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.
Your blood freezing yet?
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.
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.
Make note of thes organizations — they’re Obama’s willing puppets.When Obama’s little fiscal fantasy fumbles and falls, these are the Useful Idiots who are just as complicit as the President. Howeer, there’s GOOD news too:
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.
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. 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.
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.