Obama and the Long Game

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I think Barack Obama must be a chess player. I think he must play chess because he is very good at playing the long game—at setting pieces and gambits in motion that play out years later—beyond the time horizons of most in politics. Take the recent Cliff Diving episode, for example. Or, more precisely, how Obama set up this episode back in the Summer of 2011; and how it’s resolution—complete with another debt ceiling debacle hanging—is setting up the 2014 mid-terms.

Flashback to Summer 2011 when, during the last debt ceiling fight, Boehner’s House GOP tried—really hard—to torpedo the entire world economy. The resolution was an agreement to raise the ceiling for now, constitute a debt-fighting committee to negotiate, and failing to adopt the recommendations of the Commission, to face the Cliff—but only after the Election, and with the promise of no debt ceiling fights, also, until after the Election.

How did this play out? The GOP appointed (among others) Paul Ryan to the committee—essentially dooming its negotiations to failure, before they even began. And in one sense, there wasn’t a viable way that the GOP could not appoint Ryan to that committee, meaning it was doomed before it began. Obama won, and the Democrats retained control of the Senate, and the Bush tax cuts—all of them—were going to expire. Coupled with the sequestration spending cuts—including deep Pentagon cuts. Leaving the House GOP caucus with no options—except bad ones. Collapse the economy? Or choose between (from their perspective) bad or worse deals. They picked a bad deal rather than a worse one. With the thought that they can now go back and get what they want by, again, holding the entire world economy hostage.

So: How does this play out? The Republicans have three options, all of which end up, in 2015, with an Obama advantage (of greater or lesser extent).

  1. Go down the debt ceiling suicide road. Try to tank the world economy. Get hammered by a new Blue Dog Democrat resurgence in the general election in 2014 for having done this. (See: Gingrich: Government Shutdown; and Obama: Ground Game.)
  2. Don’t go down the debt ceiling road. Get primaried; have the GOP run Tea Party radicals in the 2014 general election; get hammered by a new Blue Dog Democrat resurgence in the general election. (See: Obama: Ground Game.)
  3. Don’t go down the debt ceiling road, and make a stand against the Tea Party in the 2014 primaries. Keep control of the House, but as a caucus that can stand up to its radicals, can negotiate responsibly with the Democrats, and can appear ready to govern. IMHO, this GOP is the one that Obama expected to get—one that can serve as a foil for himself, one that he can use against his left flank; one with which he can deal.

Only option three works out for the GOP—and not coincidentally, for Obama, as well. It also represents Conservative’s and Republican’s best chances at getting the best deals they can during a Democratic Administration where the Democrats also control the Senate. Obama knows this. But I don’t think that either the GOP nor the national or Beltway media do.

About Scott Epstein

I've consumed science fiction for as long as I can remember. I've written it since age 8. I founded and edited Proteus Continuum, a Science Fiction magazine, at Tufts University from 1990-1992. Professionally, I've worked in professional publishing for more than 17 years, in both editorial and marketing functions.
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