Thursday, April 2, 2009

The President Is Keeping Score . . .

Chicago politics has moved into the White House.



By KARL ROVE

"Don't think we're not keeping score, brother." That's what President Barack Obama said to Rep. Peter DeFazio in a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus last week, according to the Associated Press.

A few weeks ago, Mr. DeFazio voted against the administration's stimulus bill. The comment from Mr. Obama was a presidential rebuke and part of a new, hard-nosed push by the White House to pressure Congress to adopt the president's budget. He has mobilized outside groups and enlisted forces still in place from the Obama campaign.

Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and her chief of staff, Michael Strautmanis, are in regular contact with MoveOn.Org, Americans United for Change and other liberal interest groups. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina has collaborated with Americans United for Change on strategy and even ad copy. Ms. Jarrett invited leaders of the liberal interest groups to a White House social event with the president and first lady to kick off the lobbying campaign.

Its targets were initially Republicans, as team Obama ran ads depicting the GOP as the "party of no." But now the fire is being trained on Democrats worried about runaway spending.

Americans United is going after Democrats who are skeptical of Mr. Obama's plans to double the national debt in five years and nearly triple it in 10. The White House is taking aim at lawmakers in 12 states, including Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. MoveOn.Org is running ads aimed at 10 moderate Senate and House Democrats. And robocalls are urging voters in key districts to pressure their congressman to get in line.

Team Obama is also ginning up the Democratic National Committee. A special group at the DNC has been created called "Organizing for America." It is headed by Mr. Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, and is lobbying for the administration's spending proposals.

Organizing for America's first effort has not been terribly effective. It emailed 13 million Obama election workers, recruited 1,200 neighborhood canvassers, and, after a couple of weeks and more email pleas to the Obama list, produced 642,000 signatures. Having less than 5% of your own activists sign a petition is unimpressive and perhaps evidence that adding $9.3 trillion to the deficit alarms even some of Mr. Obama's most fervent supporters.

Every White House is faced with finding ways to nudge Congress without antagonizing it. But this overt campaign could infuriate members who won't appreciate being targeted by a president of their own party. They could react by becoming recalcitrant. Should that happen, team Obama will have to recalculate its efforts, especially as the public sours on big spending plans.

In March, a Gallup Poll found that positive impressions of the Obama budget dropped five points. Only 39% now harbor supportive views of it. A CNN/Opinion Research Poll in mid-March found that support for the stimulus bill Mr. Obama signed into law shifted 11-points against the bill in five weeks, with 66% of Americans opposed to a second stimulus bill.

Support continues to decline for the proposition that a big boost in government spending will lead America to prosperity. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll early last month found that 61% of Americans were concerned that "the federal government will spend too much money" (up 12 points from December), and only 29% were concerned "it will spend too little money to try to boost the economy."
About Karl Rove

Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.

Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.

Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon & Schuster. Email the author at Karl@Rove.com or visit him on the web at Rove.com.

Or, you can send him a Tweet @karlrove.

This growing skepticism will not be assuaged by White House Budget Director Peter Orszag's bewildering response when asked by a reporter last week about increasing federal debt. He said, "I don't know what spiraling debt you're referring to."

Members of Congress should also worry about how Mr. Obama is "keeping score." He is steeped in the ways of Chicago politics and has not forgotten his training in the methods once used by Saul Alinsky, the radical Chicago community organizer.

Alinsky's 1971 book, "Rules for Radicals," is a favorite of the Obamas. Michele Obama quoted it at the Democratic Convention. One Alinsky tactic is to "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it." That's what the White House did in targeting Rush Limbaugh, Rick Santelli and Jim Cramer. (The president's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, went so far as to lash all three from the White House press podium.) It may also explain Mr. Obama's comments to Mr. DeFazio.

After all, Alinsky's first rule of "power tactics" is "power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." Team Obama wants to remind its adversaries it has plenty of power, and it does. The question is whether the White House will wield it responsibly. The jury is still out, but certain clues are beginning to emerge. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother," even if said with a wink and a smile, isn't quite the "new politics" we were told to expect.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

6 comments:

Lee said...

Keeping score. Say that a few times. Ponder the fact it emanated from the lips of the President of the United States. Now, try to imagine the reaction had W uttered those words toward those moderate and thoughtful Republicans that the NYT so loves. You know, the ones who reach across the aisle. Imagine the spluttering on the Sunday morning talk shows. Nina Totenberg. Mark Shields. Eleanor Clift with her screech. CAN! YOU! IMAGINE!

VoteNovember2008 said...

OK, Lee, forgive me but I think I'm channeling John Lennon this a.m. "Imagine all the people", LOL, no I can't imagine! Oh and officially I'm suffering from ODS! VN8/BB

Jim said...

Poor Karl. Nobody thinks he's such a genius anymore. You really think "turdblossom" (as nicknamed by President Bush) didn't kept score? There's a reason Bush called him turdblossom.

Lee said...

Ah, Jim, you're so witty. Please remind us again of Rove's nickname.

It's politics...of course they keep score. My point is that there would have been a media meltdown had a Republican uttered those words. Remember back to the mid-90s when Tom Delay was accused in the media of putting his thumb on House Republicans? My God, the Sunday shows for several weeks were buzzing with it. Look at those Republicans in lockstep! Now, with BO, it's all good, right?

Jim said...

Lee you're right it's politics. Democrats don't tend to march in lock step quite as well as Republicans but it's how the game is played.

Lee said...

ARE YOU EFFING JOKING? Dems don't march in lockstep!!?? Look at all the "moderate" Republicans so admired by the MSM. There's McCain, Chaffee (no longer), Snowe, Collins, Specter, and Graham to name a few. How many Dems have bucked the party? Well, there's Lieberman on a single issue and that earned him expulsion. Then there's...well, I can't think of another unless I go back a few years to Zell Miller. Brother, don't tell me the GOP is in lockstep - I can only wish it were so.