Turn the Other Cheek, Barack

| Tue Feb. 17, 2009 11:16 AM PST

Hendrik Hertzberg thinks that Obama's continued willingness to engage the Republican minority, despite the fact that it stonewalled him on the stimulus bill, is a crafty decision:

Fifty years ago, the civil-rights movement understood that nonviolence can be an effective weapon even if—or especially if—the other side refuses to follow suit. Obama has a similarly tough-minded understanding of the political uses of bipartisanship, which, even if it fails as a tactic for compromise, can succeed as a tonal strategy: once the other side makes itself appear intransigently, destructively partisan, the game is half won. Obama is learning to throw the ball harder. But it’s not Rovian hardball he’s playing. More like Gandhian hardball.

This makes sense to me. If Obama bends over backward to court Republicans (and, importantly, does so in a highly visible way), the GOP will lose support for refusing to engage, not gain it. And if Obama has the majorities to get his priorities through Congress without Republican support, there's no harm in taking this approach.

So, essentially, here's Obama's task. Get beat up. A lot. Because no one wants to vote for the bullies, the jerks, and the malcontents.

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