Obama Outsmarts GOP

April 4, 2011

Based on his audacious rise to power at a young age, I infer that President Obama is an ambitious, aggressive politician of the Napoleonic type.  Yet he consistently appears to be a reasonable man of good will, open to compromise, and cooperation.  The most reasonable inference is that Obama is also a fox.

As a modern Machiavellian, I am disinclined to take appearances at face value and therefore suspect that Obama’s image is a strategic pose.  I am sure that as an intelligent, thoughtful man (who is therefore short on passionate convictions) his image does not strain his acting skills, but I suspect that the image is nonetheless, a conscious stance. 

The strategic value of that pose will become clear in the course of the upcoming budget debate.  Obama’s well developed reasonable man of good will persona, has done more than just seized the moral high ground, it has enabled him to use the Republican’s strength against them.  The base of the GOP, used to be not just conservative, but dull.  They were temperamentally conservative, grey-haired bankers, family doctors, and farmers. Now the Republican rank and file is made up of fire-breathing idealists.  These people have packed the new House of Representatives with safe candidates who are true believers, and therefore temperamentally uncompromising.   Far from being dull, they are flamboyant. 

Suppose that a confrontation between Obama and the GOP comes to an impasse.  Given Obama’s reputation for compromise, he can paint the GOP as fanatical.  If the Tea Party forces an ugly showdown, it has to face the specter of the President going to the American people “more in sorrow than in anger” saying that in spite of his best efforts, he just has to draw the line at Republican intransigence.  Almost certainly, the public will judge the situation not on the issues but on the images, and will take the President at his word. 

Worse still for the GOP, the most recent Gallup Poll puts the President’s approval rating at 46 approve vs. 44 disapprove.  It has declined a bit in recent months, coincident with the increase in gas prices.  However, the decline has come mainly from independents, the people who are least likely to side with flamboyant congressional radicals.

By contrast, the most recent Gallop Poll puts the public’s approval rating for Congress at only 18.

The GOP controlled House is in a miserable bargaining position.  Even if their stance is reasonable, they will not look reasonable.  Indeed any confrontation with Obama will transform the source of their political strength into a weakness.  The committed idealism of the Republican base will look like pig headed radicalism.

Obama knows that significant budget cuts are necessary but unpopular.  He is now positioned to blame the Republican Party for cuts that will, in the end, benefit his legacy as president.  It may be that the President is a reasonable man of good will but it is unlikely that he is just that.  Given his skillful handling of his campaigns in the Democratic primary and in the general election, it is more likely that his image is a deliberate construction.  If so, it is a Machiavellian masterpiece.


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