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“Thanks Obama!”: A Political Strategy of Failure


One of the most admirable things about the GOP used to be their messaging ability. Even if you disagreed with their policy positions the capability to disseminate talking points was a thing of beauty. They framed the discussion, and you found yourself on defense the whole way. They forced the other side to abandoned structural premises weakened their argument from the jump. For instance in regards to ACA what’s almost always present in the conversation is the law’s economic viability. How much money will it save taxpayers? Will it lower insurance premiums? What’s the price tag ten years out? Is it fiscally solvent for the long term? What doesn’t enter the conversation is having access to healthcare as a basic human right.

Before the battle begins liberals are in a weakened position. Even the bellicosity of that metaphor is an indirect result of a culture based on aggression and dominance, two traits which the GOP flaunts and fosters. Controlling the way issues are framed and the language used to discuss them conveys a powerful advantage.

Seeing the current GOP floundering and flailing about before the 2014 mid-term elections, while infuriating from the perspective of caring about verifiable reality, is baffling in terms of political strategy. Yesterday Tommy Christopher wrote an article about Speaker Boehner’s impression of SNL character Tommy “Yeahhh! That’s the ticket!” Flanagan, the Pathological Liar concerning impeachment.

“This whole talk about impeachment is coming from the president’s own staff, and coming from Democrats on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they’re trying to rally their people to give money and to show up in this year’s election. We have no plans to impeach the president. We have no future plans. Listen, it’s all a scam started by Democrats at the White House.”

To recap: It’s all President Obama’s fault. Thanks Obama!

Very charitably it would be fair to say that no one in the GOP leadership, at the least the saner ones, has seriously called for the impeachment of President Obama. However they have used the threat of impeachment as red meat to turn out the base for the mid-terms, and they haven’t exactly silenced the impeachment cymbal banging monkeys either.

In fact, as Ezra Klein pointed out, Speaker Boehner’s ACA lawsuit may simply be a way to satisfy the now radicalized GOP base. Not only is impeachment unachievable in practical terms, but it has the potential to be politically devastating so a lawsuit is a more viable option even if it’s doomed to failure. Thanks to that triple bypass grass fed, black angus bacon cheeseburgers are off limits so how about some Tofurkey instead?
More importantly, in terms of long term political strategy, what this points to is just how ineffectual the GOP leadership has become, and how out of touch the GOP base is when it comes to political reality. Speaker Boehner will go down as the least effective Speaker of the House, and his Congress the most obstructive, and unproductive in our history. It’s no secret the Tea Party faction has very little love for Speaker Boehner and vice versa, but coming from a party that created the Hastert Rule it’s particularly telling.

When you factor in the troubles Speaker Boehner has had whipping votes from GOP members to support legislation, making deals with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to pass bills, and taking stances just to appease the more radical elements it all points to a party that can’t seem to find its way.

This is why the “Thanks Obama!”, or blame the black guy (i.e. Southern Strategy) ,has been running non-stop since 2008. It’s something all elements can agree on even if they don’t on anything else. The GOP was a collection of distinct, but similarly aligned interests that have diverged in recent years. The establishment Republicans, Wall Street and Corporate interests, might care about limited government in terms of lower taxes and less regulations, but aren’t interested in fighting the culture war like the religious right. The key difference between the two factions is the root of their convictions.

For the establishment types it’s a practical, tangible goal: to make more money for their side. The rich naturally want to get richer. It’s that simple. For the religious right it’s a crusade, a passion born from the infallibility of faith. Both sides have lost the ability understand the limitations of these aims, and thus refuse to compromise or moderate themselves. Thus the only acceptable solution becomes to blame the opposition since self-reflection isn’t an option.

However as a political strategy the Anti-Obama mantra has been a complete failure. While the GOP may have retaken the House in 2010, and thanks to it being a redistricting year, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. The only way they can hold what’s left of their coalition together is to keep blaming President Obama, and in order to do that they have to up the ante on their rhetoric. Obama has become the GOP’s Slender Man, a boogeyman meant to frighten gullible base voters.

Being anti-Obama isn’t enough, nor is blaming all the world’s problems on him. Eventually you have to come up with a solution. You have to show that your ideas have some merit, and have reasonable chance of success. Unfortunately for the rest of us all the GOP has left is a shared commitment to telling tall tales, and an inability to speak the truth especially to themselves.