Lessons Learned

Rahm Emanuel says “we lost control of the message” offering one of several indications that the White House is determined to try to do things differently with its next major initiative. Brian Beutler says “It’s still unclear what the administration would have done differently if they knew three weeks ago what they know today, but perhaps we’ll learn when Obama rolls out new initiatives in the coming weeks.”

I think the alternative strategy would be one that’s less focused on wooing members of congress inside the Beltway and more focused on doing events outside the Beltway in areas where the White House team thinks persuadable members of congress may be located. Ultimately, though, I’ve worried ever since the primaries began that too many people have an unduly voluntaristic conception of how a president gains support for his legislative initiatives. It seems that many, many, many more Republicans think “oppose President Obama’s initiatives, hope they fail, and ride the backlash wave to victory” is a good political strategy than think “try to support some of President Obama’s initiatives to protect myself from his popularity” is a good political strategy. The members who’ve made that choice may be right or may be wrong (and since different members are in different objective situations, some can be right while others are wrong) but it’s not totally clear that Obama can change their mind.

On the stimulus, meanwhile, he wound up getting more-or-less what he asked for. Ultimately, a President can’t ask for much more than that. And having legislation pass by narrow margins is, in my view, less a sign of political weakness than it is a sign that you’ve appropriately chosen legislative goals that are near the margins of the possible.