Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why Michele Bachmann Will Get Obama Re-Elected

First, let me say my hope is that someone at Daily Kos or the Huffington Post will come across that headline, link to it, and drive my traffic through the roof. But my point is decidedly not that Michele Bachmann is some evil, despicable quasi-fascist who will drive Americans screaming back into the President's arms. In fact, I thought her speech tonight was a strong distillation of the problems we face, even though it was a bit selective in its argument that the economy and the deficit got much worse when Obama was elected.

But I did have a moment of clarity while watching Bachmann's speech, and realized that she (and the Tea Party more generally) will very likely create the conditions for Obama's reelection. And the way that will happen, ironically, is by pushing him closer to Republican positions. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, that Obama represents the Standard Left position in American politics, and the Republicans, as ably represented this evening by Paul Ryan, represent the Standard Right position. Normally those two positions are the only two with any serious traction in our politics, and so voters and interests align with one of the two teams. Then the two teams fight and from time to time one team wins enough power to do some of the things it wants, though that inevitably generates a backlash. Or else a few moderates cut a deal, and pass some watered-down halfway measure.

Well, then, Bachmann and the Tea Party represent a distinct third position, related to the Republican side but not the same. Let's call it, not far-right (which people say when they're trying to call someone a Nazi) but Strict Right. The principles aren't THAT different from the Standard Right, but they're taken a little further and there is little room for compromise.

Now, President Obama just laid out a lot of things he would like to get done in his State of the Union, and acknowledged that he can't do those things with Democratic support alone. So he needs Republican partners, and the Paul Ryan/Standard Right team is going to be the only place he can go to do that. So there will undoubtedly be talks between the President and those folks. But the Strict Right group will be very skeptical of any proposed deal, and put a lot of pressure on the Standard Right to resist any compromises. So the Standard Right will have to consider these factors:

1) If they go too far to the center, they are vulnerable to primary challenges from the Tea Party, and these challenges were remarkably effective in the last cycle. That puts an upper bound on what compromises will be feasible (and Obama will know this, too.)

2) If they are completely unwilling to work with the President, the public is likely to blame Republicans for the resulting lack of progress, as they did in the Newt Gingrich era during the government shutdown fight. This will tell the Standard Right that they can't just sit on their hands for two years and try to pin the blame on Obama.

3) There is a real financial and budgetary problem that people like Paul Ryan are truly committed to solving, and a bipartisan deal helps them do that while spreading the blame for painful decisions across both parties.

4) Obama knows that it will be hard for Democrats to keep the Senate in 2012, so even if he is reelected, he's unlikely to be able to pass liberal legislation, so he might as well make the best deals he can now, because his second term will likely be about defending past liberal achievements, not getting new ones.

So the solution is for Obama and the Standard Right to make deals that give the Republicans 75% or more of what they want (to blunt the effectiveness of Tea Party primary challenges) while giving Obama some small victories he can present to the Standard Left. The Strict Right may complain that the Standard Right have betrayed their principles, but as long as the legislation is popular, generally conservative, and effective at cutting the deficit, these arguments will seem inflexible and overly partisan. And the far (Strict?) Left will complain, to the same effect.

So Obama will be able to run as a centrist, instead of just saying he is, and the Standard Right will be able to claim a victory for American principles, and that they made democracy work again. Independents will reward them both, giving us a Republican House and Senate and an Obama re-election.

And while I'm not exactly an Obama cheerleader, that'd be just fine with me.

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