Barry’s Excellent Republican Beer Summit Adventure
I do not know what the inspiration was behind inviting Barack Obama to the Republican Congressional retreat this past Friday. I have watched some of it, and must admit, as far as stagecraft goes, it was good for Obama. Most of the conservative blogs that I subscribe to have been quite silent about the event because, I suspect, they feel the same way.
But let me say, inviting Obama to the retreat was a bad idea.
It has given the Left and the media nothing but glee the entire weekend, and it will serve to be the bit of inspiration they have looked for from Obama that will bring them back into the battlefields again. So, with his intervention in Baltimore, Obama has done a significant thing politically: He has not only re-legitimated himself as “bi-partisan” after a year of being the driving force of one-party haughtiness (“we won!”), he has also signaled to the Left and the media that he is a leader they can rely on again. The narrative that is being told by the media not only confirms the Left’s gratitude, but also what a mistake it was for Republicans. This exchange between Hopward KJurtsz and Chip on CNN’s Reliable Sources says it all:
HOWARD KURTZ: How is it that the cameras stayed only on the president and we didn’t get to actually see the Republican members of Congress that were asking those questions?
REID: Well, I think in many ways, the president really did wallop them there. I think the White House feels that way, and it was because the Republicans were fighting with one hand, maybe both hands, tied behind their back.
First of all, they were not on camera asking the questions. It was just a disembodied voice, at least in the live version, because they didn’t have it set up so they could have two live cameras at the same time. It was just a technical thing. Later, we used the questions in my Evening News piece, for example. But if you were watching it live, it was like the president alone was up there.
KURTZ: Up on Mount Olympus.
REID: Exactly. And they would ask the question. And they’re in no more “you lie” moment mode right now. The Republicans are back off from that. They are not in a position to — they wanted so badly to say that’s nonsense, or you know that’s not true, to fight back, but they couldn’t because of the format. So, basically what happened, whatever sports metaphor you want to use, mine is that they would ask a question, then the Republican defense would leave the field and Obama would run for a touchdown because they couldn’t fight back.
The worst thing about it though, is that the Republicans played directly to his strength. If anyone knows anything about Barack Obama’s political history, they should understand that he thrives on nullifying his opposition through public gestures that make him appear to be the bigger man. He did this at Harvard, adroitly riding an angry crest of racial tension to become president of the Harvard Law Review; and managing to do it, somehow, with conservative support. In the video below, an excerpt from a Frontline documentary, it is almost like the template for what is happening now has already been written:
And, the beer summit over the summer was part of that same Obama template.
How does it work and how does it help Obama politically?
Essentially, I think that Obama’s “beer summit” leadership pattern follows a leadership pattern similar to that employed by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. It has dialectical roots in that Obama’s leadership (like Chavez’ and Zelaya’s) is designed to not only create crisis and social division, but to eventually appear to be the solution to the very crisis it created. It is a political gamble that is calculated to whip the opposition into a frenzy in order to later discredit them. It requires only one man to do this, preferably someone flexible enough to to rattle the cage of the opposition and later present himself as the one who will put all that darned rattling to an end, blaming the opposition for starting it in the first place. This style was successful for Chavez, and it only failed Zelaya because he had lost all political support in the National Congress. And then, he almost managed to return to power anyway.
Obama, for instance, created the beer crisis when he took sides after he announced that Officer Crowley and the Cambridge police acted “stupid” by arresting Harvard professor Henry Gates. This immediately spurred a swift defense from the Cambridge police and with the help of a cacophony of pundits declaring the truth on one side or the other- oila!- a divisive crisis appeared for all to see.
Pronouncements of truth on one side brought angry recriminations from the other. Politicians favoring Obama came out forcefully in defense of Gates and the narrative of “racial profiling” spurred by Obama. Those against, had to clarify that they thought the accusations against the police were unjustified, as they were simultaneously under attack for being racists and anti-Obama partisans. The media, for its part, never did a deeper investigation of the matter in order to get to the truth: they merely fanned the flames by focusing on it, announced it a crisis, and accepted Obama’s narrative.
This left a vacuum where there seemed to be no resolution or ultimate arbiter of the matter. And that was where Obama stepped in. Even though he had spurred the crisis, opened the door to make the incident national, and apparently favored one side over the other, he declared that he would hold a beer summit at the White House where the two antagonists could work out their differences. He looked good because people forgot he started it, and he was given a great assist by the media who focused on his role as mediator and not as instigator.
In the end, many people thought that the beer summit hurt Obama, but I think, at the very least, it revealed the pattern of leadership that can be expected from Obama. He thrives on crisis, and will create it where it does not exist. Crisis creates polarization, which opens a political portal through which a candidacy or a radical agenda can be advanced, even if incrementally.
As is evidenced during his campiagn against Hillary and Bill Clinton, he banks on the risky proposition that the splits he creates in the political base will not be permanent enough to hurt him or deep enough to drive him out of office.
Similarly, at the end of his first year in office, he has done much the same to the country. He has succeeded in isolating the Republican opposition in Congress, has split the country, and yet has not given up on his agenda. He is banking on his falling poll numbers not being permanent and the fissures he has created coming together enough so that at the optimum moment he can step in and appear to save the day.
By inviting Obama to their retreat, Republicans have given him the life that he desperately needed after a week that would have arguably destroyed other politicians. In light of the massive failures and backtracks of his administration on terrorism (the NYC trials, the Detroit bomber), for Obama to be able to stand with his opposition and lecture them, helped him a great deal. It shows the country that even though he has made mistakes, those most likely to call him to account for his mistakes would not.
That makes it ever more difficult for popular forces outside of Washington to take any action against his presidency that delegitimates it any further. At the very least, I think, Republicans have helped him stop the bleeding and assisted in his strategy to re- position himself as the “real” populist. As one of the only conservatives who dared acknowledge Obama’s succcess expressed in a comment at Michelle Malkin’s blog:
Today’s event was not about the usual lies Obama was again pitching. Everyone knows about the lies. What was important is that this was supposed to be a Republican event and it was successfully hijacked by Obama. He was the only face shown on camera and so he was the three-dimensional star. Everyone else was a faceless voice in the shadows. We learned who was asking questions only when Obama would acknowledge them by name before they asked their questions. Obama had all of the advantages. He was in control. It was a Republican event. Yeah, pretty stupid guy.
It is pointless to go through the endless litany of all of the things that are wrong with Obama. It’s about being upstaged. Obama is now posturing as being on the same side as the Tea Party and is attacking both parties for the same reasons. Anyone who has read my comments over the years knows I am not a defender of liberals in general and Obama in particular so don’t waste your breath lecturing me about the difference between what the Tea Party wants and what Obama wants. He is trying to divide those Tea Party people, like those that elected Scott Brown last week, into a separate group, a group that doesn’t feel comfortable with “right-wing nuts” and is still open to supporting him.
Unless the Republicans do something fast to undo the appearance of Obama being the only reasonable person fighting against a system that we all agree is the main problem (not Democrat government, not Republican government, but the government he inherited and that now is standing in the way of his success), he will have scored a tactical victory that could put us at a significant disadvantage. He might change the narrative in a way that will trip us up.
If you don’t understand what I am saying, give it some more thought before launching another round of ignorant ad hominems. I’ve heard them all. Battles are won with strategy and tactics shaped around superior intelligence, not foolish dependence on superior firepower and bravado. If you think Obama made a fool of himself today, you weren’t paying attention.
He’s right, the narrative is already changing and once it does, the liberal advocacy media (LAME) will help everyone forget about Obama’s missteps. The Republicans will not get any credit for civility; something they should have learned from watching Obama and the Democrats throughout the past year.
You get credit in politics when you win, have power, and hold onto it. Civility in politics is only effective when you publicly proclaim your side has it and the other does not. It does not help you in politics when you actually practice it and thereby leave yourself open to be attacked through it by your opponent.