I couple of posts ago, I discussed how Obama bested Romney by being an ideologue to Romney’s pragmatist. Well, the same dynamic is playing out with the fiscal cliff talks, with House Speaker John Boehner playing the role of the hapless pragmatist this time out.
John Boehner is a beltway insider, and in the fiscal cliff negotiations he is doing what he knows best: negotiating with the aim of finding common ground in order to kick the can further down the road. The trouble is, that’s not what Obama’s doing. He is playing the long game. For all of Boehner’s extensive Washington practice, he doesn’t have much experience with somebody like Obama. Boehner assumes that Obama just wants to go along to get along, like him. Wrong. Obama is playing to win. When he said, shortly before his inauguration, that he was going to “fundamentally transform America”, he meant it. As a result, he is willing to take short-term hits to achieve long-term gains (and to tell you the truth, I admire this aspect of him). As a result, Boehner is playing catch up, always a half an hour late and a dollar short.
What could Boehner do differently? For starters, he could stop playing Obama’s game. As I said in my previous column on ideologues and businessmen, ideologues have the leg up in political debate because their superior knowledge of the underlying political principles and policies allows them to frame the issue better.
The whole phrase ‘fiscal cliff’ is a crock concocted by the Democrats and their MSM supporters. In reality, it is a bipartisan compromise on spending and taxes that was reached by Boehner and Obama before the last election. Media pressure has buffaloed Boehner into forgetting this. Boehner should reframe the debate by reminding the voters that the ‘fiscal cliff’ is really a ‘bipartisan compromise’ to ‘strike a balance’ between spending and taxes. And everybody likes ‘bipartisanship’, right?
Second, Boehner should begin to play the long game himself. He can do this by reminding the voters that, while the coming tax increases will be counterproductive, the so-called fiscal cliff is a pothole compared to the real danger: the looming debt crisis. Last year, the US Federal Government spent $1.2 trillion more than it took in. All indications are that this imbalance will accelerate. What’s worse, even the ChiComs aren’t able to cover the shortfall any more. Last year, 70% percent of the deficit was made up by Helicopter Ben’s printing presses. Covering debt with printed money is a sure way to destroying the monetary foundations of a country. Just look at Argentina and Weimar Germany. It is therefore absolutely critical for the survival of the United States that the government slash spending to acceptable levels. Now.
If Boehner were to say that, say it forcefully and say it often, he will be able to turn the terms of the debate completely around, deflating all the ‘fiscal cliff’ hoo-hah along the way. Declare war on deficit spending and ask Obama which side of the war he is on.
Undermine Obama’s basic assumptions so that he is forced to fight our game. That’s how you fight to win.