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Whining About Obstructionism Is Silly

The TNR Congressional Roundup

Over the next few days, a group of Congressional experts will try to answer the big questions that came out of the Capitol last year: Were the Democrats as hapless as the press made them out to be? How could've they been more effective in meeting those filibustering Republicans head-on? What happened with the timetable for withdrawal? And, hey, where's Rahm when you need him? You can read their responses here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten, Part Eleven.

From: Michelle Cottle

To: Eve Fairbanks and Norman Ornstein

Subject: Whining About Obstructionism Is Silly

Eve, you've hit on what bugs me with the Dems' "Obstruction Alert" that I mentioned. It feels far too procedurally focused (and seems reflective of some broader trend within the caucus):

"After engaging in unprecedented obstruction throughout the year, the Grand Obstruction Party finally broke the Senate's record for cloture votes tonight, forcing the 62nd of the year. The previous record of 61 in a two-year terms was set in 2001-2002, the last time Republicans were in the minority in the Senate.

“By sticking with President Bush on issue after issue--from changing course in Iraq, to closing tax loopholes on big oil companies--and by filibustering measures that passed overwhelmingly, this year's class of Bush Republicans shattered the two-year record in just the first year of session. Their feat was akin to Mark McGwire breaking Roger Maris' home run record of 61 in a season by the All-Star break. Unfortunately, while Bush Republicans may be the real winners in their game of obstruction, the American people have lost." [italics theirs]

I'm sorry, but this is a silly approach. (And one that, inexplicably, thinks it's a good idea to refer to the Republicans as "real winners" in any context.) No one cares deeply about these institutional records other than perhaps stats- and milestones-obsessed political reporters. Maybe that's part of the problem: Dems are busy trying to get the attention of the media with clever analogies when they should be pitching a more emotional message directly to voters. (If the Bush administration has taught the GOP anything, it's the value of bypassing the MSM.) Rather than blabbing on about cloture records, the Dems should be spinning narratives along the lines of: Republicans hate children! Republicans want you to die for lack of health care! Republicans want to deport--no, make that stone--gays!

If Harry Reid doesn't want to do the dirty work, he should at least deputize someone (Schumer, Eve?) to be his Republican-flesh-shredding Tasmanian Devil. But for maximum impact, the leader's office needs to shift its focus as well. (It is certainly possible to come across as statesmanlike and yet outraged by the venality of the opposition. Maybe there's some way to adapt Pelosi's shtick as fiercely disappointed grandmother.) If a President Obama somehow manages to save the nation from its bitter partisan ways, the Dems can readjust their tactics accordingly. Until then, howzabout we see some DSCC talking points on Mitch McConnell's penchant for drowning puppies?

I exaggerate only slightly.

(Read Norman Ornstein's response here.) 

Eve Fairbanks is an associate editor at The New Republic. Michelle Cottle is a senior editor at The New Republic. Norman Ornstein is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author, in 2006, of The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, with Thomas E. Mann.

By Michelle Cottle, Eve Fairbanks, and Norman Ornstein