“Reaching Out, Finding Nothing”: Remind Me Again Of How All The President Has To Do Is “Lead” & Offer Good-Faith Compromises
It’s hard to blame President Obama for at least making an effort. For four years, he took a variety of steps — some social, some formal, some professional — to establish relationships with congressional Republicans. The outreach didn’t amount to much.
But it appears the president, either out of necessity or stubbornness, will continue his newly revamped charm offensive, including a trip to Capitol Hill for another round of budget talks. It’s clearly intended as a major gesture on Obama’s part — presidents usually summon lawmakers to the White House, not head to Capitol Hill for meetings on lawmakers’ turf.
Time will tell, obviously, whether the efforts pay dividends, but the New York Times has an interesting report today on the ineffectiveness of recent outreach, including a great anecdote I hadn’t heard before.
For all the attention to President Obama’s new campaign of outreach to Republicans, it was four months ago — on the eve of bipartisan budget talks — that he secretly invited five of them to the White House for a movie screening with the stars of “Lincoln,” the film about that president’s courtship of Congress to pass a significant measure.
For all the pundits who complain bitterly that Obama hasn’t done enough to schmooze with lawmakers, doesn’t an anecdote like this suggest the problem is not entirely the president’s fault? Are we to believe that all five — invited in secret so they wouldn’t have to take heat from Fox or the GOP base — were all washing their hair that night?
On a more substantive note, the piece also included this key piece of information:
What spurred Mr. Obama to reach out to rank-and-file Republicans with a flurry of phone calls, meals and now Capitol visits were the recent announcements by their leaders — Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that they will no longer negotiate with Mr. Obama on budget policy as long as he keeps demanding more tax revenues as the condition for Democrats’ support of reduced spending on Medicare and other entitlement programs.
This is important. Congressional Republican leaders are now saying they won’t even talk to the president unless Obama agrees — before any meetings even take place — to give them what they want. In other words, when the White House announces that all efforts at deficit reduction in the coming years will include literally nothing but 100% spending cuts, then GOP leaders will be prepared to negotiate with the president.
Please, Beltway pundits, remind me again how all the president has to do to resolve political paralysis is “lead” and offer good-faith compromises.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 12, 2013
After President Obama treated 12 Republican senators to dinner, and had a nice lunch with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Beltway’s reaction can be summarized in one word: Finally.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who attended Wednesday’s dinner, said, “This is the first step that the president has made to really reach out and do like other presidents in the past — develop relationships and build trust.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) added, “After being in office four years, he’s actually going to sit down and talk to members.”
And while plenty of pundits are echoing the sentiments, John Dickerson notes that those who insist this is a first for Obama are mistaken.
The aloof president is reaching out. That was the media’s first gloss on the president’s new robust effort at networking. He had finally embraced a Truth of Washington: You must engage your opponents and work with them. Finally he’s showing leadership. Hooray! [...]
But this isn’t the first time the president has tried…. Early in his first term, during negotiations over the stimulus package, he reached out to Sens. Grassley, Snowe, Collins, and Specter…. Obama may not be very good at trying to work Congress; he may only have done it in fits and starts, but you can’t say he hasn’t tried.
On the Recovery Act, Obama reached out to Republican lawmakers. On health care, the president not only reached out, he spent about as much time talking to Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as he did talking to his own staff. In May 2011, Obama invited a bipartisan group to the White House, not for a meeting or policy negotiations, but as part of “a get-to-know-you effort in the spirit of bipartisanship and collegiality.” In one of my very favorite moments of Obama’s presidency to date, he even attended a House Republican retreat, engaging in a spirited Q&A.
But, my DC pundit friends will tell me, these outreach efforts don’t count because they were in professional settings. What Obama needs to do is try personal outreach in informal ways and friendly settings. Except, the president has tried this, too, inviting members to the White House for Super Bowl and March Madness parties, and even golfing with Boehner.
Those who keep asking why Obama hasn’t reached out before this week don’t seem to be paying close enough attention.
So, why haven’t the efforts paid dividends? Dickerson has some worthwhile ideas on the subject, but for what it’s worth, I’ll add some speculation of my own.
For one thing, the parties sharply disagree with one another — there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo — and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. Presidential face-time changes nothing.
For another, outreach may help set the stage for constructive negotiations, but compromise has been rendered all but impossible, not just because Republicans reflexively oppose everything Obama supports — including, at times, their own ideas — but also because the parties can’t horse-trade when one side doesn’t have much of a wish list.
Jonathan Bernstein had a very smart post on this yesterday.
In a world of divided government with two sensible parties, the logical compromise is that Republicans would trade the minimum wage hike — a popular policy Democrats care more about than Republicans anyway — for something which Republicans care about more than Democrats. That’s what happened last time, when Republicans were able to extract tax cuts for business in exchange for supporting the increase, with the whole thing going into a larger bill that had plenty of things for both parties.
And this gets at a larger problem that explains a lot about dysfunction in Washington right now: Republicans have largely given up on developing specific policy goals while becoming more and more dedicated to opposing compromise on everything as some sort of fundamental principle.
Think about it: what is the Republican agenda item the party could trade for a minimum wage increase? What’s the GOP policy request on health care, other than the dream of repealing the Affordable Care Act? What’s their policy request on climate? Energy? Education? I mostly have no idea.
And neither do I. Sure, it’s obvious Republicans have some vague policy preferences — energy = drilling; education = vouchers — and certainly stick to broad principles on tax cuts, but the traditional give-and-take process falls apart when transactional policymaking isn’t a possibility.
Obama could host luncheons and dinners every day, but this larger dynamic won’t budge.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013
“The Real ‘60 Minutes’ Revelation”: Democrats Are Now The Regular Guys, Conservatives Are The Weirdos
I can actually see, to some extent, the point of conservatives’ complaints about the Obama-Hillary 60 Minutes interview. It was softbally, and Steve Kroft’s one real question—to Clinton, about whether she felt any guilt or remorse over Benghazi—she totally didn’t answer. But here, conservatives, is what you are missing and what you need to reckon with. Americans—except you—like these two people. Most Americans look at the pair of them—this black man who is still remote in some ways and this so-familiar woman who is now aging before us and allowing herself to look just a little frumpy—and feel reassured. Most Americans are cheering for them, and hence, most Americans probably wanted a softball interview. We have thus passed an important portal in American politics: Democrats are now the regular guys. Conservatives are the weirdos.
First, about the interview. These are not two of your more forthcoming interview subjects. I’ve never sat with Obama, but I have interviewed Clinton on a number of occasions, including one big 90-minute-or-so sit-down back in 2000. She told me some very interesting things: she likes Thomas Hardy, she was overwhelmed by her visit to the Olduvai Gorge, she takes a keen interest in ancient civilizations, she loves the Three Stooges, and she knows the theme song to The Flintstones. But on policy, she gave me nothing. A total Heisman. My heart sank to the floor as I listened back over the tape and realized that answer after answer wasn’t going to make news after all. Obama is no different. Rare is the interview that finds him saying anything genuinely arresting.
But he did say something interesting to Kroft, and she did too, which was this: they were both wholly believable and ingenuous when they were talking about their own political relationship. When Obama said, in reference to repairing the ruptures of 2008, “I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable, because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t,” I thought: that rings really true. And I’d bet most Americans did too.
Obama and Clinton talked, in other words, like mature adults, and they sold it as genuine because it was genuine. And I’d contend that it made most people watching feel something like: Well, these are very smart and self-assured people, and they’re mostly pretty likable, too, and agree or disagree with this or that decision they make or action they take, I feel like my country is in pretty good hands with them. And yes, to invoke the hackneyed litmus-test question—I’d drink a beer, or a pinot, or in HRC’s case a shot of Crown Royal, with them. To everyone but right-wingers, that was the vibe Sunday night—a victory lap, and a victory lap that no one begrudged them.
They’re the real Americans now. It’s not that they have changed, but that America has. The measures for real Americanism are no longer clearing brush, hunting elk, hopping on top of various animals, dropping one’s g’s (in speech, I mean), and speaking in intentionally ungrammatical apothegmatic frontier “wisdom.” The new measures? Not completely sure yet. But we do have now the collective realization that those were fake measures—some Harvey Mansfield–inspired Potemkin Village of “real America.” Also, the collective realization that it’s probably on balance not at all a bad idea for the president not to be “just like us,” which was the folk wisdom of a decade ago, but in fact a little smarter than most of us.
The Republicans? It’s not just the extreme ideology. Of course it’s that, but it’s more. The whole shtick is old. Where once the Middle American ear may have been soothed by that low Cheney rumble belching out its grave assessments of the world situation, today it is accosted by all those caliginous Southern accents warning of socialism and collapse, and thinks: will these people ever shut up? Georgia Congressman Paul Broun told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that Obama “upholds … the Soviet Constitution.” On any given week, I could fill a whole column, or two, with such nuggets. Enough already.
While Obama and Clinton were speaking, so was Paul Ryan, to a conservative gathering, where he said: “There are two ways to respond to defeat: Either you can deny it, or you can learn from it. I choose to learn from it. The way I see it, our defeat is all the more reason to lay out our vision with even more specifics—and with a broader appeal.”
What he’s saying there, and throughout the speech, is that the GOP isn’t going to change its stripes a bit. “Broader appeal” means I suppose better (read: more dishonest) packaging for a bunch of reactionary policies that Americans don’t want.
Conservatives, you can call me and others like me all the names you want, and you can whine about the evil CBS all you want. But Kroft and his network were actually in touch here with the pulse of the country, which wants Obama to succeed and Hillary to go have a nice long rest (and, maybe, get ready for 2016). Meanwhile, even Roger Ailes has gotten sick of Sarah Palin. Get the picture?
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 29, 2013
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you…. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it.”–Abraham Lincoln
On January 20, 2009, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of The United States of America. For me, this was the most historic event of my lifetime. I was so thrilled and excited to attend that ceremony with my wife and my daughter. The pride, the sense of progress, the sense that this America, my America, had finally ascended to the pinnacle of the American spirit…the spirit that says no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter the color of your skin, you too can achieve the American dream.
I watched intently as our president took the oath of office. Barack Obama, a man whose story is an American story, a man with values from the heartland of America and middle class upbringings, a man whose convictions emphasize his commitment to the service of others.
America, or I should say, most of America, was prepared to show the rest of the world what it means to live in a democracy, to show ourselves that democracy works for all Americans. As I look back over these last 4 years since that inauguration day, I wonder with dismay, where and when did we decide to make a U turn?
Apparently, the turn began on the night of the inauguration. While the goodwill and good feeling of the many was being celebrated, a 15 member group of power hungry legislators were meeting to undermine the rest of the country. This was no ordinary four hour meeting. Everyone knew the nation was in crisis…an economy in the tank, millions of Americans without jobs, millions more without healthcare, and two ongoing costly wars. Representatives Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, Pete Sessions, Jeb Hersaling, Pete Hoekstra, Dan Lungren and Senators Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl, Tom Coburn, John Ensign and Bob Corker, along with former Speaker Newt Gingrich and pointman Frank Luntz were strategizing on their grand plan to “take back America”. Since no one seemed to know where America had been taken to, their meeting was to enact a plan on how to block and obstruct every possible legislative idea and policy that would be put forth by President Obama. No matter how bad things were already, and no matter the fact that these same people had contributed to the downfall that we were all experiencing, these men, and I use the term cautiously, were essentially plotting to overthrow the government. Some would say that their plan bordered on treason, myself included. Their actions did not represent simple politics, they represented complete disdain and contempt for “we the people” and the first African-American president.
From that point on and for the next four years, history returned with a vengeance. Lead by Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House and Senate Republicans went on the most despicable campaign of desperation, disruption and obstruction never before seen in American history. Mitch McConnell went so far as to say:
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
In other words, we don’t care about what is happening in America, we don’t give a damn if the country goes to hell in a handbasket.
Then came the drum beat from the even “farther right”…Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, John Sununu, Donald Trump. President Obama is now the “other”, “not born in America”, “not one of us”, “lazy”. These are all people who say they believe in America, they believe in democracy, they believe in the American dream. Barack Obama is the 44th duly elected President of the United States. The disrespect, contempt and hatred shown to him is plainly despicable and unacceptable. It simply shows how they feel about the rest of us, especially the 47%. What changed? Race. The occupant of the White House is now an African-American. That’s what changed. During this election cycle, there were bumper stickers that said “put the white back in the White House”. This isn’t a dog whistle, it’s pure racism. Republicans saw this, and still do, as their way to stoke the fears and insecurities of so many who harbor the same sentiments. Mitt Romney, having no core convictions other than to have the title of President of the United States, went along with this agenda.
It didn’t stop there. In order to advance their agenda to return to power, republicans needed to energize their “base”. They had to make the case that America is being taken over by undesirables, by people who do not believe in the same America that they do. Anything less and anyone who disagrees is un-American. America is no longer about “freedom and liberty”, that is “our” brand of freedom and liberty. Women’s rights, abortion, contraception, civil rights, voting rights, immigrant rights, pay inequity, gay and lesbian rights, attacks on the middle class, medicare and social security, all became tools to disenfranchise those who dared not to fall in line. The wealthy wanted more tax cuts and more power, the only two things that mattered.
As I watched the election results, I had no doubt that the better angels in America would prevail. I had no statistics that I could simply rely on. I only had a sense that there is a better America. I had a sense that my America would not reward these wayward ideological republicans although this ideology has put hate and racism front and center. I had a feeling that my America, the “majority of minorities”, would “shut this whole thing down”. I do not believe that America wants to return to the dark ages. Racism, greed, inequality, suppression of voting and civil rights has no place in this society.
Barack Hussein Obama has been re-elected President of the United States of America. This is a good thing for America, for our future, for what we stand for and what we should stand for. This is my America, my President. The republicans had the money in this election but the people had the will to say, enough is enough. It seems that for republicans, the past is never dead and buried, it is not even past.
America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves–Abraham Lincoln
America has spoken. It’s time for republicans to become a part of the solution…you have been the problem for far too long.
By: raemd95, mykeystrokes.com, November 6, 2012
“Not So Hidden”: As If Republicans Didn’t Know, President Obama’s Second-Term Agenda Is Pretty Clear
Everywhere you turn, President Obama is accused of not offering a clear second-term agenda. It’s not surprising that Republicans say it, but you also hear it from quarters sympathetic to the president.
But how true is the charge?
The president does lack a crisp, here’s-my-plan set of sound bites. What’s less obvious is whether this should matter to anyone. Mitt Romney’s five-point plan sounds good but is quite vague and, upon inspection, looks rather like five-point plans issued by earlier Republican presidential candidates. Moreover, Romney has been resolutely unspecific about his tax plans, leading to the understandable suspicion that he’s hiding something politically unsavory, either in the popular deductions he’d have to slash or in the programs he’d have to get rid of.
Obama, by contrast, has been far more straightforward about what he would do about the deficit: He wants a budget deal that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. He has put forward rather detailed deficit-reduction proposals. The centerpiece is a plan that, when combined with cuts made in 2011, would reduce the deficit by $3.8 trillion over a decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Obama keeps insisting (rightly) that no deal can work without new revenue, and he is upfront that he’d begin by raising taxes on Americans earning over $250,000 a year.
Some deficit hawks argue that Obama’s tax increases are not broad enough. Others are looking for steeper Medicare and Social Security cuts than Obama is willing to endorse. Many progressives, in turn, want fewer cuts and favor additional tax increases on the very wealthy. Before signing off on deeper program reductions, progressives should consider the efforts of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., to counter all the proposals to cut tax rates. She has suggested five new, higher rates on incomes ranging from $1 million to $1 billion or more a year. The capital gains tax also needs to rise. Low levies on capital gains, the reason Romney paid so little tax on his $20.9 million income, raise problems for both fiscal balance and equity.
But these are responses to what Obama has proposed. To disagree with some of Obama’s specifics is to acknowledge that the specifics exist.
Some dismiss what an Obama second term might achieve by claiming that it will be mainly concerned with consolidating his first-term accomplishments. If these had been trivial, that might be a legitimate criticism. But does anyone seriously believe that implementing a massive new health insurance program that will cover an additional 30 million Americans is unimportant? Can anyone argue that translating the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms into workable regulations is a minor undertaking?
The president has also been clear that he wants to take on immigration reform. The question always asked is: Why should we think he’ll do it in a second term when he didn’t do it in the first? The answer is that if Obama is reelected, it will be in no small part because he overwhelms Romney among Latino voters who have stoutly rejected the Republican’s “self-deportation” ideas. It’s possible that Republicans will cooperate on immigration reform simply because they don’t want to keep losing elections by getting clobbered in Latino precincts. And Obama will know that he has an electoral debt to pay.
Republicans have been relentless in attacking the clean-energy projects Obama has financed. If Obama wins, the president will have reason to say that clean energy won, too, and push ahead. And in one of the best articles on what Obama might do in a second term, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza observed in June that Obama’s campaign statements — to that point, at least — suggested he would like to take another shot at legislation to address climate change.
Obama speaks incessantly about upgrading the country’s infrastructure. He also stresses the urgency of retooling both our education system and the way we train people for well-paying jobs. One can imagine a comprehensive education, jobs and investment program being a high priority in a second Obama term. And you can bet he will join efforts to create a new campaign financing system to check the power billionaires and corporations exercise in the world after Citizens United.
There is every reason to wish that Obama would pull all this together in a more inspiring way. Some of us would like him to be much bolder in addressing income inequality, the huge roadblocks to upward mobility, and the persistence of poverty. But is there is an Obama second-term agenda? Yes, there is.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 21, 2012