By Teresa Welsh |
It is true President Obama has the upper hand right now in the blame game over the sequester. He has traveled the country performing his version of Adele's Oscar-winning song, Skyfall," and his partners in the press have played their oh-so-predictable role in amplifying his message.
But if Republicans will be patient—if they will allow the cuts to take effect, endure the first day or two of press clippings and stay the course—this could and probably will turn into a massive PR victory for them.
Americans have begun to smell a rat. Bob Woodward coming out and identifying the White House as the source of the sequester idea was an important first step. Arne Duncan's misspeak on the Sunday talks—claiming teachers already were receiving pink slips over the cuts when this is absolutely untrue—was a second. And Saturday morning dawning without famine in the street and riots in the airports will cement the notion the president has cried wolf.
Two in five Americans followed the fiscal cliff negotiations two months ago "very closely." Fewer than one in five are following this. Why? Because this doesn't involve a tax hike. There is concern about defense cuts—particularly in areas that depend on the military for their economy. But most perceive there to still be some fat in the Pentagon budget, and few believe the president or military leaders will make cuts that truly leave us vulnerable.
The rest, they rightly assess, has little effect on them—a conclusion that has left the mainstream media incredibly angry. This has led to sputtering across the universe about how Congress needs to come back and do its job and fix this mess. Only, Republicans now claim—again rightly—they passed two alternatives to these cuts, only to be laughed out of the room by the president and his friends atop the Senate. And, as noted above, Americans have begun to realize there is, in fact, no mess to clean up.
Another important thing may happen here as well. To this point, the president has successfully painted his opponents as obstructionists who sabotage his efforts on behalf of the American people. But this time, he is the obstructionist. He is the one in the position of stopping something—a symbolic but significant step toward fiscal sanity—Americans clearly have said they want. He talks above Congress—or at it. He has never shown much aptitude for talking to or with Congress. Americans are about to realize this, and there will be nothing his friends in the media can do to protect him from it.
The guess here is Republicans finally stand their ground. The backlash doesn't seem that strong. The leadership could not possibly sell another tax increase of any kind. And the American people are starting to realize the president has not leveled with them on this. Even in the hands of the GOP of 2013, that ought to be enough to eke out a victory.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College