Let’s rewind three years to Jan. 30, 2010. President Obama, all alone and with no teleprompter, stepped on stage to take questions and hear comments from congressional Republicans, minorities in both chambers, at a televised meeting and lunch in Baltimore.
Republicans lambasted the president for his economic policies and non-inclusion in policy decisions, including what was a relatively new $787 billion stimulus package. While the rhetoric was thick and at times lacking substance (on both sides of the stage), it was a show worth watching.
It was the American democratic process, in its singular and flawed spectacle of political engagement, on full display for all to view. For at times, beneath the rhetoric, there was substance, merit and a free exchange of ideas. Both sides walked away feeling better about the future.
Then “Obamacare” and the summer of tea party town halls hit. The people took back the discussion. That discussion quickly became ugly, it became vile and it became a source of shame.
And the politicians? Well, the politicians, seeking the votes of these groups, followed their lead. And in an “off” election year those groups organized to help those politicians take back the House of Representatives, so that it, too, became infected by the ugly style of shout ’em down politics.
“You lie” echoed into every living room like an exclamation point during the State of the Union, what otherwise should be a moment of humility, not shame, for all Americans.
Obama squeaked through “Obamacare,” but then everything ground to a halt. House Republicans declared the mandate was theirs. It was a sign of things to come. And they killed every substantive bill passed by a non-filibuster-proof Senate and endorsed by a president of the opposite party.
No discussions. No free flow of ideas. No respect. No merit. Nothing. Nada. The message became clear. “No” was the answer. To everything. The goal, as stated by the minority leader in the other chamber, was “to make Obama a one-term president.”
But the American people took back the discussion once more. And as their own goal, they mirrored the call of that party and shouted “No!” Thus it was, the Republican Party failed.
Democrats gained seats in both chambers; even winning by 1.5 million votes the total popular vote for House races. But for redistricting, the House would be back in Democrat hands. The message was again clear.
And the newly re-elected president has heard that message. As conservative opinion filters like Sean Hannity ironically decry the president as “arrogant,” the president has in turn taken that mantle on with pride. As the Republicans try and find their identity, he has decided not to seek what has become an unachievable compromise. He has decided to take the fight to the Republican caucuses, fueled by a clear mandate delivered by American voters. Make no mistake; he won the “fiscal cliff” deal doing just that.
Republicans are going to find that what they were saying about the president during the last four years, when it wasn’t even close to true — that he didn’t try to compromise, that he was in your face in his progressive ways, that he never reached out — they’re going to find it excruciatingly true over the next two years.
And they have no one to blame but themselves.
You may or may not believe the president tried to compromise during his last term. Regardless, the future of political compromise lies squarely on Republican shoulders. They infected the process. It is well past time they look themselves square in the mirror and disinfect it. It is time they show all Americans what it means to be moderate and rational in policy and rhetoric. Else they will need to prepare for another electoral shellacking because their recent history has made “Blame Radical Republicans” the newest and most relevant incantation of “Blame Bush.”
I, for one, wish them luck.