Like I said yesterday, President Obama put on a remarkable performance at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore. I watched the entire Q and A session. (For highlights, go here.)
Together with his State of the Union address, which was similarly energized and honest, Obama has gone a long way toward soothing my anxious progressive psyche. I finally recognized the leader who was so appealing during the 2008 campaign, yet has been so blah most of the time since his inauguration.
When he spoke with the House Republicans, it was crystal clear who was the adult politician in the room: Obama.
Almost with exception, the Congresspeople who asked questions (which actually generally were mini-speeches) couldn't do anything but repeat conservative talking points.
They sounded like first graders reciting "Here is Dick and Jane. See Jane run!"
My wife looked over my shoulder and watched part of the video on my laptop. After a few minutes she said, "Boy, Bush never could have done what Obama is doing." Namely, spontaneously thinking on his feet and demonstrating an impressive grasp of policy details.
It's obvious that Americans are fed up with partisan gridlock. Obama challenged the Republicans to put aside their tired cliches ("He's a socialist," "He's wrecking the country") and engage in open and honest legislative negotiations.
I get irritated at how fractured Democrats often are. But at least they think for themselves. As this New York Times story says, Congressional Republicans are acting like robots who can only push the "no" voting button.
From a sunny perch 5,000 miles from chilly Washington, the party leaders watched Republican members of Congress try to keep their balance as Mr. Obama sought to reclaim the mantle of reasonable bipartisanship in his State of the Union address on Wednesday night and his remarkable public debate in Baltimore with House members on Friday.
At stake, they knew, was the heart of the strategy they had pursued for the last year and had intended to carry into the midterm elections: remaining unified to block the White House at every turn, rallying the conservative base but leaving Republicans vulnerable to being portrayed as the obstructionist party of no.
"No, no, no!" That's what two-year olds like to say. Also, Republicans.
In the video I watched, Obama kept making cogent observations that elicited repeated so true's from me. I think it was around the 38 minute mark when he told the Republicans that their extreme demonizing of his policies had left them almost no room for compromise.
That is, a Republican elected official would be vilified by the right-wing base if he or she voted for an administration-sponsored bill, even if it was largely in accord with conservative principles.
So Republicans are locked into being the party of "No!" so long as they lack the courage to think for themselves. Hopefully they'll grow up soon and bring this country the sort of adult leadership we all deserve.