Let’s say you had a plan based upon noble ideals but after a while, due to reasons beyond your control, this noble plan just was not working out as you thought it would. Would you stick to the plan, or change to something which looks more likely to succeed? The answer should be pretty simple to most people, not counting a self-described sap such as David Brooks. Brooks is all upset because Obama is now taking on the Republicans as opposed to concentrating on finding a compromise with them:
Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.
But remember, I’m a sap. The White House has clearly decided that in a town of intransigent Republicans and mean ideologues, it has to be mean and intransigent too. The president was stung by the liberal charge that he was outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling fight. So the White House has moved away from the Reasonable Man approach or the centrist Clinton approach.
Obama campaigned on a post-partisanship which was noble. It contributed to the decision of many of us to support him. Over the last few years it became clear that it isn’t working. Republican leaders have made it clear that their primary goal has been to prevent Obama from succeeding. They have done this, even if it meant extending the recession and harming the country. You cannot negotiate with terrorists who are willing to shut down the government before making a reasonable compromise. From time to time Brooks has recognized the craziness of the Republican leadership in his columns, but now appears to be suffering from a selective amnesia. Obama has repeatedly attempted to promote bipartisan compromises but the Republicans have refused to consider any compromise if it might give Obama a political victory. Republican are far more concerned over whether passing a compromise will help Obama politically than they are concerned with how Obama’s proposals might help the country.
At least Brooks is more realistic than some on the left who say they prefer candidate Obama to President Obama. This attempt at moving beyond the old political and ideological battles, even if unsuccessful, is exactly what candidate Obama said he would do. Brooks is correct in seeing that President Obama has now broken with candidate Obama as well as his previous strategy. Brooks is just wrong in failing to understanding that the extremists dominating the GOP have given him no choice.
For a while I accepted the fact that Obama would have little, if any, success in negotiating with Republican leaders. After eight years of seeing George Bush govern from the extremes, I saw some benefit in a more centrist approach, even if it meant policies I have not always agreed with. I saw the real benefit of Obama’s efforts to compromise being to win over more support from independents and Republicans who might not agree with GOP’s move to the extreme right. This hasn’t worked either. Polls show that independents support policies far closer to Obama’s than those of the Republicans but the Republicans have been successful in distorting Obama’s record and demonizing him. Absurd right wing claims that Obama is a socialist have had more effect than Obama promoting centrist policies, including many which in the past were supported by Republicans. Negotiating with right wing terrorists during the debt crisis made Obama look weak and lose support, despite simultaneous public opposition to the Tea Party for precipitating the crisis and causing the downgrading of the nation’s credit rating.
Falling poll numbers and the losses in the special Congressional elections have convinced Obama that it is time to change course politically. This might not be what Obama wants, but this had been forced upon him by the realities in Washington. There has already been a tremendous amount of hype talk that Obama’s deficit reduction plans were proposed to improve Obama’s support from the Democratic base. While true, Obama is also going after the independents. Numerous polls have shown that most Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy to help balance the budget in poll after poll.
Obama might still turn things around, and receive some benefit for his past efforts. His past attempts place him in a far better position to attack the Republican leadership for their extremism and unwillingness to consider the type of compromise which is needed to govern effectively. Obama now needs to make it clear why policies to improve the economy have been blocked by the Republicans and campaign against Republican obstructionism. I’m sure we will see that when Republicans block Obama’s current proposals.
There are additional factors which may help Obama and the Democrats turn things around over the next year. Disapproval of Obama is exceeded by disapproval of Republicans and their policies. Pressure from the Tea Party extremists could force Republicans into taking positions which are even more insane and which will foster greater public opposition.
Democrats should wind up with upper hand in campaigning against a party which opposes both Medicare and Social Security, but they failed to take advantage of this in the recent special elections. They should be able to benefit from campaigning against a party which wants to restore the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and drop people’s coverage when they get sick, but so far have also done a poor job in campaigning on this issue. It will be an uphill battle, but if they spend the next year promoting a consistent message it might not be too late to win back voters by explaining how Republican policies caused this recession, and how the actions of Congressional Republicans have prolonged it. While it might not pick up votes in many areas of the country, I would love to see the Democrats directly campaign against Republicans for their opposition to science.
Democrats have done a poorer job than the Republicans in the spin wars since well before Obama took office. Republicans have advantages in dominating the cable and broadcast news media and in not being tied to reality in their claims. Obama showed he was an effective communicator while running for president. His change in attitude towards negotiating with the Republican and Tea Party terrorists provides hope that he might be able to come back.