Laying the groundwork for future obstinacy

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK FOR FUTURE OBSTINACY…. I distinctly remember President Clinton’s State of the Union address in 1995, just a few months after Republicans took back Congress. If anyone was wondering whether he’d be combative in the wake of a dreadful midterm cycle, Clinton quickly showed otherwise, insisting that the GOP-led Congress and the Democratic White House must “work together.” All told, he used the word “together” 17 times in the speech.

Given the way the political winds are blowing, it’s easy to imagine President Obama delivering a similar address early next year, trying to find areas of agreement and policies where compromise is possible.

With that in mind, Republicans are already laying the groundwork, making clear they have no intention of compromising with anyone.

The third-ranking Republican plans to tell an audience in Florida on Thursday that GOP congresses of yesteryear compromised “too much” — a warning to Republicans who are signaling that they’d be willing to work with the Obama administration on some issues.

House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana, in a clear jab at a Wall Street Journal story that indicated the GOP would look to avoid gridlock, plans to say that “there can be no compromise that allows more borrowing, more spending, more deficits and more debt.”

“Now, the last few days there has been some talk about how Republicans could avoid the ‘mistakes’ of 1995 by seeking compromise with this administration,” according to an excerpt reported by the conservative blog Redstate. “The last Republican Congress didn’t suffer from too little compromise, it suffered from too much.”

Pence’s remarks come the same week as Ken Buck (R), the extremist Senate candidate in Colorado, insisted that he’ll refuse to cooperate with those he disagrees with if elected. “I think it’s wrong to compromise your values to fit in with the social climate in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “When it comes to spending, I’m not compromising. I don’t care who, what, when or where, I’m not compromising.”

The polling on this can be a little tricky, but I suspect much of the American mainstream — especially self-identified “independents” — likes the idea of policymakers from different parties finding areas of common ground and making compromises to advance solutions. I tend to think far too much is made of this — I prefer policies with merit, whether they enjoy bipartisan support or not, and think it’s a mistake to ignore the substantive differences between the parties — but it still seems pretty clear that a huge chunk of the electorate, exasperated by partisan fights, can’t imagine why Democratic and Republican leaders won’t make concessions and reach agreements on key issues.

Which is why I think remarks like those from Pence and Buck are actually pretty important. Eleven days before Election Day, high-profile Republicans want Americans to know that a vote for the GOP is a vote against compromise, against bipartisan agreements, and against powerful officials working together with a sense of common purpose.

Is this the sort of message that resonates with voters?