Friday, December 23, 2011

Sneak Previews

The spectre of one caucus in one house of Congress being thoroughly and inexorably isolated while being thumped on the head continuously in the media was a kind of amazing spectacle to watch, but House GOPers got it, with further consequences to come.

The payroll tax cut continues, as does unemployment insurance, for the next 60 days.  Speaker Banal told his GOPer caucus he would sign off on it (reportedly in a conference call that was electronically rigged to be only one way), the House and Senate voted by "unanimous consent" (so they didn't actually have to come back to Washington) and the President signed the bill into law, and went off to join his family for Christmas in Hawaii.

But right after New Years, Congress has to consider extending both provisions for a full year.  Most pundits assume the House GOPers will meekly submit so this issue goes away, but no one knows really.  Whether John Banal can survive as Speaker is another question.  Some analysts suggest he will if only because the GOPers don't have anyone ready to replace him. 

The political consequences for the 2012 elections are even more interesting to contemplate.  President Obama did several things for himself.  He fought irrational and extortionate GOPers and won.  He bolstered his claim to be fighting for the middle class, which was already becoming effective, according to new polls.  GOPers demonstrated their hypocrisy and obstructionism.  There's little disagreement on this right now.  The question is whether this will all be forgotten (remember when all Democrats had to say was that GOPers voted to kill Medicare, and the election would be over?)  or whether this is one of those instances that a party's image is fixed in the electoral mind, and is taken into the voting booth even 10.5 months from now. 

There are two examples that come to mind, one very recent.  That's Barack Obama as the candidate who promised to end the war in Iraq.  The primaries made this clear.  And after all the rest of the campaign, and all the noise and polls and more noise, that probably was still the issue that won him the presidency.  (And oh, by the way, he just ended the Iraq war--and his poll numbers went up.)

The other example, perhaps more apropos, was when Speaker Gingrich and his GOPer extremists shut down the government in a fit of arrogant extortion.  It's conventional wisdom now that this doomed the GOPer Congress and re-elected Bill Clinton, despite scandal.  But there was considerable time between the shutdown and the election.  In that case, the electorate got that GOPer image fixed, and it stayed. 

This example also suggests something else.  Some pundits claim that if the economy is bad, the electorate blames the President because they don't know or care who is actually responsible.  But voters did not blame President Clinton for the government shutdown.  They blamed the GOPer Congress.

Here's one other byproduct of this payroll tax cut fight, according to a brilliant analysis at TPM by Kyle Leighton: it made voters aware of the existence of that tax cut.   As he says, they heard President Obama fighting to keep a tax cut they didn't know they had.  One of the many ironies has been that GOPers have seemingly gotten away with accusing President Obama of raising taxes when he has actually cut taxes for most people--for the 99% or a good portion of them-- and more than once.  Media broadcast these charges and never both to correct the lies.  So many voters didn't know that President Obama cut their taxes.  Now more of them do.  And this can turn around some other perceptions as well.

The last pre-Christmas news was significant, especially in terms of what it may portend politically for 2012.  The U.S. Justice Department has blocked the new voter ID law in South Carolina for being discriminatory, in that it would disenfranchise a high proportion of African Americans.  This doesn't mean that Justice will stop the many other such laws enacted by GOPer state governments trying to disenfranchise people who may be part of groups that mainly vote Democratic.  Justice can do this in South Carolina because it is one of the states covered by Civil Rights laws that gives the federal government this oversight.  Apparently the only other state covered that has a new law like this is Texas.

Some advocates believe that Justice can use other laws to at least sue states for discriminatory effects.  But the political and psychological effects of this action are likely to be large.  South Carolina's governor and attorney general are vowing to fight this, which will keep it in the news, and make more people aware of how GOPers are trying to take away the right to vote from people they don't like.   In both situations, what happened this week may be like a sneak preview of 2012.       

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