How to Win When Everyone Loses

In Washington, consolation prizes--pleasing the base, appearing tough and strong, handling negotiations better--are really the only victories in town.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Evan Vucci / AP

President Barack Obama during the fiscal cliff negotiations in the briefing room of the White House on Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, in Washington.

There are, in theory, a few months every two years when the next election is supposed to matter less. The horse race, as it were, has been run. The chance to govern is at hand. That’s the theory, anyway.

In these days of divided dysfunction, the practice is different, as the new Pew poll about public reaction to the New Year’s fiscal-cliff deal beautifully illustrates. It is, in short, still possible to win when everyone loses.

First the poll asked about the substance of what Congress and the White House accomplished as the rest of the country recovered from their New Year’s hangovers. On this score, the numbers are dismal. Just 38% of the country approves of the deal, compared with 41% who disapprove, and the share of the country who thinks the deal will help people like them, improve the economy or lessen the budget deficit hovers around 1 in 3. These are not the sort of numbers that incumbents of either party like to see.

But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So Pew followed up the substantive questions about the deal with horse-race questions about who won the day. On this score, there is a clear winner: Barack Obama, with 57% of the country as a whole, 74% of Republicans, 53% of Democrats and 55% of independents saying he got more of what he wanted in the deal than GOP congressional leaders did.

Asked another way — who handled the negotiations better — Obama wins again, by slightly lower margins, with 48% of the country approving of his approach, vs. 19% of the country approving of the Republican approach to negotiations. Much of this difference can be attributed directly to the way the bases of the respective parties judged their own teams. While 81% of Democrats approved of Obama’s handling of the deal, only 40% of Republicans approved of the congressional GOP’s handling of it.

So Washington failed, and there was still a winner, which just may be the pattern of the coming months. As a new set of cliffs and ceilings approaches, neither side is showing signs of really playing for a win that pleases the country, in part because both fear it is out of reach given the current makeup of Congress. So the consolation prizes — pleasing the base, appearing tough and strong, handling negotiations better — are really the only victories in town. It’s a perfect recipe for more incremental policy mediocrity. So goes Washington. So goes the country.

20 comments
curt3rd
curt3rd

The title sums up Obamas last 4 years in office.

MehrganHD
MehrganHD

 To Sum it up

Obama won an unpopular competition!

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

Last year, I wrote a book (not exactly a "best seller") about how the right-wing was the lapdog of the wealthy.  But since then, it's become apparent that the "right-wing" has multiple parts and the wealthy aren't exactly happy with all those parts.  The upshot of it is, the wealthy spent so much time and money on brainwashing their followers for so long that they raised a generation of "true believers" who took the old guard GOP's means-to-an-ends "get them elected then ignore them" religious issues and turned them into actual goals by a clueless and demonstrably less intelligent bunch of newcomers who had a life-time of suckling at the cold, withered teat of rightist hatred and ignorance.

We call them the tea party.  Basically, the wealthy lost control over the asylum and the patients are trying to run the show.  The wealthy aren't getting the elections they paid for.  They're unhappy about the popular (as in more than a majority of Americans) desire to raise THEIR taxes and the GOP (the old guard, not the TP'ers) are still trying to funnel money to their wealthy (and unhappy) masters while fighting off the idealistic crazies the TP'ers mostly are.

In short, The GOP is broken and can't be fixed with all their in-fighting.  At the same time, they've gerrymandered themselves into power for at least the next eight years (until the next census) even though they are a minority in almost every state (see the actual numbers of voters who voted for representatives on a state-wide basis - there were lots more democrat voters than republicans casting their votes in almost every state).  The American public is moving more toward the center (if not the left) while the GOP continues to marginalize itself and stand in the path of the will of the people.

So much for right-wing democracy (though likely if the Democrats could have done the same thing, they would have).

 With the GOP in such disarray, the only thing REALLY needed today to drive the final nail into their self-created coffin is the rise of a moderate party.  Unfortunately, that takes funding - something the wealthy aren't going to stand for doing because moderation doesn't lead to public-raping profits like they're getting now.  So there's no percentage in changing a system that still rewards the wealthy and penalizes the poor, albeit not as greatly as before.  The politics we've seen for two years will be what we have for the next ten unless the people decide to fund a party that puts both the liberals and the conservatives on notice that we're not going to stand for their crap anymore and will kick out extremists on BOTH sides if need be.  Without that funding, the moderate voices of the nation - a growing number, by the way - have no chance of being heard.

There really were no winners in this article, or this election.  But there were clear losers: The American people.  It would be nice, for a change, if Congress did something that they haven't done in a long, long time: Their JOBS.

jmac
jmac

Simpson/Bowles called for the end of all the Bush tax cuts.  We got a revenue increase on those making over 400,000 - with that first 400,000 at the old rate.

Democrats didn't win.  Norquist won.  Fox won.  They control the nation just as surely as the press helps them with trying to play fair and balanced.   Let's let the press report that since Democrats got practically nothing, the cuts should be equivalent.   Can the press not cover Coolidge and Hoover?   Does history not matter?  It certainly didn't matter as we repeated it.  

roknsteve
roknsteve

"But in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king".  Says Mikey the blind leading the blind.  You know I'm bored  when I read any of his rants.  The sun is out, the sky is blue, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.  See ya tamale.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Dems against republicans and tea party against everyone.  The republicans gerrymandered themselves into a majority in the house for years to come.  One thing no one is talking about right now however, is by doing so they also created the perfect space and opportunity for tea party backed candidates to challenge for these same seats.  The republicans cannot gerrymander their way out of these tea party challenges so the only choice left is to be and stay as far to the right as possible and vote for nothing except stuff that will not pass the sanity test and has little chance of becoming law.  

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Michael: The Pew poll suggests that the public perceives that President Obama won the horse race, but they are unhappy with (or don't know) what he was riding to win.

Could this have anything to do with the "horse race" reporting that took place during this episode, and has virtually disappeared since?

News coverage of the "Fiscal Cliff" has been relentless since the election, but the substance of the deal, as you noted, got a day's worth of coverage on a national holiday. In this area, the White House and MSM have both failed the American People by not reporting the *outcome*, which is that we are raising revenue to reduce the deficit and continuing stimulus measures to improve the economy.

sacredh
sacredh

"Asked another way–who handled the negotiations better–Obama wins again by slightly lower margins, with 48% of the country approving of his approach, compared to 19% of the country approving of the Republican approach to negotiations."

.

Only 1 in 5 approve of the approach the republicans took in the negotiations. I think these numbers can be very misleading. Obama's approval rating is around 50%. There are many liberals that don't approve of Obama because they (we) feel that he's a centrist. We still vote for him even if he disappoints us on some of the issues. I think it's the same way with the republicans. Many republicans don't approve of the way they handled the negotiations because they weren't as far to the right as they wanted but still support their party.

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@DeweySayenoff I am no fan of the so-called "Tea Party" movement, but I have seen no evidence that their members are either less intelligent or less educated than the general population. Granted, this piece is nearly three years old, but in April 2010, the New York Times reported: "Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll."

I would love to see a third choice, but my hopes are not high. I checked out the "Coffee Party" a couple of years ago, and concluded they were just a front for Democratic organizers.





forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@jmac 

You can't base everything on Simpson-Bowles.  Simpson-Bowles was a 4.6 Trillion Deficit Reduction package that theoretically would've put the deficit to bed.  This one added 3 trillion to the deficit.  Also not implemented from Simpson-Bowles: all of the spending cuts and changes to SS, Medicare, etc.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

"You'll shoot yer king off, kid."

sacredh
sacredh

gysgt213, that's it in a nutshell. The republicans are sacrificing the future for the present and they're not doing too well in the present. The long term damage to the republican party is hard to predict and to gauge. Christie is looking like a strong candidate, but i have serious doubts that he could make it through the primary season without some serious damage. The Tea Party will go ballistic if he's the eventual candidate.

jmac
jmac

@forgottenlord @jmac It's true that we haven't seen the cuts yet.  But if all's fair there should be very few cuts considering what the Democrats didn't get.   You mention Social Security.  It's not a deficit problem.  It pays for itself at this point and will until the '30's.   It's an easy fix - raise or remove the income cap.  If anything else is done to it - Democrats lose as big as they did on revenue.  

jmac
jmac

@forgottenlord @jmac You have rose-colored glasses concerning Obama.  He's  is in favor of Simpson Bowles and cutting.  He's a Republican on the economy.   Clinton raised taxes on everyone during a mild recession and the economy boomed.  Bush, jr cut and cut and cut and never had a decent job's record = and took us to the brink of a Great Depression.  

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@jmac

I actually don't think it's fair to compare Hoover to the blue-dogs.  Hoover's biggest problem was that he actually pushed for austerity and a balanced budget in a weak economy - very much not what Obama is interested in.  There are valid arguments that Obama should extend the middle class (and below) tax cuts as the vast majority of small business owners who are the true people that power us out of recession and are really in that general group would have more money and the majority of the population will have more spending money allowing for consumerism to power the US out of the recession.  I'd bet it's more effect than giving the rich tax cuts - and it probably isn't as useful as stimulating the economy.  Either way, I question the value of Simpson-Bowles as time after time, it's demonstrated that trying to balance the budget from either end just makes recessions worse.

jmac
jmac

@forgottenlord @jmac I agree with you that Obama didn't want the tax cuts - and his idea of middle class is the definition of Republican's middle class (he's certainly not as informed as Clinton on the workings of the economy).    He's as blue dog as you can get.  I'll  agree with you that it was a win FOR OBAMA  (and Republicans),  but it was not a win for progressives. Hooverites - they won.  

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@jmac

They started with it off but it ended up back on by the end - and it was one of the many criticisms.

My read: Obama doesn't believe in the middle class tax cuts expiring.  Regardless of your position, that is Obama's so I'd call it a win for him - he got what he wanted out of it.  I am not at all convinced that the majority of elected Democrats are that different on that front (for whatever reasons

jmac
jmac

@forgottenlord @jmac I might be mistaken, but I thought that Simpson Bowles took Social Security off the table after the discussions started as Simpson finally admitted that it has nothing to do with the deficit.   It never should have been on the table in the first place - it's a Republican talking point.  

All we "won" was a slight increase in taxes on the super wealthy (with their first $400,000 at the old rate) .  That's might be winning the round in you opinion but considering if we had gone over the cliff ALL the Bush tax cuts would have been erased, I'm not buying it.     Clinton wasn't afraid to bring in revenue, but you go ahead and toot Obama's horn for his win.   I'm still remembering that he could have had the revenue at the end of two years and he decided not to do it before the mid-terms.  

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@jmac

See, now here's the hypocrisy on display:

"You mention Social Security. It's not a deficit problem. It pays for itself at this point and will until the '30's. It's an easy fix - raise or remove the income cap. If anything else is done to it - Democrats lose as big as they did on revenue."

Factually, you are correct (and I agree with your solution), but Simpson-Bowles opted instead to reduce Social Security rather than make that formula change (or anything else, for that matter) - so now you are the one advocating making a departure from Simpson-Bowles in the same thread where you're blasting Republicans for doing the same thing on their end.  And in fairness to the Republicans, wouldn't such a raising of the cap constitute an increase in taxes - yes, for the rich, but an increase on the rich (ignore the moral arguments for a minute).  How can you just say "hey, this method works so this is the right way to do things" in the same discussion as you're lambasting the lack of compromise.  Removing the cap is a 100% win for Democrats in that category and it goes against two of the core constituents of the Republicans - the anti-tax and the rich.

Back to the original deal: the Democrats got a lot.  We got the majority of the money we wanted in the tax increase.  The tax break for the middle class (for better or for worse) is maintained for several years - the main advantage of which meaning that Boehner's got no bargaining chip when it comes to taxes, now, that he can exchange for revenue decreases.  The spending cuts weren't removed but rather deferred.  In effect, I think Obama won that round in any measurable way.  The only thing Boehner has now are the spending cuts already going into effect which tilt decidedly in the Democrats favor - so Boehner's negotiating from a weakened position to attack Medicare and Medicaid.  And the Debt Ceiling but if he tries to push that card too hard, I think Obama will invoke 14.  Either way, the size of Obama's victory here is actually massively understated, IMO, in favor of lamenting the can.