................fighting the bad fight since 135 BC................

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To the "Progressives", Obama is still beyond reproach

The term "Progressive" - meaning a leftward-leaning politician, pundit, or regular human being - seemed to emerge out of nowhere sometime around 2008. Never mind the fact that early 20th century American Progressivism, which obsessed over Washington's perceived "inefficiency" as well as its cozy relationship to the corporate titans of the day, very much resembles the modern Tea Party movement. But that's a discussion for another day.  The topic here is modern Progressives and their seeming inability to criticize Barack Obama, blaming all of his misfortunes on the big bad Republican party.

The Huffington Post has been the online hub for Progressive bloggers for some time now. And many of their writers still can't seem to find a single flaw in Obama's performance as President up to this point. Take this column from writer Michael Shaw (you can see the photographs on the website):
The "White House Memo" column fronting Monday morning's NYT (Obama's Playbook After Nov. 2) is simply mind-boggling. It paints a picture of Obama as unwilling to work with the GOP, leading off with the assertion it took the President eighteen months to formally engage Republican Senate honcho, Mitch McConnell. Has Obama's "post-partisan" obsession simply vanished from the memory banks? As a memo to the author, Ms. Stolberg, Mr. Obama has been practically licking Mr. McConnell's boots not just regularly, but fresh out of the gate as documented by the pictures we've been running almost since the inauguration

Take the image above, for example. As early as two months into his term (see: "Catering to the Right") Obama has publicly been soliciting McConnell. (This photo, by the way, was taken four days after Obama had all those GOP Congresspeople to the White House, if anyone remembers that. ...You know, it was that session where the members got in the new president's face, and then collected autographs from "The One" for the folks back home.)

And its been the same for most of the past two years. This shot, for example -- part of an usual pair of back-to-back Obama/McConnell shots on the White House Flickr stream (see: White House Flickr Stream: Professional Right In, Professional Left Out) appeared as recently as two months ago. Once again,the theme is reaching out, reaching out, reaching out ... and McConnell, McConnell, McConnell.
The New York Times article under discussion may be found here. Here is how it opens:
It took President Obama 18 months to invite the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, to the White House for a one-on-one chat. Their Aug. 4 session in the Oval Office — 30 minutes of private time, interrupted only when the president’s daughter Malia called from summer camp to wish her father a happy 49th birthday — was remarkable, not for what was said, but for what it took to make it happen.

Not long before the meeting, Trent Lott, the former Republican Senate leader, lamented to his onetime Democratic counterpart, Tom Daschle, that Mr. Obama would never get an important nuclear arms treaty with Russia ratified until he consulted top Republicans. Mr. Lott, who recounted the exchange in an interview, was counting on Mr. Daschle, a close Obama ally, to convey the message; lo and behold, Mr. McConnell soon had an audience with the president.
And it goes on like this for a while. So, who is right?

Well, here is Obama speaking on January 27, 2009, after the meeting with the House Republican Caucus that Shaw references:

As you might expect, the focus here is on the forthcoming economic stimulus package. Obama sure sounds non-partisan, stating that he respects the "philosophical differences" the Republicans have with his proposals, and that he doesn't expect 100% support from the party. In the end, of course, not a single House Republican supported the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Some might argue that Republicans were determined to stonewall Obama at every turn, so there was no way that he could have won their support. But such thinking is anachronistic. The Republicans were reeling after the 2008 elections, having been thoroughly trounced in just about every way imaginable. The swagger the party has now leading up to the midterm elections was non-existent. And you're telling me that the President could not get one single House vote for a stimulus package at a time when the economy seemed to be on the verge of collapse? Surely the fault here does not lay entirely with the Republicans.

Note that Obama said something else important in that clip -- he had not yet had a formal meeting with Republican Senators. In fact, such a meeting would not take place until nearly a year and a half later. Why would it? When Arlen Specter defected to the Democratic party, they had a filibuster-proof majority in the chamber. Progressives everywhere crowed over these developments. But then Massachusetts had to ruin the party by voting in Scott Brown. Oh well.

Anyway, on May 25th, 2010, Obama finally went over to Capitol Hill to hold such a meeting. Here is how The Washington Post described the proceedings:
President Obama went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for a rare meeting with Senate Republicans, but the 75-minute session yielded little progress on hot-button topics and left some senators with bruised feelings.

"He needs to take a Valium before he comes in and talks to Republicans," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) told reporters. "He's pretty thin-skinned."

Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.) described the meeting as "testy," and Sen. John Thune (S.D.) called it a "lively discussion." Others questioned whether the "symbolism" of Obama's approach matched the actions of his Democratic congressional allies.
Here is Businessweek's take on it:
Republican senators complained that President Barack Obama talked about cooperation while pushing a “far left” agenda during a private meeting that one lawmaker described as “very tense.”

Obama went to Capitol Hill yesterday to press for bipartisanship on issues such as immigration and energy policy that he wants Congress to tackle this year.

Senator Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who will be one of 12 Senate negotiators on merging House-Senate financial- overhaul bills, said Obama “talked a great deal about bipartisanship” while pushing “very partisan” proposals.

“I asked him how he was able to reconcile that duplicity coming in today to see us,” Corker said yesterday. “I just found it pretty audacious that he would be here today as we move into election season using Republican senators as a prop to talk about bipartisanship.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the president has been pushing proposals on the “far left” and trying to pass them with support from only a few Republicans. “That’s not our idea of bipartisanship,” he said.
Now, accusing Obama of having a "far left" agenda is a bit much. But Democratic supporters have to face the facts -- while Obama preached the gospel of bipartisanship for much of his early Presidency, his actions suggested that he wanted bipartisanship to operate on his terms. Remember, this is the same man who expected to have a healthcare bill passed before Congress went on summer recess in August 2009. This is the same President that pushed for cap-and-trade legislation at the same time, got it through the House, and is now apparently abandoning the idea as the bill languishes in the Senate. Shouldn't there have been a plan to get this passed from the get-go?

Clearly Obama faces a fierce and determined opponent in the Republican party. But it is also abundantly clear that he was not even close to being prepared to deal with such an opponent. As for his attempts at bipartisanship, I'll let this Politico article from January 23rd, 2009 do the talking:
President Obama listened to Republican gripes about his stimulus package during a meeting with congressional leaders Friday morning - but he also left no doubt about who's in charge of these negotiations. "I won," Obama noted matter-of-factly, according to sources familiar with the conversation.
Unfortunately for Obama, it seems as if the leader of a newly-minted Republican House might be able offer the same retort in the near future.

No comments:

Post a Comment