by Charles Lemos, Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 09:19:53 AM EST
“Now I could stand up here and say, let’s get everybody together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing. And everyone will know we should do the right thing, and the world will be perfect. But I have no illusions about how hard this is going to be. You are not going to wave a magic wand and make the special interests disappear.” - Hillary Clinton in Providence, Rhode Island on February 24, 2008
One of the more memorable moments in the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008 came two years ago today when then Senator Clinton unleashed a torrent of sarcasm mocking the then Senator Obama as unrealistic and hopelessly naive in his approach to politics. It is thus indeed ironic that tomorrow President Obama will seek to salvage the healthcare reform package currently mired in the Congressional mud with a "let's get unified" gathering at the Blair House, an event that the GOP is calling "The Blair House Project" — after the 1999 horror movie "The Blair Witch Project." For President's sake, David Alexrod might consider hiring a celestial choir if only to combat such evil spirits. Otherwise, I am afraid the Republican leadership in attendance is unlikely to be moved much less exorcised.
Thirteen months into the Obama Presidency, Clinton's assessment is as valid as ever and of increasing concern. The President has spent a year courting the Republicans with precious little to show for his efforts. The Republicans, meanwhile, have largely achieved their aims of grinding government to a halt and seem poised to make substantial electoral gains come November's mid-term elections. Obstructionism may make for ugly governance but it sure seems likely to pay handsome political dividends.
What compromise has been achieved in the halls of government has largely come at our expense, not theirs. The public option is off the table, while tort reform seems forever on it. It is not just healthcare reform, if it can be called that at this point, that is stalled; it is just about every major part of the Democratic agenda. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the American Clean Energy and Security Act and the US Postal Service Financial Relief Act - all passed by the House - languish in the Senate. In total, 290 bills sit gridlocked in the Senate's docket stalled by the partisan tactics of Mitch McConnell and Company.
It is increasingly evident that the President's style as the conciliator-in-chief is not working. The strategy is unlikely to peel away a single Republican vote even as it jettisons wholesale the progressive agenda. More tragically, the probability of the President modifying his consensual approach to governing is nil. He is who he is. In his soul, he remains the community organizer who just wants to bridge differences and forge compromises. But the back halls of Washington are a far cry from the streets of south side Chicago.
It is not that I bemoan the President's good-heartedness, his level-headedness or his even-handedness but there comes a point when one has to ask where are the results of this reaching out to the other side? It is as if the cause of Obama's Presidency is bipartisanship simply for the sake of bipartisanship. The policy be damned, but get me Olympia Snowe's vote seems to be his mantra.
While the President did campaign on the necessity of changing the tone in Washington, the GOP remains tone-deaf. What is there to say when Minority Leader John Boehner rails that the President “basically crippled the summit expected on Thursday by coming in with a rerun of the same failed bill that couldn’t pass the House or Senate.” For a President who is hailed as a being attentive, he tunes out the vitriol that emanates from the GOP to his own detriment. He simply refuses to take the GOP at their word. Furthermore the White House seems blind to the reality that their approach is alienating the fickle to start Democratic base. It is as if our support isn't wanted. It's a rare progressive who is going to get excited over mandated insurance that ensures the bloated profitability of the insurance industry.
All this is preface to what sparked this: Sheryl Gay Stolberg's insightful article that looks at the President's style of leadership in today's New York Times:
Ever since his days as a young community organizer in Chicago, Mr. Obama has held fast to the belief that by listening carefully and appealing to reason he can bring people together to get results, an approach that in Washington has often come up short.
He is not showing any signs of changing his style. But he is facing perhaps the toughest test yet of his powers of persuasion: winning the votes he needs, in the face of unified Republican opposition and a deteriorating climate for Democrats, to push his health care measure through a skittish Congress.
Mr. Obama has not been the sort to bludgeon his party into following his lead or to intimidate reluctant legislators. And while he has often succeeded by relying on Democratic leaders in Congress to do his bidding — the House and Senate, after all, both passed versions of the health legislation last year — it is not clear whether his gentle, consensus-building style will be enough.
Let me be brief and blunt: the President's belief is predicated on the assumption that he is dealing with rational actors. His premise is that the GOP can be reasoned with yet the evidence for such a belief is scant. This is not the party of Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt or even Gerald Ford or Jacob Javits. This is the party of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, James DeMint and James Inhofe. For every Lindsey Graham, there are ten Joe Wilsons. For every Olympia Snowe, there are ten Virginia Foxxes.