafemme

    without principles, honesty, or a moral compass is going down real bad...

    "It depends what the meaning of 'is', is"
    Platform of the "New" Neoliberal Democratic Party
    Speaking out of one side of their mouth for the little guy, their nominal constituency, and the other for the plutocracy, their real constituency.

    by Sanctimonious on Tue Sep 06, 2011 at 11:25:26 AM PDT

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