Hello Everyone,

In a recent Obamagram, I argued that there may be two primary causes why some are “disappointed” in President Obama – while I am not at all – high unemployment rates and unrelenting partisan wrangling in Washington. I will first make a brief comment here on the former, but will then mostly comment on the latter.

Unemployment
With respect to unemployment, I said “that it is beyond the understanding, let alone the power, of any person or group to fix an economy…not even ‘the most powerful man in the world.’” It was gratifying for once to hear similar sentiments expressed in public by a respected observer. Last week, on the News Hour, David Brooks was refreshingly blunt:

…they all say, I created this job, I created that job…it’s completely bogus. Presidents do not control the economy under their watch. They can have a marginal impact in extraordinary circumstances. But it has to do with a lot more complicated things than they are responsible for. And that is true with Obama. That’s true with Bush. It’s true probably with Herbert Hoover…

Bipartisanship
While there are undoubtedly manifold reasons for the partisan impasse that political scientists will discuss for years to come, there are a few that seem readily apparent already. They can be encapsulated by the old saying, “it takes two to tango.” And, Sen. Mitch McConnell and lobbyist Grover Norquist simply refuse to dance.

I have said from the beginning that I support Barack Obama because of his “intellect, worldview, and temperament.” But, even this pragmatic, collaborative, emotionally-intelligent president cannot alone restore bipartisanship.

The Republican leadership, cleverly and cynically, recognized from the start that they could unilaterally deep-six Obama’s campaign promise. And, frustrate his supporters in the process.

Sen. McConnell’s Goal
Sen. Majority Leader McConnell blatantly revealed his strategy a mere month after the President was inaugurated, when he famously asserted, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Sen. McConnell’s top priority wasn’t to “fix the economy” or “create jobs” – of course, he couldn’t have delivered, even if he wanted to. But, he could deliver on an intention to withhold the “bi.” Just link arms and say no to everything. Brilliant. Sen. McConnell did have it within his power to cause this president to fail to deliver on one of his central campaign promises.

Mr. Norquist’s Pledge
Similarly, another roadblock was being systematically constructed to stymie this president – Grover Norquist’s insidious “no new taxes” pledge. Mr. Norquist is the Republican lobbyist who founded a group called “Americans for Tax Reform” in 1985.

When I finally looked up the details, I was shocked to learn how effective Mr. Norquist has been in almost singlehandedly creating gridlock and blocking bipartisanship. As some of you already know, the British newspaper The Guardian reported that Mr. Norquist has gotten a written pledge from 238 (over 98%) of the 242 sitting Republican members of the House. That’s over 54% of all House members. No wonder Speaker Boehner can’t deliver on any bargain, grand or not.

And, Mr. Norquist got the same pledge from 41 (over 87%) of the 47 sitting Republican senators. It is no wonder that Sen. McConnell can back up his own pledge to block the President at every turn because 41 senators can block any action in that body, given the requirement that 60 of the 100 senators must vote to end a filibuster.

It is impossible to negotiate and compromise if the other side has already assumed a non-negotiable posture. No wonder the President can’t deliver on his bipartisan pledge. It was dead on arrival.

Commitment and Consistency
Mr. Norquist’s campaign to secure “no new taxes” pledges was as inspired as it was cynical. He must have read Robert B. Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Dr. Cialdini claims that prominent theorists “viewed the desire for consistency as a central motivator of our behavior.” Moreover, he contends that once we take a stand and go on the record, “there is a natural tendency to behave in ways that are stubbornly consistent with [that] stand.”

By the way, that is probably also the real genius behind candidate Obama’s campaign in 2007-08 to elicit $2 donations from millions of voters. Getting a voter to make a psychological commitment to his candidacy is much more important than the money.

Of course, I am subject to that same commitment and consistency psychology, too.

The powerful McConnell-Norquist duo has been enormously effective in frustrating the President’s bipartisan inclination and promise. I, for one, am not disappointed in him. I’m disappointed in them.

Please, as always, pass it on. And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com

Chuck

 

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