Mixing the message on purpose

John Boehner, the House minority leader, mixed his message on the tax battle on purpose this weekend. I, for one, think it was a pretty clever move.

Bob Schieffer, the CBS “Face the Nation” host, tried to nail Boehner down on how he would vote if extending only a portion of the Bush tax cuts were his only option. Schieffer (and the Obama White House) all thought that Boehner would say he would vote no, giving Democrats an easy way to attack him and congressional Republicans over the next two months.

The White House has been picking on Boehner, trying to make him the face of congressional Republicans, making fun of his permanent tan (ironic coming from Obama, of all people), trying to paint him as some sort of right-wing extremist a la Newt Gingrich or Sarah Palin.

The White House is trying to make the case that John Boehner is somehow to blame for the fact that the Democratic agenda hasn’t worked thus far. They have tried to paint him as an obstructionist, although Boehner as minority leader has relatively little power. They have tried to say that because Boehner opposed the stimulus plan, opposed the cap-and-trade vote, opposed ObamaCare, opposed most of what the Democrats have come up with in the last two years, that it is somehow his fault that none of this junk has worked and none of it is popular with the American people.

That, of course, is complete nonsense. The liberal Democratic agenda is unpopular not because John Boehner is opposed to it, but because it simply doesn’t work to solve problems that face this nation. It hasn’t created enough jobs. It has made the deficit worse. It hasn’t promoted enough economic growth. And it has alienated working-class Americans.

When Boehner said he would probably vote for a partial extension of the tax cuts (or more properly, a partial stoppage of tax increases), he didn’t say he liked that option, and of course, he believes (like most economists) that raising taxes in a recession is counterproductive. But he also made it awfully hard for Robert Gibbs and all of the other political hacks down at the White House to make Boehner the target they wanted him to be.

Now Democrats are going to have to somehow bring to life an attack against Mitch McConnell, who is even harder to make fun of than John Boehner. McConnell, who actually has some (if very limited) power, is, to put it bluntly, colorless. He doesn’t have any tan at all, his public comments are structured in such a way as to put the public to sleep, and he is very hard to paint as a villain. This must be very frustrating for a White House that is consumed not with getting things done, but finding villains to blame for all of their failures.

Boehner’s statement this weekend was, if you think about it, tactically brilliant. It annoyed the Obama folks to no end, it flustered the media, and it tied congressional Democrats in all kinds of knots.

For Republicans, their goal at the moment is to not blow their big lead. Run out the clock as much as possible, score some points with some effective counter-punching and let the voters take their frustrations out on Democrats, who haven’t been listening much to their concerns over the last two years.


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