A Rare Foray Into Political Strategy

A couple further thoughts about Obama’s alleged incoherence. Of course, much of the economic policy stuff isn’t really incoherent. It’s just domestic Green Laternism. We will be crippled for a decade unless we muster the will to implement the full surge. The politics of this is the usual politics. If this fails, it’s because the wreckers refused to get behind it. No politician gets absolutely everything he wants, so in the case of failure there’s usually room to bring in the “close call counterfactual” FTW.

Now, Obama seems to be very boldly arguing: “If not my specific package of policies, then surely disaster!” I think this can be a bit perilous but in this case probably smart since the Republicans are so hapless. If Republicans can sabotage the thrust of the Democrats’ policies — refuse funding for your state, call for a spending freeze — and the recovery occurs anyway, then Obama’s bold conditional is decisively falsified. But voters aren’t logicians, and if we get a recovery, Obama’s going to get the credit anyway. So that tack seems like a loser for the Republicans even in the best case. (And in the worst case — everything goes further south and they get pinned with the blame — totally disastrous.) The only plausible Republican strategy is to put forward an attractive personality able to forcefully and intelligently explain in a relatively detailed way why the Dem’s plans are likely to fail, and to forcefully and intelligently articulate a plan likely to work better. That’s the only way to sow broad doubt in the wisdom of the majority’s leadership: offer an alternative that looks at least as or more credible. David Cameron is a great example of how to do this incredibly well. But as Jindal’s embarrassing performance shows, the GOP has absolutely no one capable of doing anything approaching this. So, as far as I can tell, the GOP is going to continue to get flattened, Obama will get basically whatever he wants, and if it doesn’t work, then it almost worked and who else are you going to trust?

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center