If only Obama’s critics paid closer attention

IF ONLY OBAMA’S CRITICS PAID CLOSER ATTENTION…. The Economist believes President Obama would have more legislative successes under his belt if only he’d done more to reach out to his opponents.

It is not so much that America is ungovernable, as that Mr Obama has done a lousy job of winning over Republicans and independents to the causes he favours. If, instead of handing over health care to his party’s left wing, he had lived up to his promise to be a bipartisan president and courted conservatives by offering, say, reform of the tort system, he might have got health care through; by giving ground on nuclear power, he may now stand a chance of getting a climate bill.

Matt Yglesias responds by noting one of my favorite anecdotes from the entire debate over health care reform. From 10 months ago:

[R]ight there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party.

What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return? Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make.

I realize The Economist is on the other side of the pond, but if it’s going to be reflecting on U.S. developments, it’s going to have to do better than this. The White House “handed over health care to his party’s left wing”? Of course — how could we forget the time President Obama sided with Dennis Kucinich on single-payer? Or vowed to veto reform unless it included a public option and Medicare buy-in?

As for the notion that the White House has made concessions on nuclear power, and thus stands a chance at passing a climate bill, this too is mistaken*. In the wake of last week’s announcement, Republican senators who agreed with Obama wouldn’t even mention his name in their press release, better yet signal a willingnes to compromise on emissions. Indeed, the president has also said he’d accept Republican demands for more coastal drilling, as part of a compromise on a climate bill. In response, Republicans said what they always say, “No.” (In truth, they not only said “no,” they said, “We’re going to block Congress from even voting up or down on the legislation.”)

What’s frustrating is the notion, too often accepted by the media establishment, that the president has somehow been a rigid ideologue. That’s not just wrong; it’s insane. On literally every major piece of legislation of the past 13 months, Obama has been willing — anxious, even — to work with GOP lawmakers. Republicans have slapped away his outreached hand in every instance.

As Paul Krugman explained today, “Unfortunately, the commentariat seems to be full of people who know, just know, that Obama isn’t getting Republican cooperation because he’s in the thrall of left-wingers — and just make stuff up to bolster their case. The truth, which is obvious from every day’s news, is that there is nothing, nothing at all, that Obama could offer — other than switching parties — that would get him any GOP cooperation.”

I don’t even think this is controversial. Indeed, Republican leaders would likely agree that this is exactly right.

So, how could The Economist manage to mangle reality so badly?

* edited