Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hardball and Overreach: Gutless Democrats and Overextended Republicans

Why are Democrats so awful playing hardball and the Republicans so good?

Think about events in the last couple of weeks. The fiscal forecast for Minnesota drops the state budget deficit from $6.2 billion to $5 billion and what happens? Dayton drops his call for a one time special tax on millionaires and the GOP thumbs its nose at the rest of Dayton’s tax proposals.

In Congress, the Democrats are ready to fold on budget cuts.

In Wisconsin the GOP votes to gut the collective bargain rights of unions and Democrats look powerless.

On top of all this where is Obama? He seems ready to offer compromise on health care, he seems unwilling to fight for union rights, he does not draw a line in the sand over the budget. Instead, he seems almost irrelevant to the events going on around the country. On top of which, he seems paralyzed by what to do in Libya.

Yet again I see a pattern. Republicans attack, make demands, and Democrats sit back and take it. There is a partisan fight in American but only one party is fighting. Why is that?

Maybe there is a secret strategy that the Democrats have? Perhaps the strategy is that if they act reasonable and offer to compromise it will force the GOP to do the same? Or perhaps the idea is that if you look reasonable then it will win over swing voters who will think the GOP are inflexible ideologues? Perhaps, just perhaps, this the strategy of the Democrats.

But we see how well it works for them. This strategy worked terrifically for Obama in 2009 and 2010, did it not? It led to the GOP fighting the Democrats on everything, making them look ineffective, and eventually it led to the rout of 2010. Additionally, the strategy of compromise has cost the Democrats dearly. Extension of the Bush tax cuts is one example, production of a mediocre health care bill and a less than half a loaf financial stimulus and regulation bills are also examples. Additionally, by not fighting and trying to look responsible the Democrats have also upset its base and the many voters who elected them because of what they promised and then they failed to deliver.

But Democratic compromise encourages GOP resistance. For Dayton, who wants to balance the budget without any more cuts and with tax increases, his decisions to give up on some taxes simply encourages Republicans to dig in their heels. For weeks people have wondered when will the GOP release their budget? The answer is they do not want to release one. They do not want to be the ones to cut education and throw granny out of the nursing home. Instead, by forcing Dayton to compromise more and more they hope eventually to get him to propose the cuts they do not want propose. Shift the blame to the DFL for all the ugly cuts that will have to be made. This is the GOP strategy. Fight, don’t compromise, make the Democrats back down, and they will eventually do the dirty work. The same is happening in Congress, the GOP are threatening a government shutdown, leading Democrats to panic and compromise.

Perhaps part of why the Democrats are so bad at playing hardball is that they think they are responsible for the government. They have come to believe they are the party of the government and that their job is to protect it and the vulnerable. Good aims, but such a strategy is forcing them into a defensive posture where they keeping giving up ground one step at a time. It is a strategy of retreat, fearful of losing but nonetheless they are still losing.

Or perhaps Democrats are so bad at playing hardball because they really do not believe in their principles in the same way the GOP does. For at least a generation Democrats have been corporate liberals, taking money and cues from the business community. Obama, as I argued in previous blogs, seems bent on proving that he is pro-business to the point that he sides with banks over homeowners and companies over workers. Democrats ape to be GOP-wannabes, and perhaps that is why they do not fight so hard–they really do not believe in what they say they believe.

Or perhaps, in the end, the answer is simple–Democrats have no guts! They have no guts to fight for what they believe in and are unwilling to risk anything to get what they want and what they promised voters. Yes, Democrats are gutless, but why they have not learned that they need to fight is beyond me.


Did the GOP overreach in Wisconsin? Polls suggest yes, but will it cost them? There are recall petitions across the state but it is not clear to me that voters will really punish them. Similarly, in MN there is a plethora of antichoice bills being introduced. Will this hurt the GOP?

Think about twin imperative at play in MN. The GOP wants to stay a majority party beyond 2012. To do that it needs to temper the extremist tendencies in its party that want to adopt very conservative anti gay and antichoice legislation. Most of this legislation probably does not command a majority support among the state general population. However, this legislation is popular with its base. Unlike Obama who failed to understand how he needed to reward his base, the GOP understands that. That is why it pushes legislation like this along with voter fraud and other similar bills.

On one level it does not matter if the legislation passes but is vetoed. The GOP has delivered to its base and that makes the happy. Moreover, look to see many of these proposals come back as constitutional amendments next year as a way to invigorate the GOP during a 2012 election cycle that might be more favorable to Democrats. Thus the balance here is how to maintain majority status and not alienate swing voters but at the same time appease the base?

The Democratic strategy seems to be to let the GOP push this legislation, hoping it will show the DFL base and swing voters that the GOP are extremists. However, simply hoping the GOP will overreach is not a viable political strategy. It is a defensive one, placing your electoral success on the hoped failures of the other side. This strategy is no different from the failed one of 2010 where Democrats tried to win by labeling the Tea Party as nuts and crazy. That did not work then and there is no guarantee that perceptions of GOP overreach will work to the Democrats advantage in 2012. At best it might lead to GOPers thrown out but it gives Democrats no mandate.


  1. They say you can win football games with defense (I don't, but I'm skeptical), but you surely cannot win a political campaign that way.

  2. I am saden that the democrats ran away from a confrontation in Wisc. instead of standing up and fighting for the rights of their voter, I personally donot like unions to me they are a dictatorship, I was getting bigger and better wage raises before I was forced to join a group I donot believe in, the unions only protect the people who donot do their job,
    I have seen this happen many times.
    As far as the GOP keep up the good work.
    an ex democrat