Politics is intellectual football. Here are two recent and brilliant Obama plays.
#1 Extending the Bush Tax Cuts in 2010
I was pretty upset in 2010 when Obama let the Bush tax cuts be extended without much of a fight, but it was genius. Not only did it coax a little more stimulus out of the Republicans for an insipid economy, money he could not have gotten for anything but tax cuts, but Obama timed the new expiry date for the extension perfectly. Right before the 2012 election the Republicans were going to publicly position themselves against the middle class: “if we can’t cut taxes for the wealthy, than nobody gets a tax cut.” And here we are!
Early on Obama’s team had to know, as all political operatives do, that re-election prospects would most likely be tied to how quickly the economy recovers, and how good the Republican candidate would likely be on economic issues and related experience. Even if the economy did poorly, an economy-deaf candidate like Mccain would likely mean an Obama victory. If the economy did well, Obama’s broad like-ability would mean an Obama victory too. Foreseeably, the only possible way that Obama could lose a 2nd term is if the economy continued to stagnate and an economic “can-do” Republican was nominated (I think this is why Herman Cain ran). So, in 2009, what economic “can-do” guys were out for the Obama team to worry about?
In 2008, it was obvious to everyone Romney was that man and that he was going to run again. In fact, I told people at back then, not because I am brilliant but because it was blindingly obvious, that Romney is likely the only Republican candidate who could seriously have a chance at beating Obama, because he could win on Obama’s only serious weak point. Afghanistan was not likely to become a big enough problem. ObamaCare riles Republicans, but not many others. Pro-life or anti-gay issues? No way. That is a losing demographic battle. Obama’s team was only worried about a Republican economic guru; and a guru happened to be the frontrunner at the time.
So how do you neutralize Romney’s economic bonafides? Simple: by making him and his party look more like robber barons than Mr. Fix-It.
So, in addition to timing the debate, the 2010 Bush tax cut extensions was a brilliant move by Obama for another reason: while Republican Party holds middle-class tax cuts hostage to upper-class tax cuts, but the standard-bearer for the party, Mitt himself, is one of those wealthy individuals for whom his party is sacrificing the middle-class. Do you think this debate would be as big of a deal if Rick Santorum was the nominee? If anything, a middle-income standard bearer would give this fight for the wealthy some integrity (though a middle-income standard bearer also would probably not have experience in the economy making millions of dollars).
Finally, while health care was a major campaign issue in 2008, Obama needed a new issue to excite his base. The obvious alliance between the Republicans and wealth was ripe for political exploitation.
#2 Having Harry Reid Accuse Romney of a Decade of Tax Evasion
According to Harry Reid, a Bain investor called his office and told him that Romney has not paid taxes in 10 years. Reid then said as much in an interview last week with the Huffington Post and then in a speech on the floor of the United States Senate. Republicans have gone postal, demanding “dirty Harry” take it back, and have attacked the Obama Team for not denouncing this unsubstantiated claim.
But the Obama team has played it super cool and asked, why doesn’t Romney take 10 seconds, reach into his filing cabinet, and cough up some tax returns to the nearest reporter. He could prove Reid a liar in seconds; why would he not want to so easily discredit the 2nd most powerful Democrat in the country?
If Romney does not release his taxes, then he, the richest man ever to be a major party nominee, as his party fights for his tax cuts, is seen as hiding something (especially because, between the precedent set by his dad and Nixon, and every presidential candidate for the past 50 years of releasing 8 or so years of returns, he already looks like he is hiding something). But, if he does release his tax returns, then the media gets to tell lots of stories about how rich he is and how he got his wealth. (He did not create a conventional business from the bottom up, like Andrew Carnegie or Henry Ford. Instead he bought and sold businesses themselves, often after lay-offs, re-organizing, and ‘stripping them for parts,’ though admittedly it is more complex than that.)
Now, I have no evidence for this, but I find it hard to beleive that Reid, an early supporter of Obama who initially encouraged the man to run for President in 2007 when everyone thought Hillary had the nomination locked up, who depended on Obama for his own re-election campaign in Nevada, who is Obama’s staunch ally, would get this phone call from a Bain investor and unilaterally take it straight to the Huffington Post and put it in a speech. Assuming he got the call at all, he probably g-chated Obama immediately and asked,
Harry_#1Senator: What should I do?”
Ice.cold.Obama: Do what you think is best ; )