Thursday, June 30, 2011

The oldest trick in the book

There has been a lot of disappointment with President Obama from the Left. I never really got that; to me it was obvious he was doing the best he could. But lately people have been talking about the possibility that he's playing "11 dimensional chess," and I'm starting to think they might be right.

The oldest trick in the tactical play-book is the feigned retreat. You have your guys run away in apparent fear: the sight is too enticing for the enemy, who break ranks and charge after you, eager for the slaughter. But wait! It was a trick - at the crucial moment your men turn and stand, in good order, and the enemy breaks over your formations like water on the beach.

This is a great trick. When it works, it almost always produces victory. However, it has a few prerequisites, chief among which are a stupid, undisciplined enemy and a stalwart army of your own. The greatest danger is that your men will become afraid for real and keep running.

Think about Obama's last 18 months in this context. Why has he been so quick to anger with criticism from the Left? Perhaps because he fears his own troops are not loyal enough to give him room to maneuver. Why has he appeared so weak and vacillating? Partly because he is weaker: he lost an election when the House went to the Right. But also, I think, because it's part of his plan.

Consider this: the country is facing a government shutdown. Who are people going to blame? Normally, you blame the party in power. But for 18 months the Right has crowed about winning their election and taking back the country, and Obama has let them. Because he knew all along that this debt limit vote would come up, and he knew the Right would choose that hill to die on. Just to make sure, he caved in to a few of their other demands, giving the impression that he could be pushed around. And golly gee whiz, look at that: the freshman Republicans are convinced that they can hold the country hostage until they get everything they want.

They are charging out of control. And Obama is now turning to fight. He's played Rope-A-Dope before. Remember when his nominees were being put on blanket holds? And they caught that one senator (whose name escapes me, sorry, dude, it sucks to be second) putting three holds on just to get some pork for his state. Obama didn't react. He waited. And sure enough the next week, Senator Shelby put a blanket hold on 70 nominees so he could get pork for his state that would also result in jobs going oversees.

Obama won that one, by waiting until his opponents painted themselves in a corner. And he's doing it again.

Normally, debt limits votes are clean. There's nothing attached to them but the simple and necessary fact of raising the debt limit. The Right screamed about spending cuts, so Obama (looking weak) gave them a few. Then the Left suggested a few truly innocuous tax modifications - closing loopholes, mostly. They could attach this to the bill because the Right had already muddied it. But the Freshmen were feeling brave. They defined the loophole closures as tax increases, and said no. And now they're stuck.

If they suddenly come to their senses and actually negotiate in a bipartisan way, then all their rhetoric is exposed as an empty sham. Obama can hardly be the Marxist-in-Chief if the Tea Party is making deals with him. Their own base will abandon them.

On the other hand, the debt limit has to be raised. If the Tea Party doesn't come around, then the established, senior Republicans will have to vote for it. This will split the party in half, exposing the establishment to the rabid attacks of the Tea Party. And we all know how that goes - it goes badly for the Republicans.

Either way, Obama wins. Half the Republicans take the blame for backstabbing the other half. And the debt limit? If all else fails, Obama raises it by executive fiat - there are already Constitutional scholars saying he has the legal right. Once again he is the grown-up doing what has to be done to make the country work. But this time he isn't just waiting for the rest of the country to notice. This time he's showing Republicans that their Tea Party caucus cannot deliver what it promised.

He doesn't even need to change their minds. He just needs to disillusion them, so they stay home. And then his party wins by default. You know, the same way the Republicans won when Democrats stayed home.

As in any fight, victory goes to the one who quits last.

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