Friday, February 10, 2012

A Political Hand of White House Bridge

President Obama can play basketball, but he's not a bowler, as was evident in 2008 when he rolled a gutter ball in Altoona PA in a silly attempt to look like a "regular guy", just like Hilary was tossing back shots of whiskey and talking about shooting sprees with her grandfather.

Sure, Obama can't be good at all the games. He's reputedly a good poker player and has become a very good chess player against the GOP Congress, but this week it's obvious the White House needs to learn bridge.

I'm referring to the entirely unnecessary brouhaha over the feds requiring Catholic institutions to provide employees health insurance coverage of contraception.

No sooner had Santorum roiled the political world by showing what a loser Romney is, trouncing him in a trifecta of caucus states, than the White House handed the media a substitute story to chew on that shifted attention from Romney's failure as a candidate. The "White House v. Christianity" became the new news, and the far right GOP leaped at this chance to motivate the far right voters to work their tails off in this election. "Obama is crushing faith," Santorum intoned on TV, eyes flaming and fist closing for all to see. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner promised contravening legislation. Romney summoned up some fake fury. And the large contingent of Irish Catholics among the TV talking heads, who normally are pretty liberal, joined the screaming about invasion of the constitutional protection of freedom of religion.

And it didn't have to happen.

The "sin" at issue here is not contraception. It's the failure of the White House to send one simple letter that could have turned the whole thing into a yawn.

Anyone who knows even a little bit about the game of bridge knows about "finessing a trick." The same thing can be done in striking a sale price in a deal or in enacting legislation or in getting an agreement about how Catholic hospitals and schools can provide contraception coverage to their employees.

How? It's simple. You co-opt the other guy.

If it's a question of bargaining on a price for something, you get the seller to make the first offer, thus avoiding offering more than you needed to as a buyer. You've also now engaged the other person in the process, got her gears rolling. In a subtle way, you have become partners in a process, each with a now-active role in making a deal. (If you're the seller, you get the buyer to make the first offer.)

The same thing works in writing legislation (which I used to do). If you anticipate opposition from someone, you invite the someone to sit in on the process. If they do, they can hardly complain publicly about the final product. Well, they can, but your answer is, "Hey, they were part of the process!" If they refuse to participate, you can counter their later opposition to the bill by pointing out that they had been expressly invited to be part of the process but had refused. They had had their chance.

So why didn't the White House do something similar with the Catholic bishops about contraception coverage?

It was so simple. BEFORE setting a foot out the door on this issue just quietly write the bishops a letter (and ALWAYS make such moves in writing), asking them to send their proposal IN WRITING for meeting the requirement. Mention up top in the letter that you're pleased to note the bishops have already reached accommodation with 28 states that require the church to provide the contraceptive coverage. And ask them which arrangement they prefer of these 28 in reaching an accommodation with the federal government. Hit hard on the Church's existing accommodation with the 28 states.

With this one letter, you have avoided all the tempest now churning over the issue. You have  planted yourself so firmly on the high ground that the bishops have nowhere to go with this issue. They can't say the feds are telling them what to do because you've ASKED them what THEY want to do. You have also put your best defense out there before the game begins, i.e  the Church has already reached accommodation with 28 states. From the outset, the bishops will look like idiots if they refuse to do unto the federal government as they have already done unto the states.

If the bishops are at all bright, they will see, from the moment they get your letter, that the game is over.

And if they still try to force the issue, the media will yawn instead of doing as it is now, i.e. gleefully stoking the fire. How can the media push a story with the headline: "Church Caves 28 Times But Balks at 29th".  There would have been little public outcry and far less fuel for the GOP candidates to rouse up their "social issues" voters.

Only belatedly is the information now coming out from the White House that the bishops are being two-faced in the current conflict, digging in against the fed requirement when they have already caved in 28 states.

The White House stupidly violated the First Rule of Politics:
                            The answer never catches up with the accusation.

Even if your response is prompt. In this case, unbelievably, it has taken the White House SIX days to tell the world that the bishops have already cut deals with the states. That  information should have been out last year, way AHEAD of the bishops taking charge of the issue.

How can the White House not know this?

All along, the Obama White House has managed public and press relations very badly and done a poor job of getting its side of the story out to the American people. Not just on this issue, but from the beginning, with the worst being the Affordable Care Act. It took MONTHS for the White House to deny the "death panels" spooked up by Sarah Palin. MONTHS! In its continuing inability to explain the new health care law, the White House plowed the field for the sprouting of the Tea Party. The same mishandling occurred regarding the bank and auto company bailouts.( In fact, I was blogging about the great success of GM weeks before the White House heralded it.)

Why this slow-as-molasses approach?

The White House had better get on the ball. It can't count on Mitt Romney continuing to bite off his own feet. He may stop doing dumb stunts like pretending a waitress pinched his butt. So the White House staff had better shape up. As for butts, it's way past time for there to be some butt-kicking around the White House.

It's very hard not to be angry at the staff that serves our good president so badly. We need to win this election, and their ineptitude could be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

.......  So, how much do you want for that old bicycle you're selling? .....

P.S. There are no constitutional issues involved in the contraception coverage issue. More on that next time. Also starring Joan Baez.

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