The politics of personal grievance

THE POLITICS OF PERSONAL GRIEVANCE…. Congressional Republicans all but dared President Obama to engage in a fiscal debate on their terms, demanding to know whether and how he’d tackle long-term debt reduction. The president agreed and presented a credible, realistic plan to cut $4 trillion from the debt over 12 years.

GOP officials obviously weren’t going to like his vision, but I’m a little surprised they’re still whining that Obama was mean to them.

The three Republican congressmen saw it as a rare ray of sunshine in Washington’s stormy budget battle: an invitation from the White House to hear President Obama lay out his ideas for taming the national debt.

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise. But soon after taking their seats at George Washington University on Wednesday, they found themselves under fire for plotting “a fundamentally different America” from the one most Americans know and love.

“What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just a wasted opportunity.”

Paul Ryan was reportedly “furious” and complained that the speech “was extremely political, very partisan.”

It’s worth fleshing this out, because there are some important angles to keep in mind.

First, the Republicans’ politics of personal grievance is based solely on their hurt feelings. They’re not saying the president lied or that his numbers don’t add up, but rather, they’re outraged that Obama was a big meanie. That’s kind of pathetic, and it reinforces fears that the House GOP majority is dominated by right-wing lawmakers with temperament of children.

Second, exactly what kind of reaction did Republicans seriously expect? Their fraudulent and callous budget plan, approved yesterday despite bipartisan opposition, eliminates Medicare. It punishes the elderly, the disabled, and low-income families, and rewards millionaires and billionaires. It calls for devastating cuts that would do widespread damage to the middle class and the economy. Were Republicans seriously waiting for Obama to politely pat them on the head and say, “It’s OK, you tried your best. I’ll give you an A for effort”?

Third, why is it Republicans expect one-sided graciousness? They expected a “peace offering” after pushing their own plan that was “deliberately constructed to be as offensive to Democrats as it’s possible to be,” and didn’t even bother with insincere “nods in the direction of bipartisanship.” I’ll never understand why Obama is expected to be conciliatory with those who refuse to do the same.

And finally, having a debate pitting two competing visions isn’t a bad development. Greg Sargent’s take on this rings true.

Throughout the first two years of Obama’s presidency, leading Republicans have regularly claimed that Obama is taking America towards socialism. Yet when a Democratic president stands up and aggressively defends his vision and worldview, and contrasts it sharply with that of his foes, something’s wrong. That’s not supposed to happen.

Obama’s characterization of the GOP vision was harsh. But so what? Politics is supposed to be an impassioned argument over what we all think the country should be. Is it possible to cross lines? Sure, but Obama didn’t cross any lines — in fairness, neither has Ryan — and no one was blindsided. No one was the victim of any sneak attack. We should want politicians who think their opponents’ worldviews are deeply wrongheaded to be free to say so in very vivid terms. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all?

I’d add just one last point. For two years, Obama pleaded with Republicans to play a constructive role, work in good faith, and compromise. They refused. Lucy doesn’t get to complain when Charlie Brown doesn’t want to run at a football that’s going to be pulled away anyway.