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.
I agree that Obama did pretty well in this little meeting. He is at his best when all he needs to succeed is a little wit and posturing. Unfortunately a successful presidency requires much more than that, which explains the astonishing failure of this presidency to date. Might as well enjoy a little flash of triumph, but it's pitiful recompense considered within the bigger picture of disappointment.
Frankly, the degree of self-delusion exhibited here is stunning. I can understand the pleasure at seeing Obama scoring some points in a brief (and highly controlled) pissing match, but the pretense of arguing from the high ground is absurd.
This is the same guy whose reply to an overture for cooperation (however insincere) was "We won." Until this little staged photo-op, this was about the least bipartisan government imaginable. It tried to hurry through legislation before the public fully got wind of it, using every ruse it could to shut of debate. Obama even violated his pledge for a transparent debate "on C-SPAN," but then all his promises appear to have expiration dates.
It's great that Obama was able to save a little face in the photo-op, but the fact is he has come grovelling back for "bipartisanship" which he scorned when he thought he could do without it.
I loved the Reuters headline (later altered) that said "Obama assails Republican foes, urges bipartisan effort." One can only hope that it was written with deliberate irony. However, the capacity for Obama supporters to delude themselves is legendary. Excusable perhaps before the election, but not now.
I liked Ace of Spades take on this ridiculous pretense of high-road "bipartisanship":
"It is this asshole who has denied himself the wiggle room to compromise, and so it is this asshole who is now attempting to persuade us to compromise, because he can't."
Posted by: Idler | January 31, 2010 at 06:26 AM
This "Enough is Enough" post on one of my favorite web sites, 538.com, does a good job of summarizing how Obama nailed the House Republicans to the bipartisan wall.
I too hope that this represents a change in tone and strategy for the administration, who has been playing at "nice guy" too much and needs to act tougher.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 31, 2010 at 03:48 PM
Yes, "nailing to the wall" sure sounds like the spirit of bipartisanship!
"playing at 'nice guy' apparently involves attempting to force through a bill that not only bears no trace of bipartisanship but was such a departure from what the people wanted that it had to be rushed before they knew what hit them and arranged through back-room deals, involving allowing one's political allies to escape tax consequences of the legislation.
Suddenly bipartisanship is a virtue because a Republican upset the super majority necessary to sneak through a bill that didn't pass muster from the public point of view.
Don't misunderstand me: if a party has the political means to pass the legislation representing their point of view, there's nothing wrong with doing so. Bipartisanship is a virtue on issues where partisanship is irrelevant or perverse, given the public's view of an issue. In short, partisanship what party politics is all about.
What we have just seen, however, is a party going further than the electorate bargained for. Driving legislation in partisan fashion is fair play. However, telling the electorate you're moderate and trying to then force radical legislation is a political vice, and one the Democrats are being punished for now. In fact, their punishment would have been more severe if they had driven through the legislation, had they been able. Their understanding of that explains their not having tried every possible means to do so.
That's the background. To now say that Obama is schooling Republicans on bipartisanship is ludicrous.
If you want to say he's scored some points in his little meeting, fine. If you want to say he has made a clever maneuver casting them as lacking bipartisanship, well, OK, let's see how many suckers there are out there stupid enough not to see through it. If you believe that he's sincere in his bipartisanship after his and the party's behavior recently, you simply haven't a clue.
Posted by: Idler | January 31, 2010 at 06:29 PM
I wish he would forget bipartisanship. He might be the last person left in Washington who believes the Republicans sincerely want to do anything other than win elections and then once they get there pay off their fat cat friends. It's time to go for the jugular and accept that you do that or you lose with those who could care less about what is best for the country.
Posted by: Rain | January 31, 2010 at 06:53 PM
Obama has only now appealed to bipartisanship because his extreme partisanship has failed. Again, I don't object to partisanship per se; I object to pretending that it's virtuous, particularly when one has just failed at doing the opposite.
Amusingly Rain complains of GOP "payoffs" right after Obama's Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase and payoff of his union allies at the expense of all the rest of the body politic. Get a clue, folks.
"Going for the jugular" is great when it's feasible. Obama has been going for the jugular with the surgical precision of a drunken sailor. Having repeatedly missed the mark, now he's admitting defeat in the most face-saving manner.
At least he has realized that he has blown his single-party dominance by overplaying his hand and now has to make nice in order to woo back the public, independents especially. Rain seems to think that Obama should continue to bang his hyper-partisan head against the wall.
In short, unlike Rain, Obama realizes now that his notion of "what is best for the country" is not shared by a sufficient number of voters to make him able to govern effectively. Utopian policy fantasies are great fun, but democratic governance has to take into account the favor of the governed.
Posted by: Idler | January 31, 2010 at 08:24 PM
Idler, the great thing about having Obama's interchange with the House Republicans on video is that people can make up their own minds about who comes across as most sincere about bipartisanship.
Here's my prediction: the tide is starting to turn in favor of Obama's vision for America. Which is, that people from different political parties can come together in a common cause: fixing the problems facing the United States.
It looks like the Democratic leadership will begin to introduce (and pass) bills that Republicans should favor.
A jobs bill, which will include tax credits to businesses who create jobs. Limitations on giant financial institutions/banks who got us into the economic mess we're in now. Fairer health insurance policies: no kicking people off if they get sick, no limitations on pre-existing conditions, doing away with the insurance industry anti-trust exemption.
When this happens, we'll see how sincere Republicans are about standing up for the average citizen. I'm hoping they'll do the right thing and vote with the Dems for laws that benefit all Americans. But I'm fearful that they'll remain beholden to big corporations and high-paid lobbyists.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 31, 2010 at 09:22 PM
I think Idler is right on.
In the same way Bush could do no right in the eyes of some, it appears Obama can do no wrong in the eyes of his true believers whose numbers are shrinking daily.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between in both cases, but Obama is well on the way to a failed presidency.
He ran on a platform of bi-partisanship and unity, but so far has been just as devisive for the country as Bush.
The incredible hubris of those who tried to shove that ill-conceived and hasty health care bill down the nation's throat. The audacity of it!
Now he tries to sidestep his failures with the usual slick rhetoric, but the content of the Trojan horse has been revealed and many people don't like what they see...a redistributionist hack, smart but unwise, ill advised, inexperienced, and with an ideology that does not conform with the needs of the time or with most Americans' values of self-reliance and independence from the invasiveness of big government dominance.
His is an ideology out of sync with the fact that the government is insolvent and soon to discover that no one will buy its debt. This is not the time for a nanny state. The tit is dried up.
Very soon Obama will face the second wave of the economic crisis...'08 revisited and then some. Who will he blame this one on. Bush? Sorry. It's all yours Barry.
He won't be in office come 2013.
Posted by: Party of the Partyless | January 31, 2010 at 09:53 PM
The people who think Obama has a failed presidency are those who get their news from one of the fear mongering media stations like MSNBC or FOX and don't look beyond the interpretation by pundits who love to stir the pot.
All Obama has to have to win is 51% of the vote and the Republicans are likely to put up someone like Sarah Palin to guarantee more than that.
As for a failed presidency, please. He's been in office one year which most of us who voted for him tended to think would be e learning curve. Now we'll see how he does. When he came in, the country was in a bad spot. Did anybody expect that to be turned around instantly? Yes, he's disappointed some of us who voted for him by not working harder on rights for gay Americans but he's worked on many other of his promises. Some he's not done what we hoped but the right can't go saying how he disappointed them. They never chose him to begin.
It's not time to put on black if a Democrat nor to cheer yet if you are a Republican. I read one opinion that the Republicans will try to tie Obama to the democratic candidates like that will sink them. Obama is still personally popular even when his policies are not. That kind of logic will keep the Republicans right where they are. The party of no isn't likely to win over many moderates (which is where elections are won) if they keep playing the blocking game and anybody who thinks Obama didn't try to get along with them didn't pay attention to the health care bill which was basically gutted trying to get along with them.
My opinion is it's time to forget bipartisanship as the Republicans only know one thing and that's not how to govern wisely even when they are in power. They supported Bush simply because he was theirs for 8 miserable years. Democrats don't do that and yes, we find fault with Obama when he blows it. Some of us will be tempted by a third party if a viable one comes along (fiscal conservative and liberal socially) but it isn't likely to happen and what is likely to happen is a tea party approved candidate which means Obama will get his second term.
Now if Republicans get smart, actually work on bills to improve our situation, and put in someone more moderate, that could change but I see no indication they are getting smart.
Posted by: Rain | February 01, 2010 at 06:35 AM
Brian, all you can take away from that interchange is that Obama stood up well in small, highly staged face-off with a couple of House Republicans. Given the President's annus horribilis, it's understandable that his supporters would seize on this, like an ugly girl to a rare compliment, but what is it really worth?
All this showed was that Obama is not UTTERLY incompetent. While saving face, it underscores that while his talents for posing and campaigning may be highly developed, his skill at governing is minimal to negative.
The sign of the tide turning is in the fact that the Democrats have surrendered on their healthcare legislation, which was supposed to be a slam dunk. It's that Obama realizes that he's not going to be able to dictate (or rather allow Nancy Pelosi to dictate) major policy changes, that the Democrats' massive majority does not give them carte blanche. Was ever such a majority squandered so spectacularly?
The tide has turned in that the contemptuous dismissal of the Tea Party movement no longer has credibility. The Democratic Party and its influential supporters in the media have expended a great deal of credibility in selling Obama far above his real qualities and capabilities, simultaneously denigrating Sarah Palin below hers, and in turn attempting to marginalize the Tea Partiers. The media's rank bias and engagée "journalism" has undermined their authority. They have exposed themselves as advocates and are no longer credible as a source of trustworthy reporting.
The tide is turning in the sense that we are witnessing a disintermediation of politics, where those who traditionally broker the deals and those who shape opinion in the media are being neutralized by the transmission of information and opinion in new ways, in near-real-time speed. That's the tide that's turning.
This is as dangerous to Republicans as it is to Democrats. Both will have to answer more responsively to constituencies across the political spectrum. That includes Joe Biden and all his pals in the credit card industry, and all of Obama's rich political supporters in high finance, the trial bar and the public employees' unions.
This sea change is especially bad for the current administration and Congress because they tried to ram through a program that is at seriously odds with the opinions of a large majority of voters. There's no getting around this. One can lament that this is a right-center country (relative to Europe) but one can't deny it. Obama's vision for America, to the extent that he has one, is toast. The notion that he was ever dedicated to some kind of Kumbaya "common cause" is arrant nonsense that no one has any excuse for believing anymore.
Obama will do well to completely change tack and seek some secure middle ground, much like Clinton did. He should aim to outmaneuver Republicans by taking a lead towards a position more palatable to the voters. However, he's played his hand as the arrogant Chicago politician that he is, so he's going to have to work hard to convince voters of HIS sincerity this time around. I think he's capable of this, but we'll see. One thing's for sure: salvaging his presidency will require distancing himself from and angering the left.
Posted by: Idler | February 01, 2010 at 07:07 AM