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Friday, January 16, 2009

The Limited Power of Perpetual Campaigning

Barack Obama is determined to make his stimulus plan a bi partisan affair. So much so that he is taking his case directly to the people.

Taking his economic pitch on the road Friday, President-elect Barack Obama promoted his plans to create long-lasting, well-paying jobs in cutting-edge industries like alternative energy as part of his mammoth plan to pull the country out of recession.

"It's not too late to change course -- but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible," the president-elect said as he sought an early victory on his stimulus program. He pledged: "The first job of my administration is to put people back to work and get our economy moving again"

We should expect this sort of campaigning throughout his Presidency. Frankly, it is not only good politics but good policy. He is a fabulous campaigner and so promoting his plan in front of crowds the way he promoted his own candidacy puts him in his best element. Furthermore, Presidents should look to every opportunity to by pass the Washington beltway and take their message directly to the people. Yet, on this issue, Obama will find limited benefit.

Now, I have no doubt that after he tours the country a bit promoting his stimulus bill that the stimulus will enjoy even more support. It's likely that support will translate into more phone calls into Senate offices. Yet, none of that really matters.

Obama is trying to do something he simply can't do. He is trying to bring to ideological opposites together. Republicans like tax cuts and Democrats like government spending. To appease one you tick off the other. The only pressure Obama will apply is on those politicians with no political instincts.

We are in the beginning of the Congress. It makes absolutely no difference whether or not this stimulus enjoys support now. The only thing that matters is whether or not it works. No politician with any instincts should be swayed at the least by public opinion. If this thing fails, they aren't going to be saved because it was popular before it was implemented. A good politician is not going to be swayed by public opinion. They will only be swayed based on whether they think the stimulus will work.

As such, putting the pressure of public opinion on law makers has limited effect right now. If this were a few months before the election, such a move would be brilliant. Yet, he wants to by pass the beltway and go directly to the people with nearly two years before the next election. Voting against a popular bill two years before an election means little. The public isn't going to remember or care. With this bill, it means even less. If we are still in a deep recession come November of 2010, anyone that voted for this stimulus will be in jeopardy. Any politician worth their salt must understand that. Why bow to public opinion now, when it will be so much more relevant when we see the effects?

Frankly, Obama is going for something he doesn't need. He has the votes to pass this thing and instead he is trying to get Republicans on board as well. He can criss cross the country all he wants but he isn't going to convince a true fiscal conservative that this is a good deal. If Republicans are serious about getting back to their fiscal conservative roots, this stimulus is not something they are going to get on board. The leadership should understand that voting for a massive expansion of government will likely lose their base for good. No amount of politicking in Ohio will change that.

Perpetual campaigning has plenty of value, especially when Obama is the campaigner, but just after an election with this bill, it has nearly no value.

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