Adaptive Politics

Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Don’t worry, it’s a metaphor. It’s just a way of saying the other guys might not be playing by the rules as you understand them, so you’d better adapt to the actual situation. It’s what every Obama supporter has been muttering under his or her breath for years now, for good reason. Obama burst onto the scene as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the one in Boston where John Kerry was nominated, with his inspiring speech about how there was not a Red America and there was not a Blue America – there was the United States of America. All the fussing and fighting was nonsense. It was a call for decency, and for listening to each other, and then doing what was best for the country. No one needed to compromise their core principles, but we really should work out what we can – everyone wants what is best for the country. That was the assumption. No one’s a traitor.

Four years later, when Obama actually ran for the presidency, the message was the same. Name-calling and vitriol were getting us nowhere. There was work to be done – the economy in shambles and two wars that had been bleeding us dry for a decade, for no good reason, and a third of the country with no health insurance of any kind, and no way to buy any, or no one would sell them a policy at any price – and the country’s infrastructure was falling apart too, by the way. Obama spoke to the problems, suggesting, were he to be elected, decent people on both sides could work something out on all of this – not a perfect solution, but something useful.

For his trouble he got called a traitor, or at least someone who palled around with terrorists – and called a socialist, and a communist, and a Muslim, and a godless atheist in the same breath. He hated success, and was born in Kenya too. For a walk down memory lane see this – a long list ending with Donald Rumsfeld saying, just a few days ago, that he really doesn’t know whose side Obama is on even now – Obama may be on the side a al-Qaeda and all the terrorists everywhere, really. Back in 2008, at one McCain rally, there were shouts of KILL HIM!

McCain was appalled, but Sarah Palin wasn’t it. The project to shift American politics to the reasonable, not the usual tribal ranting, wasn’t going well – but it went well enough. Obama won fairly easily, and then he won again, again fairly easily. Enough voters thought that Obama was onto something. Fools will listen to talk radio all day long, and the left will spin out their idealistic utopian plans too, but in Washington, the folks who were elected to fix obvious problems could chat and work out at least a few things, slowly and initially imperfectly – but you had to start somewhere. Why not start now?

Obama should have known better. He brought a knife to a gunfight. Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, was full of compromises and foolishness – not a sensible single-payer system like most every other industrialized nation has, but a way for everyone to buy, one way or another, health insurance from the private for-profit insurance industry – just like Romney’s quite successful Massachusetts plan. The Republicans still hated it. Obamacare is law. Long ago it passed in the House and Senate, Obama signed it into law, the Supreme Court ruled it was quite constitutional – and the House, firmly in the hands of the Republicans, has voted to repeal this Affordable Care Act in its entirety thirty-seven times so far. It’s tyranny or something, or forcing the Makers to pay for Takers, who refuse to take care of themselves. They have no alternative plan at all to deal with the forty million or more Americans who have no health insurance, flooding the emergency rooms for free care, even if minimal, massively driving up insurance premiums for everyone – but never mind – it’s pure evil. Right – and it was tweaked and twisted to please them, and the insurance and pharmaceutical industry, or at least to be something a few Republicans could vote for. A few of them did. It passed by a hair. They will fight it now and forever anyway, even if it is the law. It makes no sense, but then they just voted, again, to defund ACORN – which actually doesn’t exist anymore. What?

They also have the Tea Party now too, who want their country back. It’s also hard to reason with that, if you assume it’s everyone’s country, and it’s particularly hard to reason with someone like their Robert Stacy McCain:

That’s the attitude necessary to victory, a core belief that whatever Democrats are in favor of is a bad thing for America, because if it was good for America, Democrats would be against it. Democrats are the Evil Coalition of Liars and Fools, and the job of Republicans is to convince America of this basic truth.

Obama’s Reasonableness Project was a damned cool idea, but it was doomed from the start. He really did bring a knife to a gunfight.

It is kind of sad, or pathetic, but Obama is a smart guy, and he’s finally figuring it out:

President Obama set a confrontation with Senate Republicans in motion on Tuesday morning by naming a slate of judges to a top appeals court and daring his rivals to block their confirmations.

In a formal Rose Garden ceremony normally reserved for Supreme Court nominees and prominent cabinet members, Mr. Obama announced plans to nominate three people to fill the remaining vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The president called on Republicans to abandon what he called partisan obstruction of his judicial nominees and approve his nominees quickly.

“This is not about principled opposition. It’s about partisan obstruction,” Mr. Obama said. “What’s happening now is unprecedented. For the good of the American people it has to stop.”

“What I’m doing today is my job,” Mr. Obama said as he announced the nominations. “What I need is the Senate to do its job.”

These positions have been vacant for years, and it actually is his job to name qualified folks to fill judicial vacancies. It’s in the job description. It’s pretty simple, but this is also something new for him, a bit of in-your-face politics:

By nominating the judges as a group, the president is trying to restore what his allies consider to be ideological balance on a crucial court that has overturned some important parts of his first-term agenda. And he hopes to heighten public anger at Republicans for repeatedly using the threat of filibuster to block his choices for the cabinet and the courts.

The effort could culminate this summer in a legislative collision between the two parties as the Democratic and Republican leadership clash over how and whether to rewrite long-standing procedural rules that could permanently change the dynamic in the chamber.

This could end the filibuster, at least for judicial appointments. If they want to play dirty, he can play dirty right back, a stance that seemed to catch Republicans off guard:

Even before the formal announcement, Republicans signaled their opposition to what they called Mr. Obama’s effort to “pack” the appeals court with judges who would adhere to the ideology of the president and his Democratic allies.

“It’s hard to imagine the rationale for nominating three judges at once for this court given the many vacant emergency seats across the country, unless your goal is to pack the court to advance a certain policy agenda,” Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said on Monday night.

They’re pushing a plan that would reduce the size of the appeals court in Washington – it’s too big anyway. Of course that would mean only the conservative justices would remain.

Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway is not impressed:

As a preliminary matter, Senator Grassley’s assertion that President Obama is engaging in “court packing” here is utterly absurd. These are vacancies that have existed on the Court for years now that have required the D.C. Circuit to slow down the processing of cases due to the lack of available judges, and to make wider use of Senior (Retired) Judges to fill in when there haven’t been enough available Judges to sit on the three-judge panels that are utilized in the Circuit Courts of Appeal. One of these vacancies is the seat that has been vacant since Chief Justice Roberts was elected to Chief Justice of the United States in 2005, meaning that the D.C. Circuit has been without that Judge for nearly eight years now. …

More importantly, though, calling what the President is doing here “court packing” completely ignores what that practice actually is. Historically, the best known example of “court packing,” of course, dates to the Franklin Roosevelt Administration when Roosevelt, frustrated by the Supreme Court striking down several key elements of the New Deal as unconstitutional. Essentially, FDR’s plan would have given the President the right to appoint a new Justice for every Justice that didn’t retire within six months after turning 70. Given the fact that the majority of the Justices who were ruling against Roosevelt’s policies were near or over the age of 70 at the time, this would have allowed Roosevelt to significantly transform the ideological balance of the Court to the point where those conservative Justices would have been effectively outnumbered by the liberal wing of the Court bolstered by new FDR appointees. The reaction to FDR’s proposal was swift and negative. Powerful members of his own party came out in opposition to it, and it eventually became clear that it would never be able to pass Congress despite the fact that the Democratic Party had a huge majority in both Houses. So, the plan was withdrawn. What President Obama is doing here isn’t “court packing,” it’s seeking to fill vacancies on an important appellate Court that have been lying unfilled for far too long.

In short, the Republicans are full of crap. Obama is calling them on it:

The idea that the President is doing anything wrong or improper in making these three appointments is utterly absurd. Is he playing politics? Of course he is, but then he’s a politician, Washington is a political town – and the Senate GOP is going to playing their own political games when these nominations make it to the Senate.

Kevin Drum sees what’s really going on here:

Fear of pushing Democrats over the edge into killing the filibuster is probably quite real, and there might well be half a dozen Republican senators who (a) take that seriously and (b) are nervous about the total blockade strategy in the first place. These half dozen will also need to be senators who (a) aren’t up for reelection next year and (b) can afford to cross the conservative media, which is almost certain to turn this into a litmus test of standing up against Obama’s attempt to impose his thuggish one-party rule over the entire country. But there might well be six such senators.

Obama may win this one, by adapting to how Washington actually works. Forget that Reasonableness Project thing.

Hey, he’s learning how to play the actual Washington game:

Hailing her longtime role as a “trusted adviser,” President Barack Obama formally named U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as his next national security adviser on Wednesday.

Obama tapped Rice, a target of Republican criticism in recent months, to succeed Tom Donilon; the president also nominated Samantha Power, a longtime foreign policy adviser, to take over Rice’s role at the United Nations.

“I am absolutely thrilled that she’ll be back at my side leading my national security team in my second term,” Obama said of Rice, a longtime confidant whose role in publicly explaining the administration’s initial assessment of last year’s terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, has made her a lightning rod for criticism.

Republicans hate Susan Rice, but national security advisers don’t have to be confirmed by the Senate. In your face, assholes – that’s the message. Samantha Power will face a confirmation hearing, but they have nothing on her. They’re not happy, and Salon’s Joan Walsh adds this:

When ABC News published doctored emails about the development of Benghazi “talking points,” and the White House countered by releasing the originals, which told a very different story, the two versions agreed on at least one fact: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice had nothing to do with the controversial description of the Benghazi attack that she shared in her five fateful Sunday show appearances last Sept. 17.

I thought at the time that Rice deserved an apology from Republicans who savaged her, once the truth about the talking points came out, but of course one never came. (Sen. Lindsey Graham countered by saying she “deserved to be subpoenaed” instead.) Now she’s gotten the next best thing: a promotion to National Security Adviser, once Tom Donilon leaves the job in July. The position needs no confirmation by the Senate, so Rice’s GOP critics have nothing to say about her new role.

Well, nothing to say that makes a difference, anyway.

Now they’re stuck:

Rand Paul insisted it undermined Obama’s “moral authority… to promote basically the person who is guilty of misleading us over the Benghazi tragedy.”

By lying about Rice’s role – she played no part in the behind-the-scenes controversy between the CIA and the State Department over how much and what to say about the attacks – Paul undermines his own moral authority. But lately that’s no impediment to influence within his party. (It’s possible that Paul isn’t smart enough to understand the details of what the Benghazi emails revealed, but that’s not a problem in his party either.)

They’ll look like fools now. No more Mister Nice Guy, a fine thing:

The fact that Obama didn’t hesitate to announce his appointment of Rice on the day after he defied Republican obstructionists with his three judicial nominees is a good sign.

I’m among the observers who saw disturbing racial and gender subtexts in the right’s attacks on Rice. McCain accused her of “not being very bright,” while Lindsey Graham said Rice either “misled the country” or is “incompetent.” It is one thing to say she did something wrong; it’s another to dismiss her as not up to her job. Even as evidence mounted that Rice had nothing to do with the development of the talking points, and the real blame ought to go to former CIA director David Petraeus, she remained the right’s target.

Well, she’s a woman, and she’s black, which Walsh notes is mentioned in much of the reaction to this, which leads Walsh to add this:

Rand Paul will likely continue to run his mouth, cementing his reputation as a guy who’s clueless when it comes to the rights of African-Americans and women. Remember when he told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that if he were president, he’d have fired her? If he were president no one with the stature of Rice or Clinton would be found anywhere near his administration. Obama did the right thing defying the Rice-hating obstructionists to appoint it. She deserved better, and now she’s gotten it.

David Graham in the Atlantic adds this:

For a brief few weeks this spring, the president was on what was universally, and rather uncreatively, described as a “charm offensive.” But a series of high-profile power plays this week show suggest a White House that has either lost faith in the value of reaching out or is simply annoyed at a series of scandal investigations and isn’t going to take it anymore. The moves may also reflect a concern that if the president doesn’t move to set the tone for his second term, it may end up being defined by Republican-driven scandals. Whatever the case, the Obama Administration has this week dropped the “charm” but is sticking with the “offensive.”

One must adapt to circumstances:

The Hill reported last week that Republicans who supped with Obama in March are feeling jilted. They were delighted to get some face time with him, but say there’s no been no attempt to turn that experience into a real dialogue or political process since then. Given the lack of follow-through, it’s worth wondering how seriously the White House ever took the “charm offensive.” Even at the time, [Press Secretary Jim] Carney rather half-heartedly described the meals as proof the president was “willing to try anything.” And the political scientists and wonks whose data-driven approach seems closest to the White House’s cold-eyed realism were skeptical (at best) that a few dinners could break a political deadlock they see as based on much larger structural problems.

Being willing to try to do anything, though, could be politically savvy. After all, Obama had nothing to lose from trying. And once the efforts failed, it would give him political cover to come out swinging.

It’s about time, or so says Libby Spencer:

It’s about damn time our President accepted his political opponents are irredeemable crackpots who care only about their own political power and dropped the nice guy routine. You can’t meet people halfway when their definition of compromise is they get everything they want and you get to take all the blame for their inhumane agenda.

One must adapt to circumstances:

Republicans can say any damn offensive thing they please, vandalize our system of government, advance the most obvious lies about the President’s policy proposals, sabotage our economy, deliberately ignore the most pressing problems facing the nation and relentlessly attempt to destroy every vestige of humane government policy while wasting millions of our money on their political chicanery and the media merely transcribes it without any colorful adjectives that might even faintly suggest they’re destroying America as we know it. But now that the President has finally decided to fight them on their own damn terms, he’s aggressive. On the offensive. You can almost hear the word uppity just dying to get out.

Spencer sees it this way:

He’s the President, dammit. He was elected by a landslide by present-day standards and this is what people stood in eight hour long lines for – a real fight. Republicans are out of control. They need to be called out. Let them whine. It only exposes their weakness and their perfidy.

Ah, politics returns to normal. Obama’s grand experiment, testing the hypothesis that there’s no Red America and no Blue America, just the United States of America, ran up against a crowd who sees themselves as Red, not Red, White and Blue. That’s a given, and that changes the rules that Obama only imagined. He was thinking of how things once were, maybe, or how they should be. That’s not how they are. But he’s a pragmatist at heart, and he also knows the old saying. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. So noted.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Adaptive Politics

  1. Rick says:

    As for Obama’s judicial appointments, I watched that live on MSNBC, after which they had two pundit-types, one from each party, to talk about it, and at the very end of the segment, the Republican-strategist woman defended the obstruction by saying something like, “Hey, this is the DC Circuit, which is traditionally the springboard to the Supreme Court! We have a right to block these!” — although in not quite those words.

    I was flabbergasted! The Republican belief that outright obstruction is the job of the opposition party runs totally counter to how our system of governance was designed! These people don’t seem to realize, that had the founders realized that some group or other (the founders didn’t anticipate political parties, remember) would do this kind of thing, they wouldn’t have created a way of doing things that relied so heavily on an honor system in which everyone could be counted on for doing the right thing!

    What’s so frustrating is, we keep treating the Republicans and Conservatives as if they’re just doing the same thing we’re doing — that, after all, we all want what’s best for the country — when, in fact, assuming evil exists in the world, these people are doing evil. You can point out to them, for example, that by blocking raising the debt limit, they’re putting the whole country at risk, and their response is, “Oh, yeah? Well, that’s what we think you’re doing!”

    If that’s not the essence of evil, then it’s stupidity! And maybe it’s our fault for pretending like these people are not so stupid that they will never realize the seriousness of what they’re doing to the country.

    Maybe the larger lesson here is, maybe we need to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the constitution. I hope not, since that would assume we could even come up with a document that took into account bad-faith actors like the Republicans, and I’m not sure any republic could ever handle that.

    As for getting rid of the filibuster? At the beginning of the year, they had their chance to do that, but failed to even try. I sense there are too many things going on behind the scenes that keep that from ever happening soon.

    Rick

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