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Many of the liberals and progressives who helped Obama get elected have been frustrated in the first three weeks of his administration.  They saw Obama's opening move of soliciting bi-partisan support for the stimulus package as one of weakness.  Visits to the Capitol, cocktail parties, and a Superbowl watching party didn't look like power moves, especially from a new president with an enormous "mandate" for change.  The mainstream media has played its role of useful idiot to the Right Wing to perfection, loudly intoning that President Obama's "honeymoon" seemed to be over already.

I have read the U.S. Constitution many times and I have never seen the words "mandate" or "honeymoon" in that document.  Politics is the art of the possible, and there are really only two things that practical politicians need to keep track of: that which you can do, and that which you cannot do.  The metric for measuring these things and deciding which is which is the art of vote counting, specifically counting the votes you have in Congress before they are actually cast.

From the very beginning of his administration, less than three weeks ago, Obama has known that he has a commanding majority in the House of Representatives.  In the House all that is required to prevail is a simple majority, so Obama has always known that he would be able to pass some version of a stimulus through the House.  Barack Obama made a great display of reaching across the aisle to persuade House Republicans to climb aboard and support a bill that Obama already knew he could pass without a single Republican vote.  Why would Barack Obama do such a thing?

The mainstream media bit and bit hard.  If Barack Obama was pursuing those Republican votes, then it must be that he needed those votes somehow--though certainly not to pass the stimulus, he just needed them somehow, and the Republican Party was winning some kind of major victory by withholding from Obama votes that he seemed to want for some reason.

Or perhaps something very different happened.  Perhaps Barack Obama set a trap for the Republicans, a trap they fell for with startling gullibility.

My evidence for this?  Remember, I don't believe in honeymoons or mandates: either you can do something or you can't--and it is already well-established that Barack Obama had the votes in the House of Representatives to pass a version of the stimulus bill without a single Republican vote.  So why didn't Obama simply have Nancy Pelosi quickly pass the stimulus and move on to persuding the Senate?  Why did Barack Obama visit Capitol Hill and bring dozens of cameras and put the Republican leadership in the spotlight?  Why invite to cocktails and put the Republican leadership in the spotlight?  Why throw a Superbowl party and put Republican leadership in the spotlight?  Why has Barack Obama worked so diligently to put the Republican leadership in the spotlight and on the record?

Was it because, as the mainstream media pundits would have it, that Barack Obama needed the Republicans?  Or is it possible that Obama saw an opportunity, saw just how off-balance Republicans were after their crushing defeat in November 2008?  Did Obama see that the Republican Party has shrunk to its most hard core activist roots?  That the Republican Party has lost the ability to maneuver and make deals?  Did Barack Obama know that the Republican Party was in a position where it had no choice but to pander to the very worst of its out of touch base?   Did Barack Obama simply want to catch the Republican Party and its leadership on camera while it behaved badly and ignored the American peoples' desire for some kind of economic relief?

Barack Obama brought the cameras and the Republican Party and its leadership performed precisely as expected.  The American people were appalled.  The Republican Party ran our country into a ditch and has no plan for getting us out.  The Republicans are obstructionists, intent on blocking Democrats from implementing any solution because they know that if Democrats succeed where Republicans have failed so miserably then Democrats will control the government for the foreseeable future.   Barack Obama is trying to save our nation and Rush Limbaugh wants Barack Obama to fail.

The American public understands this.  A Gallup poll released today shows Obama with 67% support, while the Republicans in Congress have only 31% approval and a staggering 58% disapproval.   Republicans have not done themselves any favors by playing the obstructionist to Obama's attempt to save the nation from another Great Depression.

But this was only the setting of the trap.  Up to now Obama has only been maneuvering for position, showing that he is open to bi-partisan discussion, open to compromise, focused on leading and working on solutions.  Obama has largely held his fire against the Republicans blocking his plan simply because it is a Democratic plan put forward by the Democratically elected Democratic majority.  Today Obama springs the trap.  Today Obama goes on the road, goes over the Republicans' heads to speak directly to the American people in those areas of the country most affected by the economic downturn.  Obama is getting out of Washington DC and he's taking a lot of those television cameras with him.  

If Obama succeeds this week he will cement into the minds of Americans the following dichotomy:  Democrats work to make things better for ordinary Americans, while Republicans try to block any help from reaching ordinary Americans.  If Obama's plan works, then the Republican's approval rating will further crater, and 2010 is not so far away as you might think.  Obama may yet deal the Republicans a devastating third defeat in a row, taking control of the U.S. Senate with a majority of 60.  An American public that understands how obstructionist the Republican Party has become will probably hand Obama that victory.

Update:  Wow!  First time on the rec list!  Thanks everyone.

I hear your pain on how this stim package is not the very best we could have gotten.  A few points to remember though: 1) This bill still has to go through reconciliation, and there will be a chance to fix some of the more glaring flaws then (let's hope they take that chance); 2) The bill is the product of the legislative process, which has rightly been compared to making sausage, so keep that in mind when your stomach churns; and 3) This won't be the last stimulus bill from the Obama administration.  More bills will followed designed to plug holes left by this first--and admittedly flawed--effort.

Originally posted to The Richmonder on Mon Feb 09, 2009 at 06:38 AM PST.

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