In the book All's Fair: Love, War and Running for President
, longtime Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Mary Matalin write about the 1992 presidential campaign between President George H. W. Bush and then- Governor Bill Clinton. The couple, who married in 1993, share a lot of interesting insights into that presidential race from their respective sides of the aisle.
Though the book is obviously dated, it does shine some light into the campaign of the last successful Democratic candidate before Obama. In reading the book, I was reminded of the differences between presidential candidate Barack Obama, who embraced the campaign message of "change" and President Barack Obama, who has really struggled over the past few weeks in his pursuit of the stimulus bill.
In one of the Carville sections of the book (the book has sections for each of the two main authors), James writes, "[A]s a political strategist, it is your imperative to get out there right away and make sure your side of the story is the one they [the media] see and hear and write and say. That is why you have to be in the first news cycle, not the follow –up; that is why we try everything to get our story out first and best."
Of course, this principle applies to legislative battles also. As such, the Obama folks could have benefitted from following Carville's advice. From the start of the stimulus debate, the Republicans on Capitol Hill were able to get their message out to the media better and faster than their Democratic opposition. The bill was so larded up with spending projects that even Democrats had a hard time defending every part of it and that contributed to many projects being cut out of it.
Additionally, President Obama (the former candidate of change) was forced to play defense, something he did not often have to worry about on the campaign trail. During the campaign, candidate Obama could easily run against the Bush administration, the status quo and Washington D.C. However, on January 20th of this year, the change candidate became part of the establishment when he was inaugurated as the President of the United States. That change from offense to defense seriously disarmed the Obama administration.
Ultimately, Democrats have claimed victory over the passage of the stimulus bill, but considering their overwhelming majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, that "success" rings hollow. Passing a spending bill when one party controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives is like running a touchdown on the football field when your team has many more players on the field than the other one.
Of course, this is the first quarter of a long game. Still, the stimulus debate was a great start to the Republican's opposition to big spending. With careful scrutiny of the bill, the GOP defined it and forced the Democrats to start making concessions and taking out some of the unnecessary projects. If Republicans continue in this manner, Barack Obama may be in for some tougher competition than many of us expected.