The Democracy Corps memo

Stan Greenberg and James Carville have recently made a memo public, in which they state that the President's message has been weak and not resonating enough with the public to affect voter turn-out for an embattled Democratic Party. They outlined three messages:

We have to change Washington. That means eliminating the special deals and tax breaks won by corporate lobbyists for the oil companies and Wall Street. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to protect the tax cuts for the top two per- cent and the big tax breaks for companies who export American jobs. I'll take a different approach with new middle class tax cuts to help small businesses and new American industries create jobs. Let's make our country work for the middle class.


My passion is "made in America," working to support small businesses, American companies and new American industries. (REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to support the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and protect the loophole for companies outsourcing American jobs. I have a different approach to give tax breaks for small businesses that hire workers and give tax subsidies for companies that create jobs right here in America.


(REPUBLICAN HOUSE CANDIDATE) has pledged to make sweeping cuts, including cuts to off-limit programs for the middle class, like Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans plan to privatize Social Security by shifting those savings to the stock market, and ending guaranteed benefit levels. Medicare as we know it will end, as seniors will have to purchase private insurance using a voucher that will cover some of the costs.


However there are significant problems for implementing these messages.


Take the first message for instance. The weakness of this administration lies in the fact that they did not force the Republicans to go on the record and filibuster a middle-class tax cut vote. This led to one of the most bizarre news conferences I have seen in my life where for once Robert Gibbs was made to look like the idiot that he is. I post some of the transcript below, but the whole thing can be read (and watched) at Mediaite.

Q David Axelrod said something that the President has been saying for a long time, which is that Republicans are holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage. As I understand it, Democrats haven’t introduced a bill in the Senate and the Republicans have. Wouldn’t there have to be a bill that Republicans are threatening to block or blocking before anything is being held hostage?

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know what bills have been introduced in the Senate. Obviously, I think the posture of — I don’t think the bill would have to be the existence of — I think the rhetoric alone from Senator McConnell and others have been that the price of — there’s a $700 billion price tag on moving forward on the tax cuts for the middle class. That’s the tax cuts for the wealthy.

Q So the posture is enough, it doesn’t have to be actual –

MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. And look — we’ve — I said this — it’s now been a couple of weeks, obviously, but we agree on the middle-class part of this or so they say. Their price tag for the middle class was the $700 billion. We could have passed the middle class alone, provided some much needed certainty to the economy and to middle-class families and had — still had plenty of time to debate the $700 billion price tag for the other cuts.

Q Why not do that? Why not introduce the bill –

Q Why not get Republicans on the record?

Q — and force Republicans to filibuster it?

MR. GIBBS: They were unwilling to do that. They were unwilling to –

Q But you can introduce a bill is the point. You can introduce the bill.

MR. GIBBS: Guys, my original answer was I don’t think the bill is the existence of the fight. It is that — look, John Boehner said –

Q You’re not even — you’re not even fighting with them.


Q — let’s get on the record. Why not get on the record?

MR. GIBBS: There was — we can’t — Chip, look at the statements from the Senate Republicans. This wasn’t going anywhere. They had decided to stop middle-class tax cuts.

Q Neither was cap and trade, but you pushed for the House to get on the record on it.

Q So all they need to do is issue a press release and you guys will back off any fight?

So there goes message number one. Without forcing the Republicans to show their hand, they can conflate tax cuts into one issue. They are for all tax cuts, not just middle class ones and once again due to the thorough incompetence of this administration the Democrats are back to playing defense.

The fun is in message three, which shows that people are against cuts to social security and medicare. Unfortunately, I am yet to hear any administration official unequivocally oppose any cuts to these two programs. Why? Because of something called the "Deficit Commission" that will eventually lead to recommendation to cuts in social security or increase the retirement age. Fortunately we have a progressive house leader in Nancy Pelosi who is willing to derail the commission's report if it indeed makes these recommendations during the lame-duck session.

Unfortunately for us, we got a strong progressive house leader, right about the same time we got the most spineless Senate majority leader and a President who is willing to deal away the centerpiece of his healthcare legislation behind closed doors, in the misguided effort to win over AHIP, all the while he was misleading his supporters. I would have very content to watch Harry Reid lose this election and just go away forever, had it not been for Sharon Angle. But the way it is going right now, not only will we see a Republican Congress but maybe even a Republican Senate with <gulp> Sharon Angle as the junior senator from Nevada, and for that Sen. Reid can thank his own spinelessness.

Tags: midterm elections, Reid, Pelosi, obama (all tags)



I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

This is going to sound crazy but I am beginning to believe that Obama wants the GOP to take control of Congress. I have come to believe that his only goal was to use the Democrats 1. to get elected 2. to enact a Healthcare Law that would put him in history books as a President who go enacted a law which is a historical benchmark. LBJ has several of these laws in his biography i.e. Civil Rights and most of all the Medicare Bill.  FDR also with Social Security. These are benchmark laws and solidly anchor these 2 president into our history. Has Obama not gotten this done he would probably go down as a good caretaker type president who got us thru a bad recession but then "so what"....many presidents have done that: Truman, Reagan, Clinton, etc.  There's nothing hugely noteworthy about that.

Now, here is my point. Obama has taken a careful look at the last 30 years in America and I think (and I agree to some extent) that there is now a greatly polarized Congress and American public too. There aren't many ways a president can leave a real true historic legacy for historians. Obama only has to go back to Clinton to get a true picture. Clinton failed early on to get his healthcare plan in place and really didn't do much after that. The Congress went to the Republicans in 1994 and Clinton didn't seem too concerned. I think he recognized that his chance for the only major legislation that he could pass was over --- healthcare reform. 

OBAMA DID IT!!  He got his healthcare legislation passed and what more is there to do. Much of what is left is a big pain in the ass. Trade issues, unemployment, slow growth in the economy, big deficits, attacks on Social Security/Medicare, etc. now face him. So I think he feels that he's worked hard, got the most of any president since LBJ, etc. So let the GOP take over the Congress. What the hell. True to form they will immediately drop any pretense of honoring their campaigns where they say they will get the economy going. They may even do like in 1994 when Newt Gingrich became speaker and decided to impeach Clinton and shut down the government. Bill Clinton just grinned and welcomed that. They got hammered in the Congressional elections of 1996 and 1998 and Bill got re-elected by a landslide. The public took out their wrath on the Republicans because they felt like they were not doing anything they promised--in 2010 Republican's in Congress have the lowest ratings of all occupations--car sales are more popular.

So, losing Congress didn't hurt Bill Clinton really and he left office in 2000 one of the most popular people in history.  Obama only has to look to GW Bush to see how things can blow up on the president once in office with all the fat promises and all the high expectations. Bush ranks near the bottom of presidents over the last 100 years.  Obama can look at Clinton and see his strategy for the 2012 elections. Let The GOP run their hate and crazy wacko way of running the government. Obama can smile. Every time old John Fake Bake Boehner tries to screw Social Security / Medicare, there will be Obama with his VETO pen protecting the widows, retirees, and orphans of the world. By 2016 when he leaves he will be able to tour the world as an elder stateman (probably he will go jointly with Clinton and George Bush Sr.) seeking peace all over.

by hddun2008 2010-10-08 03:45PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

Republicans didnt get "hammered" in the 1996 and 1998 Congressional elections.  In 1996, they lost two House seats and gained two Senate seats.  In 1998, they lost just five House seats and didnt gain any Senate seats.  And this was after losing 54 seats in 1994. 

by Kent 2010-10-08 04:05PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

I hope you do realize that the central message of the incoming Republicans is to do everything they can to hobble the healthcare bill. What I am saying now and what I always said, is that Americans vote for someone who stands on principles, does not make backroom deals and is willing to put up a fight. This administration has done none of the above, therefore we are facing this bleak midterm outlook.

One other thing, if there is gridlock in Congress, barring a complete miracle he will not be getting a second term. Those are just harsh realities.

by tarheel74 2010-10-08 06:05PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

I basically agree, but I'd use a few different terms.  The Congress made an enormous amount of progress in 2009 and 2010.  I don't think we give them (and Obama) enough credit for that.  Secondly, I'll posit here a theory I have that a lot of people underestimate how important it is to control the Executive Branch.  All of the agencies and all of their staff carry out orders from Congress.  They do this through personnel decisions and "rules interpretation".  There is a lot of latitude in both of those.  So our entire regulatory structure is flexible and dependent upon who is in charge.  If you go back to 1968, there have been 28 years of Republican and 13 years (counting Obama) of Democratic control of the Executive Branch.  So the regulatory structure you see in place today is largely a creation of Republican administrations.  Having Democrats in control of the Executive Branch for a few more years is no small peanuts.  It is critical.

Congress' goose was cooked last year.  Thank goodness Nancy Pelosi persevered through HCR or they wouldn't even have that as an achievement and they'd probably still be losing the Congress.  Now the Obama administration can focus on re-building the Executive Branch and largely playing defense against a hostile and totally ill-equipped GOP in the Congress.  As the Civil War between the GOP and the Tea Party plays out, Obama will be in a strong position to retake the Presidency and maybe even the Congress in 2012.  The GOP can't act like they had nothing to do with this lousy economy now.  And you already see rifts opening between the TP wing and the normal crazy wing over whether to force a government shut-down this year over HCR.

The third way Obama can gain in the next few years is by controlling the bully pulpit.  Bush did this masterfully from 2001 to 2003.  All ideas were presented through his (largely incorrect in my opinion) lens.  Anyone disagreeing with Bush had to prove themselves before even being heard.  Even after the Dems took Congress in 2006, this remained the case.  The default assumption was that Bush was right.  Obama is ten times the communicator that Bush was.  Once he has a concrete political foe to play off of, I believe he'll be able to make a strong case for the Progressive agenda all of us would like to push forward.

by the mollusk 2010-10-08 06:51PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

The third way Obama can gain in the next few years is by controlling the bully pulpit.  Bush did this masterfully from 2001 to 2003.  All ideas were presented through his (largely incorrect in my opinion) lens.  Anyone disagreeing with Bush had to prove themselves before even being heard.  Even after the Dems took Congress in 2006, this remained the case.  The default assumption was that Bush was right.

That will never ever happen. If there is one lesson from the past two years, that is Obama is not very good at communicating ideas outside a stump speech. He is definitely much, much, worse than either Bush or Clinton when it comes to putting up or picking a fight and defining the argument at hand in his terms. He thinks, it's divisive. He still perceives himself to be the healer and the great bipartisan leader, even though the partisanship in Washington has been at the most unprecedented level right now.

by tarheel74 2010-10-08 06:59PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

I disagree.  The turning point for HCR, at least publicly, was Obama going to the Repub caucus in February and outsmarting them at every turn.  Granted, this exact circumstance won't happen again, but he has it in him.  I think a lot of his reticence this past year was based on trying to hold together a highly fractious Dem party that knew they were heading to their own slaughter in November.

Whether or not he's the great bipartisan healer depends entirely upon the Republicans.  McConnell and Cantor have already said that they don't back a gov't shut-down over HCR funding (much to the consternation of the TP-party).  They know they have to get serious.  We'll see what they come up with.

But the larger point is that it isn't necessary for Obama to go around picking fights with people.  He just needs to state his case firmly and clearly - something he's good at.  Having the Bully Pulpit means that people react to you, not the other way around. 

I'm heartened by Obama's pocket-veto of the industry-friendly mortgage bill that came out of Congress on the grounds that it screwed the consumer.  Also, I think it's of no small consequence that Larry Summers is gone and Elizabeth Warren is in.  I think these instances might be a little foretaste of 2011. 

The road is littered with people who underestimated Obama.

by the mollusk 2010-10-09 12:02AM | 1 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

Politics is mostly about perception. To you the turning point was the Obama appearance at the Republican caucus, to some it is the "health care summit". But these were largely efforts to salvage a dead bill. To me and to a lot of progressives the passage of the bill was when Pelosi and the Progressive caucus basically drew the line in the sand and forced the Senate to pass the bill by reconciliation if necessary, giving up the high and mighty bipartisanship charade that the President and people like Max Baucus were clinging on to. You will not hear of it because it was not a photo-op and it was not televised.

Now if you think that McConnell, who already has been all over the place about shutting down government, won't do something, you are living in a make-belief world. Right now, as a minority party the Republicans have brought the Senate to a crawl, with secret holds, blanket objections etc. If anything, things will only get worse, because now that they will win the house, and maybe even the Senate, their next goal is to make things so difficult for the President that it makes things viable for the Republcan nominee.

I don't know if you just realized that the President has the "bully pulpit", because I think for the last two years with a historic mandate, the President himself was blissfully unaware that he had what you call the "bully-pulpit". But how many times has he used it? Yes Obama has the bully-pulpit, but these two years he was the one who was reacting to other people, because that is his personality.

Consider this, can you imagine a single Republican Senator or Congressman, in the first two years of the Bush presidency, openly defying Bush (or for that matter Clinton) like Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, or Kent Conrad has done in the Senate and the BlueDogs have done in the House? Their defiance comes from their perception of weakness with the Senate Leadership and the Presidency. They know that nothing will happen to them after they saw the way Lieberman got his committee chairmanship back at the behest of Obama against the wishes of the Senate leadership, even after Lieberman openly campaigned against the President. They know nothing will happen to them when Obama's chief-of-staff went to the Progressive third parties and basically black-balled them into not pressuring these conservadems during the worst months of the HCR bill. Obviously when bad behavior gets by without any consequences, because the White House is unwilling to do so, this is what you get, a fractious party.

As far as your last line, yeah the road is littered with people who underestimated Obama (I am guessing you are still living 2 years ago and not willing to face the new realities of 2010), count the Democratic party in that too. The Democrats thought that they elected a progressive leader, someone who will fight the Republicans and stand up for principle, instead we got a person who always took the most expedient way, who refused to use his "bully-pulpit" to put the Republicans and the conservadems on the spot and in the process squandered a historic mandate, and now the Democratic party is going down in flames. However, if there is one fight that this administration is good at fighting, it is with its own base.

by tarheel74 2010-10-09 11:03AM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

But Bushes' all-or-nothing approach with the Republicans was historic and, I believe, led to the Republican demise of 2008.  Besides, that sort of approach just doesn't work with the Democrats.  It could be that LBJ was better at this sort of thing, but I'm having a hard time naming anyone else.  Plus the reason the Republican stonewalling worked so well over the past few years was that the Democrats were in charge by very large majorities, so for many people when they still couldn't get things done, it reflected poorly on them. 

Also, there's a larger issue of expecting someone to solve the economic problems.  The Republicans are about to wade (totally ill-prepared) into that morass.  What are they going to do?  Propose some more tax-cuts?  Then what?

I have no idea whether or not McConnell & Boehner will shut down the government over HCR.  But I believe that is not the reason they are being elected and they know it.  This sets the stage for a showdown between the TP-ers and the normal crazy GOP.  Or between the GOP (+TP wing) and the rest of the populace.  They're not in a good position.

In terms of how Obama approached Lincoln, Nelson, Lieberman, etc.  I'm not really sure what else could have been done.  They did vote for the stimulus package (a huge deal) and all except Nelson voted for Financial Regulation (such as it was).  Sure, they added a whole fuck-up aspect to everything else, but a Republican in their seat would be worlds worse.  They spent that political capital.  Most likely none of them will be joining us in 2013.  But in the mean time, we got HCR, financial regulation, a stimulus package.  Overall, not all that bad by modern standards.

by the mollusk 2010-10-09 08:07PM | 0 recs
RE: I think I now understand Obama and he is an Enigma

Plus the reason the Republican stonewalling worked so well over the past few years was that the Democrats were in charge by very large majorities, so for many people when they still couldn't get things done, it reflected poorly on them.

The tragedy was that despite having historic majorities, they were unwilling to implement it. Do you remember the Bush tax cuts in the middle of a war? Everyone knew it was a bad idea and it was, how did it pass, by simple majority and even today the Democrats are wetting their pants when it comes to overturning them. The WH won't even put up a fight. So what the Republicans' prescription for success, they framed the debate such that once the tax cuts become laws for a few years, when it comes to their renewal, they will frame the debate in the same terms and pass it. Remember the Bush WH's insistence that the newly made Homeland Security department not have any congressional oversight, they achieved that by framing that debate as anyone for oversight was aiding the terrorists. And what has this WH done? Let's see the stimulus, should have been much larger, we knew that then and we know that now. Moreover being a one-time only spending bill the WH insisted it be bipartisan so it reduced the size of the actual stimulus with loads of tax cuts and got 3 cross-over votes and plenty of villification. So a watered down stimulus because our bipartisan president won't sully his image by picking a fight to push the bill that would have really mattered.

Moving along, about HCR, how did it eventually pass because of reconciliation only due to House pressure after months of WH vacillation expecting a bipartisan bill from Chuck Grassley of all people. And what did that do? It ignited the present TP movement, energized their base and depressed the Democratic base that was told to suck it up and swallow the crap being offered.

Fin Reg had to pass. It could have been tougher, but if we got a tough bill it was because opposing the bill would have been toxic for any candidate.

But don't be so sure that Republicans want to govern logically. They want to make this President a lame-duck paving the way for their candidate. If this President thought that by not demonizing the Republicans and putting them on the defensive he would have gained more Republican support then he proved that he is delusional. Because not only did his inability to fight when it mattered was taken as weakness, but he not only energized the Republican base, he lost the middle and he also depressed the progressive base. That's the reality, and those were the squandered opportunities.

by tarheel74 2010-10-09 09:43PM | 0 recs
Message #1 in "the memo" makes no sense

because Obama and Pelosi have already tried it....and it hasn't worked. It's the old class warfare crap, and people aren't buying it this cycle. How many times in the last few weeks have you heard Obama rail against "giving tax breaks to billionaires!" It simply makes him sound ignorant. Especially in places like NYC, households with an income of $250,000 are, more often than not, not billionaires (or even millionaires.) Worse yet, he usually ties this type of attack in with a slam on John Boehner, who is a stranger to the average American voter.

Polls show that by an average of 50-35%, voters trust the GOP more on issues relating to taxes. To try to fight the midterm elections on this "message" is simply playing on the Republicans' turf. Right now, voters want to hear how this President and this Congress are going to provide JOBS. Babbling about all this class warfare garbage will simply look like Dems are trying to change the subject.


by BJJ Fighter 2010-10-08 06:42PM | 0 recs


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