Lessons learned

LESSONS LEARNED…. The White House is no doubt pleased to see Congress pass an economic stimulus package, but that doesn’t mean the president and his team will pursue other “big-ticket” agenda items the same way they approached this fight.

White House aides say they have concluded that Obama too frequently lost control of the debate and his own image during the stimulus battle. By this reckoning, the story became too much about failed efforts at bipartisanship and Washington deal-making, and not enough about the president’s public salesmanship.

For Obama’s next act, the program is the same as he has been planning for months: New Deal-style plans to rescue struggling homeowners and rewrite regulations on the financial markets, plus a budget proposal that lays the groundwork for sweeping health care reform.

But the strategy to promote these items is getting an emergency overhaul. Obama plans to travel more and campaign more in an effort to pressure lawmakers with public support, rather than worrying about whether he can win over Republican votes in Congress. Officials suggested that the new, more partisan tone Obama embraced last week in his speech before House Democrats at their retreat and continued at his news conference Monday was what he should have been doing all along.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters last night that his team let process stories dominate the discourse, and that “there’s an insatiable appetite for the notion of bipartisanship here and we allowed that to get ahead of ourselves.” The Politico piece also noted that “Emanuel said that they recognized they had overdone their initial outreach to Republicans.”

Now, I think some of this can be misinterpreted. I saw one far-right blog say that Emanuel’s comments mean that President Obama will “ignore” Republicans “completely” from now on. That’s wrong. In fact, while the Politico piece didn’t include it, Emanuel also told reporters that Obama will continue to reach out to the GOP: “The President’s always going to reach out to people in both parties. I mean we have these upcoming summits, one on fiscal reform, and another one on health care. There’s gonna be Republican participation, and that will never change.”

So, what are we to glean from Emanuel’s comments? I suspect the White House is simply coming to grips with a simple truth: process doesn’t trump policy. I didn’t hear Emanuel’s remarks first hand, and I don’t want to read too much into the articles, but at a minimum, I hope the COS’s belief that the White House “got ahead of ourselves” on Republican outreach suggests the elusive “bipartisanship” will be in the mix, but it won’t be at the top of the priority list.

And really, can you blame the White House for reaching this point? ThinkProgress has a very good item this afternoon, noting exactly what the president did to “ingratiate himself with uncompromising” conservative Republicans, and exactly what he got in return — nothing.

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