About 24 hours ago, shortly before President Obama presented an ambitious debt-reduction plan, the headline on MSNBC’s homepage read, “Abandoning consensus, Obama takes a populist path.” It wasn’t an unfair assessment — President Obama and his team are adopting a new posture when it comes to dealing with congressional Republicans.
I obviously can’t read minds, but if I had to guess, I’d say this road wasn’t the president’s first choice, and his instincts likely push him in a different direction. For all the complaints that people prefer Candidate Obama to President Obama, he told us in 2007 and 2008 exactly what he wanted to do — move past bitter partisanship, strive for common ground, accept compromises as part of incremental progress, make a sincere effort to bring people together.
Love the president or hate him, he’s done what he said he would do. Obama has reached out to Republicans, even when he didn’t have to; he embraced Republican ideas as much as he could; he’s given plenty of administration posts to Republicans officials; and he’s demonstrated, to a fault, a willingness to compromise with his opponents.
And how did Republicans respond to a conciliatory president’s outstretched hand? By slapping it away. GOP officials have rejected every idea the president has ever suggested, even occasionally rejecting their own ideas after Obama accepted them. Republicans have not only forcefully abandoned the very idea of compromise, over the summer, they pushed the nation to the brink of an economic catastrophe, on purpose, rather than work in good faith with the White House.
Obama has banged his head against a wall for nearly three years, managing to do more harm to himself than the wall. And now it appears he’s done trying to appease those who refuse to even consider putting country above party.
David Brooks has seen all of these events unfold in recent years, and today uses his column to lambaste the president anyway. Apparently, Brooks believes Charlie Brown has an obligation to keep trying to kick the ball, even if he knows Lucy will pull it away.
The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.
I think Brooks has reached the appropriate assessment of himself, but for all the wrong reasons.
What the columnist refuses to understand is that Obama still believes in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. But I desperately want Brooks to answer one question: what happens when the president is the only one willing to adopt this posture, and his ostensible partners in governing — congressional Republicans — refuse to even consider compromise? In all sincerity, what choice has the GOP left for Obama?
Brooks seems genuinely disgusted that the president and his team aren’t sticking to a failed script: preemptive concessions, starting in the middle and working to the right, and a deliberately weak negotiating position built around the notion of making insatiable Republicans happy. And to be sure, the White House has tried this in the past, to no avail.
The NYT columnist apparently wants Obama to keep trying anyway, making the same mistake, regardless of Republicans’ recklessness or immaturity. The president’s willingness to ignore Brooks’ bad advice is heartening.