High Broderisms

HIGH BRODERISMS…. Unlike Mark Halperin, the Washington Post‘s David Broder isn’t blaming President Obama for the obstinacy of congressional Republicans. Like Halperin, though, Broder agrees that the president needs GOP votes for an economic rescue package.

Nothing was more central to his victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington. He wants to be like Ronald Reagan, steering his first economic measures through a Democratic House in 1981, not Bill Clinton, passing his first budget in 1993 without a single Republican vote.

The first way leads to long-term success; the second foretells the early loss of control.

This vote will set a pattern for Obama, one way or the other. He needs a bipartisan majority because, tough as this issue is, harder ones await when he turns to energy, health care and entitlement reform.

Broder’s point about Obama’s campaign is not unfounded. Then-candidate Obama did emphasize his desire to find common ground with those who disagree with him, and vowed to engage Republicans with a sense of shared purpose. To my mind, the president has done this — a point that Broder concedes — but was rebuffed by the minority party. He extended his hand, and they slapped it away. It’s impossible to forge meaningful compromises when only one side is working in good faith, and with intellectual seriousness.

I’d take issue with Broder’s assumption, though, about the “need” for a “bipartisan majority.” The economy needs a stimulus package. Obama was willing to make his proposal worse in the interests of bringing Republicans on board, but they had no interest in cooperating. There are only so many steps a president can take in the form of concessions before it becomes wildly counter-productive. Indeed, with Broder’s point in mind, if Obama gives up too much now, it not only undermines an economic recovery, it also weakens the president for future debates when he tackles other challenges. To that extent, I suspect Broder has the larger dynamic backwards.

Perhaps the political world has been looking at this debate the wrong way. All week long, we’ve heard quite a bit about what’s incumbent upon Obama to satisfy Republicans’ demands, despite the GOP’s horrific failures at governing, and despite voters having thrown the minority party out on their asses. Maybe now would be a good time to turn the question around: what are Republicans going to do to play a productive role in the process? When will they move beyond Bush’s failed economic agenda and get serious about the crisis? Obama was prepared to make all kinds of compromises; what concessions are Republicans prepared to make? GOP leaders have acknowledged they can’t just be “the party of ‘no.'” So when might we see them start to say “yes”?

It seems the burden of proof is all out of whack here. It’s not the president’s responsibility to make the rejected (and dejected) minority party happy. It’s not Obama’s job to find out what unhinged, far-right Republicans want to be happy, and then deliver.

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