Why Obama Attacks “Congress”

Andrew Sprung asks:

Why does Obama slam “some people in Congress” instead of *Republicans* for blocking job-creating measures?

Ooh! Ooh! I know that one!

I’m sure there are plenty of Democrats who would like to hear Obama go after Republicans and their leaders directly. But this is one of those cases in which the president’s self-interest (in re-election) pushes him in a somewhat different direction than what party activists might like. And, subjectively speaking, he seemed very comfortable doing it. Expect to hear plenty more Congress-bashing from Barack Obama.

I talked in that post about how unpopular “Congress” always is, and that even when Republicans are unpopular (as they are), it’s a safe bet that Congress in general is even more unpopular. What I didn’t mention then, and will now so that there’s at least a little bit of non-self-congratulatory content in this post, is that it’s probably also the case that a Democratic president attacking Republicans sounds to lots of people like the background noise of squabbling politicians that makes them hate politics so much, while what Obama is going for when he does this is to put himself on the same side of Americans who hate all those squabbling politicians.

Which is hardly admirable of him, at least in my view. But thoroughly understandable. I’m fairly confident that it works in focus groups. Whether it works in any larger sense is another story; one of the best traits of Barack Obama as a politician was his ability to ignore short-term news-cycle stuff in favor of longer range goals, and the possibility that we would be somewhat less governed by what sounds good to focus groups. Regardless of my feelings about it, however, I’m pretty confident that’s what’s going on.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.