Chuck Schumer and the 80 percent principle

Senator Charles Schumer. (Via the Senator's flickr stream.)
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Today, Chuck Schumer had some more friendly advice for John Boehner

“The Speaker seems to be testing out how far he can venture onto a frozen lake before the ice breaks. He should listen to business leaders who are telling him to watch his step. Messing around with the debt ceiling just to satisfy the Tea Party will lead to higher interest rates and an economic cataclysm.”

In this case, Schumer was talking specifically about the debt ceiling, but his message-tactic in talking about conservative ideas—particularly ones that are unattractive to many Americans when presented alongside a list of their practical consequences—has been perfectly consistent, since long before he accidentally laid out his messaging “strategy” on a conference call.

The key is the wedge—criticism of the Republican Party and its platform iterated as an appeal to reasonable Republicans who are being hijacked by extremist nuts on the right-most margins of politics.

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On TV during the latest round of budget negotiations, Schumer all but shed tears for John Boehner for what the House speaker had to put with from within the ranks of his own party. In fact, Schumer has pretty much given up criticizing the "Republican Party" for proposing cuts to environmental regulation and welfare for poor people and public-transportation infrastructure and women's health, the better to focus his public criticism on the "Tea Party."

In the early 2000s, when Schumer had become the Democrats' unofficial point-person on opposition to the Bush administration's Supreme Court nominations, he argued his case by saying he expected reasonable Republicans in places like New York to share his disgust at the nomination of judges like the Trent Lott ally Charles Pickering.

"I believe the hard right has come to the conclusion at some point that they were never going to get their way with the elected branches of government," was his line at the time. "So they found another way—the judiciary."

And even then, it was an old routine for him.

In July 1997,  when Schumer was still a congressman, and still a vocal advocate of gun control (back when there was such a thing), he pretty much stated the premise of every argument he'd ever make again, at a debate against National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre organized by the National Press Club.

"The NRA wants to make gun control a polarizing debate between evil jack-booted government forces and patriotic gun rights advocates," Schumer said. "The truth is that this is not a debate between extremes. This is a debate between one extreme and the mainstream of modern America, because 80 percent of us want Congress to do more to restrict gun sales. They know that there is a reasonable balance where law-abiding citizens can purchase guns. I believe in people's right to bear arms, but criminals can be deterred.

"So let me address how we reach those 80 percent in the middle, how we do some realistic things that do not stop the right to bear arms but can make our streets a lot safer."