If one takes the strategic view in national politics there are lots of things that can and should be done, not just to win the issue of the moment, but to control the competition space in the future. The Republican Party took a long term tactic in their creation of “wingnut welfare” with all of the think tanks and Astroturf groups that allow them to get a consistent and echo chamber message out to the media. This did not happen in a day, but when it is was at its most effective it not only allowed a Republican take over of the government by very nearly framed every issue for the last 15 years. It was only when the reality of their bankrupt ideology overwhelmed the power of echo chamber that the American public woke up and started pushing back.
There are those on the Left, MoveOn. Org most notably, that would like us to create our own version of this echo chamber in an effort to get a more equal hearing of our side of things. There is much to be said for co-opting a successful strategy but that does not mean that it is the only one that works. The Left side of the Blogasphere is already very good at not only generating a liberal point of view but it also spreads the meme to the point that it boils up to the traditional media from time to time.
In addition to these mass communication methods there is also an opportunity for the personal, long range control. In the administration of the criminal President Bush, the main motivating idea was that of the Imperial Presidency. Consequently the access to the President, both inside and outside the West Wing, was tightly controlled. The overall message was the he was so important that only the highest of the high and mighty should be able to speak with him, and only ever on his own terms. This not only lead to the bubble that Mr. Bush lived in for nearly all of his term of office, but also made it very clear that it was a zero sum game with the president, one in which he would always be the presumptive winner.
This clearly is not the case with President Obama. In the last three weeks he has had two cocktail parties and a Super Bowl party where he invited not just members of his own party but Republican leaders as well. There have been some in the traditional media that dismiss this as unproductive fluff, but the Dog sees it from a completely different perspective. First off in her recent NPR interview the Desiree Rogers mentioned in an offhand way that the Wednesday night cocktail hour was going to regular thing for President Obama. To the Dog this makes it a strategy, and a long term one for the new President.
Think about it for a second, you get an invite from the President of the United States to come and have a couple of drinks and just chat. Anyone in the business world understands that this is basis of networking opportunity. It gives members of the House and Senate a chance to be in direct contact with the President. This is something that is so valuable that lobbyists make a career out of arranging it. This president is giving it away to the Congress on a regular basis. It gives those that will take the opportunity a chance to have a quite word with the President, on whatever topic they like. There is none of the pressure of an Oval Office meeting, since this is just casual drinks. It assures them that they have been heard, if not agreed with. It gives them the chance to make their case straight to the man that sets the agenda.
That is what is in it for the House and Senate members, but there is a lot more in it for the president’s agenda. Our President (unlike the last occupant of that office) is a man of great charm and presence. To be in regular contact with him, listening to what he has to say in a offhand manner is bound to influence a person, whether that person is a member of his party or not. Then there is also the setting of the White House. For those of you that have never been to the nations capital there is a very active design to make it impressive to both citizens and foreign visitors alike, and it succeeds very well at doing so. This is especially true of the White House. In that setting there can be no doubt that you are talking with, having cocktails with, one of the most power people in the world.
All of this leads to the long term framing of the debate. It is hard to be a hard ass about someone that you see in a social setting. When you know that he is proud of one of his daughter’s performance in English class, it is harder to paint him as a villain, at least in your own mind. When you know that he knows the names of your grandchildren and asks after them when he sees you, it is easier to see his point of view when he calls for your vote on an issue. This does not happen over night, and it will not end the hyper-partisanship of the Republican party, but it is not a strategy designed to do that. Just like campaigning in all fifty states was not designed to win them, but to peel off those that could be peeled off, this strategy makes it that much harder to maintain the complete solidarity that the Republicans need to be the obstructionists that they clearly plan to be.
This is the tangible fulfilling of a campaign promise to try to end partisan rancor. It is the genuinely good willed reaching out to the other side. It does not in any way mean that President Obama will do what the Republicans urge at these parties, merely that he will not sink the level of vilification that has been the MO of the Republican Party for the last 25 years. So, call it Cocktail Weenie Politics if you like, but it is a brilliant way to move an agenda forward. Just like so many of the Presidents strategies it is not instant, but long term it will be devastating, anyone remember how going for caucuses worked out?
The floor is yours.