Monday, August 8, 2011

Strategy... Failed?

It's hard to see the debt deal as anything but a failure for Obama's strategy. The country didn't shut down, which in any sane world would count for something, but the impression is that Obama gave in to the hostage takers. Standard & Poor's explicitly blames its downgrade on the success of Republican obstructionism. In the end, the Republicans were the ones most willing to destroy the country; Obama's veto threat was shown to be hollow. Apparently actually caring about people is a major handicap in the current political environment.

There are two ways Obama can pull a victory out of this. One is if people blame the Republicans for the age of terror we just went through. Unfortunately this would require remembering this incident, and the American electorate usually has the attention span of a butterfly. It is possible that Wall Street will not forget, and that their financial contributions will reflect their fears of the fiscal chaos that would result with a Republican government (such as the balanced budget amendment, an idea so naive that it makes one suspect a return to the gold standard can't be far behind). But that would require our financial class to think beyond the next fiscal quarter, an event even less likely than regular Americans remembering that everything the Republicans said about the deficit was exposed as a lie seven years ago.

The other form of victory is too nebulous to count as a political victory. It is, at best, a moral one. If this deal is viewed as a compromise - even an unbalanced one - Obama might restore the notion that governing the country requires compromise. The Republicans have not considered any Democratic president since Reagan to be legitimate. Under Clinton this was encouraged as mere partisanship; under Obama it has become complete delusion (hence the birth certificate absurdity, the charges of secret Muslimhood, etc.). Thus any deal with a Democrat poisons Republican purity, which can only be good for political sanity. Ending the Republican Holy Crusade would be an achievement for the history books; doing it without completely wrecking the country in the process would be an achievement for those of us who have to live through this history.

If all Obama manages to get for his efforts is the legitimacy of two-party rule, that would be enough. But if all Obama gets for his compromise is crushed at the polls, future politicians will take note. It is not just the future of the Republican party on the line now; it is the future of democracy.

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