Friday, January 29, 2010

Method To His Madness?

For weeks -- maybe months -- now, I've called for President Obama to abandon his numerous calls for bipartisanship. Admirable as it was, the president's efforts to look like a mature adult and get the minority party to help fix America's problems, each request fell on deaf ears. After a year, one would think President Obama would've gotten the message.

Yet the call for cooperation between the two parties came again during Wednesday's State of the Union address. I honestly think I gagged a little.

But what if the president knew what he was doing all along? What if each rallying cry for cooperation and bipartisanship, every effort to get the party that wanted to see him fail to come along for the ride, was just a shrewd game of chess on the part of the White House to expose the opposition for what it was?

After Friday, maybe there's something to that.

The president spoke for almost an hour and a half on Friday in Baltimore, where 140 House Republicans were meeting for a retreat. President Obama didn't just give some remarks and leave; he stayed to answer questions for Republican members of Congress -- an exercise that made for intriguing television and offered a few tense moments that served to illustrate just how irrelevant the Reupblican Party has become.

President Obama kept his composure the entire time, calmly correcting his Republican legislators every time they were factually inaccurate and calling them out for their lack of cooperation -- even as Republicans complained, to the president's face, that he was ignoring their efforts to fix America's problems. How he kept his cool, I'll never know; I would've flown off the handle the minute Mike Pence (R-Ind.) opened his mouth to deliver the first question.

But what do I know? I'm a bleeding partisan.

Though President Obama never angrily took Republicans to task -- the whole affair had a professorial feel to it -- he made sure to put the GOP in its place. When the president told Congressman Pence, "I'm assuming you're not faulting my policies for [650,000 job losses the month before Obama was sowrn in]," the comment -- and the expression on Obama's face -- was pointed.

He didn't raise his voice, but he didn't need to; it surfaced again when the president reminded freshman Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah. When Chaffetz accused Obama of not upholding a campaign promise and having health care debates televised of C-SPAN, the president said many of those debates had been televised -- and that Chaffetz and many of the other Republicans in the room had been in those televised meetings.

Not only is there a deficit of trust in Washington, there's a deficit of facts among the GOP.

And for Marsha Blackburn, the Congresswoman from Tennessee: when you took the mic, ma'am, you said this:

"We would -- we've got plans to lower cost, to change purchasing models, address medical liability, insurance accountability, chronic and preexisting conditions, and access to affordable care for those with those conditions, insurance portability, expanded access -- but not doing it with creating more government, more bureaucracy, and more cost for the American taxpayer.

And we look forward to sharing those ideas with you. We want to work with you on health reform and making certain that we do it in an affordable, cost-effective way that is going to reduce bureaucracy, reduce government interference, and reduce costs to individuals and to taxpayers. And if those good ideas aren't making it to you, maybe it's the House Democrat leadership that is an impediment instead of a conduit."

I have a serious problem with this assertion, because if Congresswoman Blackburn had all these great ideas, why didn't she and the rest of the Republicans in Congress offer them up when they were the majority party? Because she was being disingenuous; no Republican would ever touch health care reform, regardless of the form it would take. I wish the president had pointed that out to the Congresswoman, but at least MSNBC's Chris Matthews did.

But perhaps the most important point from Friday's Q&A session came during a discussion of health care reform -- only it wasn't directly related to health care. The president chastised the GOP for its rhetoric and how over-the-top it was becoming for the party -- not to mention the box Republicans had placed themselves in.

From the president's remarks:

"So all I'm saying is, we've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I'm not suggesting that we're going to agree on everything, whether it's on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America.

And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It's not just on your side, by the way -- it's on our side, as well. This is part of what's happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do."

So there you have it ... the GOP has painted itself in such a corner with its hateful, socialist rhetoric (which I don't think for a minute the party doesn't believe), that it can't work with the president's administration, even if it wanted to; the party's constituents would never let its members hear the end of it.

President Obama knows that ... maybe he's known that all along, and that's why he keeps beating the drum of bipartisanship. Maybe the president knows if he keeps looking like the only adult in the room, he can make the GOP as politically vulnerable as possible, and that will bear out to a degree in elections.

Once again, the president is proving he's far smarter than the rest of us. Now, if we could just get him to talk like this to his own party ...

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