Bipartisan like a fox

Many progressives feel that senate “moderates” have boxed Obama into a corner. Latest evidence: it’s the other way around.

Many progressives feel that Senate conservatives “moderates” have boxed Obama into a corner, taking out the best parts of the stimulus and making him thank them for doing so. Maybe. But consider three things that happened today:

1. Arlen Specter endorsed the stimulus, at length (by today’s standards) and in writing; he certainly praised his own preferences but in general stressed the need to act quickly in a crisis.

2. The Senate invoked cloture on the key stimulus amendment. Nate Silver astutely notes that Snowe and Collins, who along with Specter were the only Republicans voting “aye,” hail from a state that Obama won by 17 points.

3. Barack Obama, Mr. high-60s Approval, used his press conference to (1) stress that we’re in an economic crisis and must act very soon if we want a chance to dig out; (2) go out of his way (as E.J. Dionne notes, about :55 into this audio) to praise parts of the stimulus plan that the House passed but the Senate eliminated or gutted: aid to states, school construction, medical IT. Dionne thinks this is a signal to House Democrats to put such things back in during conference. I think he’s right.

Now: say the House bargains hard in conference; the conferees as a result put back in a lot of the good spending while taking out some of the ridiculous tax cuts that subsidize people who already intended to buy houses and cars; and the resulting conference report is passed easily by the House.

The self-styled Senate moderates will then be free to huff and puff. (Obama might not even mind: let them play to their constituents.) But will they seriously, given (1), (2), and (3), consider voting nay?

Let’s start considering the possibility that our president knows how to play this game.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.