Obama’s Republican Problem

Gary Kamiya has a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, piece in Salon.com today on Obama’s “Reagan” problem:

in his 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, the speech that launched his national political career, he famously said, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America.”

They’re soaring words. Unfortunately, they’re not true. And Obama (and America) has just paid a steep political price for his misplaced faith in bipartisanship.

The events of the last week proved that there is a liberal America and a conservative America. Singing “Kumbaya,” Obama went hat in hand to the GOP to get their approval for his stimulus bill, and they spit in his face. Not a single House Republican supported it. And after frenzied negotiations that resulted in the Senate version of the bill being severely weakened, only three Republican senators said they would vote for it.

The sad and even frightening truth is that Kamiya may be right, but something else is at play here. While the Republicans do everything they can to resist this bill, without offering any but the usual ‘cut taxes’ rhetoric, Obama has to run the country. And when we look at his high approval ratings, that meddling but crucial center likes what it sees. So Obama, to build unity, must reach out to these Republicans, must keep doing so until he is blue in the face. Because the alternative is to have a happy base, but animosity from the proverbial Joe six-packs. And much as we hate it, much as we use all sorts of rational arguments against these dogs, it is precisely the reputation – and evidence – of across-aisle-reaching that has gotten our President to where he is now. Obama is the conciliatory consensus-builder working in our best interests. He must reach out, and  the hand can be taken, or waved away, or spit upon. But the hand must be extended. So yes, the Republicans are the mean, vicious, gnarled-teeth grumps who are actively blocking actually trying to accomplish something. And while the opposition compares itself to the Taliban, the ball is in Obama’s court and, not to use too many metaphors, he’s got one helluva back hand.

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