Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Smart Power"

Obam & Hillary
In his first prime-time news conference, President Obama revealed just how he planned to work in a bipartisan fashion with fractious Republicans. He didn't come right out and say it, but it was there for all to hear, if they had ears to hear.

It is Obama's plan to use "smart power" (some call it a velvet glove), a term first used by Hillary Clinton during her Confirmation Hearing on the Hill.

Keeping true to his campaign promise to be inclusive, he's nominated three Republicans to his cabinet, noting, himself, the "unprecedented" nature of the act.

Acknowledging that few Republicans signed on to the Stimulus Bill, President Obama defended his efforts at bipartisanship by consulting the opposition, and involving them. He said that it was an investment in the future, that he was providing a down payment on the mutual trust he hopes to establish between himself and his opponents.

While he was answering questions, I had one of those a-ha moments. I came to realize the tactic that I believe Republicans are using to offset their lack of a majority presence in the senate and the legislature, and to win back control of the presidency and both houses of congress.

And to fight back, Obama is going to have to use all the Smart Power he can muster to break the gridlock that they're planning.

Here's what I believe that the Republicans are doing. No longer with a majority hold on the two houses, they've come up with a rather devious plan to structure a win-win for themselves politically, whether the economy tanks, or grows.

Let's use the Recovery, Reinvestment Bill to illustrate how Republicans plan to implement their new strategy:

First, attack Obama for not keeping his campaign pledge to operate in a bipartisan way. It doesn't matter if the attacks represent the facts, or not.

Second, attempt to shape the bill the way they wish--insist on more tax cuts, than spending--bandying around the dreaded word, "socialism," as a way to discredit the bill and those who favor it.

Third, refuse to vote for the bill, stating that it violates their sacred principles of fiscal conservatism: less government involvement in the private sector, no socialism, nor government ownership of banks, or other businesses.

How will this strategy benefit the GOP, now the Grand Obstructionist Party?

If the Stimulus Plan is successful they can say that it was because of their insistence that certain provisions be included in the Plan--certainly the tax cuts portion of it. This is why they're insisting on its inclusion in the Bill. If it succeeds, it will be that portion of the Bill that will have made the difference, they will say, as well as other supported provisions that make it into the final Bill.

If the Stimulus Plan fails, then they can blame the Democrats for cobbling a Bill that was seriously flawed from the outset, and could have been made better had they, the Republicans, been allowed to provide more input, or to craft it themselves.


And they're gambling that the American People will see it there way, too. That they were the party of sanity, of frugality, of restraint, rightfully opposing the Democrats euphoric spending Bill, for the purpose of supporting their "pet projects," and "pork barrel" spending, when tax cuts were all that was needed to save the economy.

Not only do Republican intractableness play to their base, it makes Republicans appear disciplined, and unified. And they have a strategy: one that they probably didn't wish to have revealed this early in the game. But they have shown their hand (their winning strategy for the next four years). Unwittingly, or otherwise, they have revealed how we can expect them to behave in the future when other bills sponsored by this president and his party come before them.

And as McCain observed during one of his debates with Obama, assigning blame for some perceived failing (Obama voting for an Energy Bill laden with "goodies"), that the failure of the economy to rebound will fall on,


Obama, and the Democrats.

If this Stimulus Plan fail, it's possible that the GOP could take over the reins of power, but they may not have an economy to preside over, believing, as they do, that their conservative principles trump all other approaches.

This is politics at its rankest, placing party above the interest of the people. And I don't for a second believe that Republicans have found their fiscal conservative conscience, when under them the national debt doubled, and the nation entered two wars, one of which was elective, giving Halliburton a no-bid contract worth billions of dollars, and making VP Chaney a wealthy man.

It's hard for me to believe that all of this took place to protect Americans.

The solution that Republicans seem to be pushing are tax cuts, and permitting the economy to rebound on its own. A sure recipe for failure. It was laissez faire economic policies (not regulating the financial sector enough, but permitting greed to lead, without responsible fiscal management) that got us into this awful mess, not legitimate market forces and laws.

And it's going to take severe measures to reverse what may become a irreversible downward spiral that will ultimately erode all public confidence.

In recent days, Obama has exercised a little of that Smart Power by conducting town hall meetings in some of the states hardest hit by the shaky economy.

He could have used his considerable appeal, and called for the people of those states to take their congressperson by the collar and "make them and offer they couldn't refuse." Instead, I believe, he's hoping that the people in those recession-struck states will take the initiative to call their representatives and show them a bit of people power to get them to support the Stimulus Bill.

Smart Power in action!

Smart Power only works, however, when you have enough time to implement it properly. This Recovery, Reinvestment Bill has to be passed quickly. Each day of delay is risky. At any time, the economy could reach a negative tipping point from which it will be difficult to rebound.

Will this Bill work? Only time will tell. But the alternative--doing nothing to jumpstart the economy, relying solely on conservative principles, and economic laws to prevail some day--will only plunge us into another Dark Age, but this time an economic one, one that we may never emerge from.

Considering the human suffering that all of this could spawn tells me that this economy, this people, this nation, is too big to fail.

And I'm hoping that Smart Power will be the answer to all our many problems--at home and abroad--that the many years of Dumb Power have dumped on our front steps.

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