Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Underestimating Obama

Republicans just don't get this guy. They think and say many things, most of them negative. But I've never heard or read a conservative analyst thoughtfully, carefully working through a somewhat balanced list of strengths and weaknesses. Every great general is scrupulously fair in his analysis of his opponents in the field. If this general fails to perceive a key strength or weakness, accurately reported, it could mean disaster. Why is this sort of careful analysis almost completely absent from GOP thinking about our President? Even an adversary that you despise needs to be looked at carefully for possible craftiness or stratagem that might upset your plans. Yes, anger felt passionately can blunt your "people reading" capacities. But I think it's something more - it's contempt, utter and profound contempt. If someone is "beneath contempt", you need pay him no mind, for he can and will be swept away.

The GOP figuratively and literally cannot see who Obama is. Part of it is developmental (as I have written) - they literally don't see the world as he sees it and cannot connect to the vision and images he offers. But contempt creates another and deeper level of "distancing" from the subject under review. To Republicans, the President speaks a different language and probably comes from a different planet - which of course he quite literally did. 

So where does this "not seeing" lead? It leads to deeply flawed reading of the opponent's strengths and weaknesses. When he folded in the late 2010 Bush tax cut discussions, and folded again in August, 2011, in the first big debt ceiling crisis, you cannot consider that each of these moves may have been strategic, at least partly planned, or situational. You will be wrong, potentially fatally wrong, if your contempt of this man allows you to conclude that he will always cave in, that he is not a powerful leader to be respected, even feared (if you are an opponent).

Watch the video above: do you think the President will cave on either the Budget CR or the debt ceiling? I don't. Not for a minute. Am I affected by my admiration for this man? Is it possible my reading is off because of this? It's possible, but I assure you I work hard to "notice" my positive bias, and to "frame it", so it's out front in my awareness, where I can see it. This way I can have confidence in my own judgments.

The GOP thinks he will cave and agree to some alteration of the ACA in return for a Budget CR. He won't. Nor will Democratic leadership in the House and Senate.

On the debt ceiling, they think he will cave and negotiate some portion of their "dream" list. He won't. And again, Democratic House and Senate leaders will back him.

So what happens? I was wrong about Boehner, at least in this first round. I thought he would allow a House vote on a clean CR. If I'm wrong again, and he won't allow a clean debt ceiling increase to come to a vote in the House, then we are in for a "near default event", in which case I believe the President will execute his 14th Amendment powers and order the Fed to keep funding the Government. Then, of course, an impeachment process will become a real possibility - a fight the GOP would win in the House and lose badly in the Senate.

But that's two weeks away. Right now we have the amazing optics of the GOP shutting down the Government, to prevent people entering the Obamacare Exchanges, on the exact day that the Exchanges open. Computer overload and web site crashes will be regular occurrences; but voters know about that sort of technical snafu, and they know they have until January 1 or beyond to sign up. So who will win the current optics juxtaposition? The Democrats for sure.

A final thought: is it possible the President picked this very moment, on this very ground to have the decisive make or break battle with the GOP? I think it's possible. And I'm now up to 60% odds that the Democrats will retake the House in November, 2014.

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