Obama’s Plan to Troll the State of the Union

We’ve written several times before about President Obama’s attempt to troll Republicans by being intentionally misleading or inflammatory in order to generate news coverage. This is not some conspiracy theory ginned up by right-wing message boards, it is a purposeful and intentional strategy created by the White House. Major Garrett reported for National Journal:

It is the brainchild of former White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, whose methods loom large long after his departure. The theory goes like this: Controversy sparks attention, attention provokes conversation, and conversation embeds previously unknown or marginalized ideas in the public consciousness. This happens, Plouffe theorizes, even when—and sometimes especially when—the White House appears defensive, besieged, or off-guard. I first discovered and wrote about this in July of 2012.

The president has used a variety of approaches to accomplish this aim. For instance, when the White House was discussing the gender pay gap they deliberately used misleading statistics because they wanted fact-checkers to call them out. As Slate’s John Dickerson wrote of that particular foray into deceptions:

“This twist is a new, higher order of deception: creating the controversy for the purposes of milking it. Facts, schmacts. As long as people are talking about an issue where my party has an advantage with voters, it’s good.”

The president used the strategy again on immigration reform. There’s a reason why the White House gave an “exclusive” first glimpse of the plan to Fox News rather than liberal mouthpieces like MSNBC or the New York Times – they wanted right wing pundits to whip the story into a political froth. From there all the White House had to do was sit back and watch the debate happen.

Now, the cynical strategy is being taken to an entirely new level. Over the last two weeks the Obama Administration has been dropping tidbits about policy proposals they intend to introduce in the State of the Union Address.

First came a details-free proposal to offer two years of community college at “no cost” to Americans. The problems with the “plan,” as we discussed here, were myriad: It would be exorbitantly expensive, it would disrupt the current system of higher education, and it wouldn’t help poorer families so much as it would wealthier ones.

Then, President Obama announced a plan to mandate paid sick days for all employees. This seems like common sense, and it is, which is why the vast, vast majority of employers already offer paid leave. But let’s understand this for what it is – a tradeoff that will net lower pay for workers.

Finally, the White House “leaked” a proposal to hike taxes on the wealthy by $320 billion over the next ten years. The problem, as almost any economist would tell you, is that the plan takes aim at investment income at a time when businesses and startups are already deprived of capital. When you tax something you get less of it. Do we really want less investment (especially since the capital gains tax rate has already been increased from 15 to 23.8 percent under Obama)?

But none of those questions matter because none of these proposals are really up for debate. These proposals aren’t meant for consideration, they aren’t even meant to stir up the liberal base, their sole purpose is to antagonize Republicans. As John Podhoretz writes for the New York Post:

This, of course, has no chance of passing. But then Tuesday night’s State of the Union address could be the first one in history deliberately designed solely to generate a Pavlovian rage response in members of the opposing party. . .

Obama and his team have clearly decided that one of the metrics by which they will measure their success is by just how wild he drives his Republican opposition in Washington and conservatives across the country.

It’s enough to make you want to go back to the glory days of the republic, ya know, when the State of the Union was actually used to describe the state of the union.