Obama's Sucker Punch Strategy

Shortly after Scott Brown’s election in Massachusetts, the Obama White House decided on a two-track strategy. One track would ignore polls showing the decline in the president’s approval rating and unpopularity of this health care scheme. The other would throw the the Republicans on the defensive, driving home their assertion that the Republicans are the party of “No.”

The first test was to send the pugnacious National Security Council staffer John Brennan out to declare that by criticizing the administration’s conduct of the war on terror, Republicans were aiding al-Qaeda. He also insisted that all relevant federal agencies were fully engaged in the decision to try the Christmas underpants bomber in a civilian court.  This gambit failed the laugh test because even before Brennan’s attack, National Security Director Blair, CIA Director Panetta and Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, when asked if they had been consulted, said, “No.”

Next came Mr. Obama’s appearance at the Republican House members’ retreat in Baltimore. The very act of going helped him blunt growing criticism that he was unwilling to be “bipartisan” in policy matters.  Once there, he took pains to single out Rep, Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) for his “Road Map for America’s Future,” first introduced in 2008 and reintroduced by Ryan in January. The plan contained ideas for getting federal spending and the national debt under control by dealing with health care, Medicare, Social Security and taxes.  It is a serious plan to restore the government to solvency and each element is worthy of serious debate.

By putting Rep. Ryan in the media spotlight, the president was setting the Republicans up for a sucker punch. Within 48 hours several members of Congress, administration “experts” such as the chief of the Office of Management and Budget, and left-wing bloggers were hammering Ryan with the full range of demagogic charges: callous, shifting costs to families, “privatizing” Social Security, and so forth. It worked. Some frightened Republican office holders quickly asserted that Ryan spoke only for himself, not the party. 

The next phase of the Obama Sucker-Punch Strategy involves his invitation to the Republicans to hold a bipartisan “summit” on health care on February 25. This will be televised. Some GOP leaders wanted to duck it, figuring it would be pure political theater, accomplishing nothing of substance. While that may prove true, both parties read their private polls and realize that anything the Republicans do to validate the Democrats mantra that they are “the party of No” hurts their chances for success in November.

The Republicans don’t have to go, but go they will. To make the best of it, they should minimize the number going to one or at most two spokesmen who could present their ideas on health care, such as tort reform, policy sales across state lines, creation of small-business policy-buying pools and increasing the attractiveness of Medical Savings Accounts. A united front is essential. A second designated person could, as elements of Obamacare are revived, remind the audience that the American people soundly rejected the scheme. GOP emphasis should be on its own positive alternatives.

President Obama will take a leaf from the famous Mohammed Ali’s playbook, “float like a butterfly” so that he is seen as calm, reasonable and, thus, “bipartisan.”  Then will he will use the second half of that dictum, “Sting like a bee” by which he and his cohorts will attempt at every turn to put the Republicans on the defensive and puncture their proposals with “facts.” Altogether, this will amount to a latter-day version of Mohammed Ali’s boxing strategy of  “rope-a-dope.”  That is, throw your opponent on the defensive and don’t let up.

How can the Republicans counter this? By appearing judicious and earnest and constantly
reminding the audience that a large percentage of the people do not want to resurrect Obamacare as it has been written and rewritten behind closed doors.