Politicians hate losing. For this reason, President Obama is contiunally counting congressional votes and pulling back from positions where it looks like he will lose if he pushes the issue to a final vote.
Because of this aversion to high profile losses, Obama has throughout his presidency pre-censored himself and avoided a prolonged push for, among other things, a Medicare option for all, elimination of the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy, a balanced approach to debt reduction, and a larger 2009 economic stimulus package. On those issues and others, the President has made his case briefly, if at all, and then quickly scaled back to win the necessary votes.
Presumably, Obama has done this because he worries that losing a big legislative vote will hurt his credibility. That’s valid, to a point. You don’t want to make a habit of losing legislative fights. But when the public is overwhelmingly on the President’s side, it’s an election year, and there is an important point of political differentiation to highlight, occassionally it is better fight and lose than to cave and “win.”
One issue where Obama should fight and lose is on a Fall 2011 jobs package. In the next few days, Obama should announce the kind of jobs package that he and his economic advisers believe will be best for the country, not the kind jobs package that can garner enough votes in a historically unpopular Congress. (At the same time, he should also announce longer-term deficit reduction proposals, to show that he also understands and values that long-term economic challenge as well.)
Then, Obama needs to campaign for that jobs creation package full time for at least 6 months. Not 6 hours, or 6 days, or 6 weeks. 6 MONTHS. He needs to campaign on it relentlessly throughout the Republican primaries — sea to shining sea — and repeatedly call out his opponents on THAT issue, not the silly issues du jour (e.g. the silly thing that Candidate X said about a culture war issue). He needs to educate the public about why his approach to job creation is best for America, over and over and over again.
Then Obama will lose big. The Republicans control the House and will threaten a filibuster in the Senate. It is a well established truism that congressional Republicans are more committed to defeating Obama than they are to helping unemployed Americans and struggling communities, so Obama will lose a vote on any given jobs package he proposes. This we already know.
But Obama not only needs to lose, he needs to lose as publicly and loudly as possible. He should force GOP Senators to actually filibuster through several nights. He should speak out in an unvarnished way after every legislative setback. Then, after he gets his ass kicked by the most unpopular Congress in recent history, Obama needs to stand up and unreprentently tell Americans that he doesn’t for one second regret that he fought Congress to the end on behalf of people and communities in need.
Why should Obama set himself up to lose the jobs creation debate in the most public and prolonged way possible?
1) To spotlight his top values and priorities. The President needs to show Americans what he really stands for at his core – using government to help working families and communities in need — and how deeply committed he is to it.
2) To spotlight his opponents’ top values and priorities. The President needs show Americans what his opponents really stand for at their core – blocking efforts to help working families and communities in need – and how deeply commited they are to it.
3) To educate the public. Obama needs to prove to Americans, through months of repetitive, non-condescending conversations, that his approach makes sense.
Losing in a high profile way will feel lousy to the leader of the free world. But losing an election will feel worse. And framing the next election as being between “the guy who unsuccessfully fought his ass off to try to create jobs” versus “the person who continually killed the efforts to create jobs because she/he wants to resurrect the failed Bush era approach” is the kind of framing that can, against all odds, get Obama reelected.