We Are Witnessing a Destruction Test of P.T. Barnum’s Philosophy of Life


So Republicans have settled on their messaging, and it’s this: Democrats are refusing to negotiate. We keep offering compromise after compromise, but Democrats won’t listen to any of them.

Will this work? The truth of a proposition has little or nothing to do with its pyschodynamics,1 so I suppose it has a chance. But it certainly shows a considerable contempt for the intelligence of the voting public. After six months of (a) refusing to meet with Senate Democrats to discuss the budget and (b) gleefully telling anyone who would listen that the shutdown and/or debt ceiling would be their ultimate leverage to force President Obama to agree to their laundry list of demands, you’d think it would be a hopeless task to pretend it was Democrats who wanted this fight all along. Add to that the fact that Democrats have already given in completely to Republican demands on spending levels, and you’d think it would be flatly impossible to pretend that Democrats were the ones refusing to negotiate.

But you never know. The fact that this is a cynical ploy doesn’t mean it won’t work. Ironically, given that Karl Rove is opposed to this strategy, it reminds me of his well-known—and frequently successful—tactic of turning an opponent’s strong points against him. Republicans are pretty universally known as the party of instransigent zealots, so let’s claim that it’s really Democrats who are the intransigent zealots! And we’ll do it by continually offering the same concession—i.e., nothing—in return for an ever-changing set of demands and pretending that this represents a sincere search for compromise. It’s so crazy it could work!

1Bonus points if you can name the fictional character who said this. No googling!

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