In the wake of his divisive subpar first year, it is plainly evident that Obama has switched to campaign mode. If we recall that Reagan told us that Democrats campaign for President as moderates and govern from the Left, we understand well why Obama sounded centrist in 2008, pursued a Leftist agenda in 2009 and, in this midterm election year, is now reaching out to Republicans.
We know that Obama has given his Presidential campaign advisor an “expanded” White House role. In addition to that, Obama, in a high profile manner, met with Congressional Republicans on Health Care and is reaching out to them on a jobs bill among other tactics. In the face of such Clintonesque triangulation, the questions become: What should the Republicans do? Meet Obama half way? Stonewall him? Or offer their own agenda? Given that the political handshake can often be the kiss of death, especially in a Tea Party World, Republicans need to go on the offensive by framing the debate if they are going to avoid Obama’s Bermuda Triangulation.
It is essential to note that whoever frames the election debate is the likely winner of the election. Democrats win elections by promoting what government can do in the face of adversity that they blame on capitalism or the market. Republicans win elections by exposing the limits and detriments of government in addition to trumpeting the limitless values of freedom and the American spirit.
So, in 2008, when McCain promoted the government purchase of bad mortgages, that played into the hands of Democrats because it was a government response to a crisis – even though government caused the crisis. In 1980, by contrast, Reagan persuaded Americans that government was the cause of our problems and that granting Americans more freedom from government, i.e. cutting taxes and regulations, was the solution. In the first instance, the election was fought on the Democrat’s terms and the Democrats won. In the second instance, the election was fought and won on Republican terms.
Viewed in that context, Obama’s job bill offers a mix of government responses, i.e. spending, and private incentives, i.e. tax credits. It is a tough combination for Republicans to combat lest they be derided in the Media as the Party of No or obstructionist.
The only way for Republicans to effectively avoid such monikers is to take the rhetorical debate to the Democrats and Obama and not simply be in a responsive mode. The political battlefield is simply ripe with opportunities for Republicans to do so.
For instance, Republicans must make the case that we have tried the Big Government way in 2009 and it has not worked. Republicans shoudl cite the countless examples of government waste of the taxpayers’ money while unemployment has remained high. For instance, $54 million in federal stimulus funds will be spent at the behest of U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) to pay for renovations of railroad track for a private “wine train” in Napa Valley. The entire amount went to an Alaskan construction firm on a no-bid contract that will creat only 12 sustainable jobs – that’s $4.5 million per job! If every American knew that, they would be loathe to give Obama’s government more money.
Republicans should go on the road and hold townhalls with small businesses owners around the country and demonstrate that $4.5 million could start at least 10 restaurants employing over 100 people in sustainable jobs – a dynamic which could be repeated over and over – if only we allowed Americans to keep their own money and fuel our recovery.
None of that can be achieved, however, if Republicans are simply in a reactive state to Obama’s proposals. Republicans must take the rhetorical fight to the Democrats and frame the debate on terms on which Republicans can win. Given Obama’s rehiring of campaign manager and his triangulating offers, Republicans obviously have no time waste if they are to win this most important debate of 2010.