And speaking of "balanced" coverage in the "liberal media," the NYT sticks up for Republicans in 2015 and 1995
Plus: E. J. Dionne Jr. says the president got it right in
not trying to play nice with obstructionist Republicans
Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Perhaps bosom-buddy Sens. "Young Johnny" McCranky and Lindsey "I'm Going to Be the President" Graham, seen here listening (more or less) to the president's SOTU address Tuesday night.
"There is something odd in the notion that Obama is supposed to abandon his convictions because the Republicans won a low-turnout midterm election whose Senate races were fought mostly in territory hostile to Democrats."
-- E. J. Dionne Jr., in his Washington Post column
"Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans"
"Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans"
In yesterday's NYT "First Draft" post, Carl Hulse did a fine job portraying Republican outrage followoing "a State of the Union speech that has Republicans shaking their heads and lamenting a lost opportunity for cooperation":
Washington will try to get back to business on Wednesday after a State of the Union address that found a confident and relaxed President Obama delivering a speech that seemed to leave the new Republican majority in Congress genuinely perplexed.It would be wrong to say that Carl pays no heed to the other side of the aisle, although his focus shifts back pretty quickly.
After their resounding election victory just two months ago, Republicans had hoped to hear the president say he had gotten the message and was willing to find common cause. What they got was a sharp reminder that he had twice won the presidency, veto threats and a call to embrace a series of government initiatives that Republicans are not inclined to support (except for new trade deals).
He made no mention of their congressional ascendancy.
“He hasn’t adjusted to the new reality at all,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who is usually considered a candidate for cooperation with the Democrats.
Republicans did not interpret the president’s jabs at their positions on the minimum wage, climate change and Cuba – interspersed with calls for compromise – as a hopeful sign. “He’s not looking for cooperation,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming.
Democrats said they found the speech and the president’s attitude refreshing. “It was almost joyful,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.Well, it was nice to hear from Senator Amy!
That was not the word Republicans had in mind.
Now I'm going to argue that there were no Republicans who were "genuinely perplexed" by the president's attitude -- surprised, perhaps, but certainly not perplexed. Because I don't believe that there are any Republicans who believe that there was any actual "opportunity for cooperation" to be lost. Republicans like to forget how far backwards the new president tried to bend in the early years of his presidency to cooperate with congressional Republicans, then in the minority in both houses. A lot of us wondered what it would take for him to understand that there was zero inclination on their part to cooperate in any way -- unless the "way" consisted of being given what they wanted. What was actually in place, as it didn't take all that long for us to find out, was the strategy of then-Senate Minority Leader "Miss Mitch" McConnell to do everything possible to undermine the president -- and fuck the country in the process -- with a view to ensuring that his administration would be a one-term one.
But that's not the point in time Carl wants to take us back to. Instead, he wants to revisit a legitimately relevant moment in history: 1995, when President Bill Clinton facing a Congress in which both houses were now controlled by Republicans.
President Obama’s decision on Tuesday night to ignore the Republicans’ election victory and the party’s new majority in the Senate was notable. It also raised the question of how former President Bill Clinton handled a similar situation in January 1995 after Democrats were trounced in the midterm elections and Republicans took back the House for the first time in 40 years.Again, there's just a wee bit of history left out -- namely, how did that work out? Remember "triangulation"? Do we really not recall that by the time Bill C ran for reelection in 1996, angry Republicans were denouncing him for having stolen all their positions? And that was a time when Republican positions were conservative, yes, but nothing like the combination of unrestricted economic predation and ideological crackpottery that now constitutes "mainstream" Republicanism.
He certainly didn’t avoid it. Mr. Clinton wasted no time in noting that “once again our democracy has spoken.”
“So let me begin,” he said, “by congratulating all of you here in the 104th Congress and congratulating you, Mr. Speaker.” That was, of course, Newt Gingrich.
But, like Mr. Obama, Mr. Clinton also made sure to point out that he’d had his own big election victory in 1992.
“If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and 1994,” he said. “And as I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992.”
Let me return now to the sentence I quoted at the top of this post from E. J. Dionne Jr.'s Washington Post column "Obama ditches his illusions about Republicans": "There is something odd in the notion that Obama is supposed to abandon his convictions because the Republicans won a low-turnout midterm election whose Senate races were fought mostly in territory hostile to Democrats." E.J. continues:
Ronald Reagan was never asked to stop being a conservative after Democrats took the Senate in the 1986 elections and emerged in control of both houses of Congress. Republicans praised George W. Bush for his courage in upping his commitment in Iraq through the troop surge, even though the Democratic sweep of 2006 was in large part a repudiation of the war on which he doubled down. Are only progressive presidents expected to trim their sails?E.J. gets to this point by starting out like so:
“This is good news, people.”"There seemed to be a disconnect," E.J. writes, "between Obama's combative opening and his close defending his signature refrain that 'there wasn't a liberal America, or a conservative America.' "
With those five words, President Obama made clear that he thinks it’s far more important to win a long-term argument with his partisan and ideological opponents than to pretend that they are eager to seize opportunities to work with him. He decided to deal with the Republican Party he has, not the Republican Party he wishes he had.
Those ad-libbed words followed what ranks as one of the more polemical passages ever offered in a State of the Union address. “At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious,” he declared, “that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health-care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”
Good news, indeed, and in telling the Republicans that all their predictions turned out to be wrong, he reminded his fellow citizens which side, which policies and which president had brought the country back.
His analysis of the nature of his political opposition, in turn, dictated the approach he took in the rest of the speech. There was no point in hedging on his wishes, constraining his hopes or compromising in advance. Earlier in his administration, he might have begun the negotiations by offering his interlocutors their asking price upfront and then moving backward from there. No more.
Instead, he laid out what he would do if he had a more cooperative Congress. This time around, Obama’s agenda was organized around the interests of middle-class workers, the group his administration acknowledges has not been dealt into the economic recovery.
He acknowledged that many saw it as “ironic” that “our politics seems more divided than ever.”
But notice that he used this passage to suggest how the American debate had to change. He proposed that discussions of abortion focus more on the successes we’ve had in reducing teen pregnancies and abortions themselves. Referring to the recent confrontations in Ferguson, Mo., and New York, he urged us to consider the fears of African American young men and police officers alike even as we join in celebrating declining crime and incarceration rates.
Obama clearly still believes that the country is less divided than our politics allows us to be. But he is no longer drawn to the illusion that his adversaries in the other party will beat their swords into plowshares anytime soon. He is battling not just for a personal legacy but also on behalf of a perspective that he hopes the country will someday embrace.