The road already traveled

President Obama is set to launch a three-day bus tour across North Carolina and Virginia today, continuing to push his jobs agenda. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), making his 12 millionth appearance on a Sunday show yesterday, told CNN’s Candy Crowley that the president should spend more time in D.C.

“It is time the president came off the campaign trail, sat down and negotiated and talked with us and see areas of common ground.”

I get the sense political reporters find this kind of message persuasive. A White House press conference late last week, a reporter asked the president why he doesn’t “sit down with members of Congress to see if you can’t reach compromise” on a jobs bill. The week before, at another White House press conference, two different reporters pushed the same argument, insisting that Obama isn’t “negotiating” enough.

This is all terribly silly, but since it’s apparently not obvious to the political establishment, let’s set the record straight.

The president has pleaded with congressional Republicans, more times than the White House would like to admit, to work with him in good faith — not just on economic issues, but on anything. It’s proven to be pointless. Indeed, it’s been worse than pointless — the failed outreach has occasionally made Obama look weak; it’s infuriated his base; and Republicans have, without fail, refused to meet him anywhere close to half-way. McCain wants the president to try negotiating? Obama already has. It didn’t work because Republicans slapped away his outstretched hand and refused to even consider compromise. In several cases, Obama has even endorsed GOP ideas, only to discover that Republicans no longer support their own policies if the president agrees with them.

As a consequence, the president is now trying something different — he’s taking his message to the public and he’s trying to create conditions that would pressure Congress to be responsible for a change.

I can appreciate the appeal of compromise, but the circumstances matter. Obama presented a serious jobs plan, endorsed by voters and economists, which included ideas from both parties. How many Republicans expressed even tacit support for the bill? Zero. How many Republicans expressed a willingness to work with the White House on possible alternatives? Zero.

For his part, McCain presented a jobs blueprint last week that included tax cuts, a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the total elimination of the Affordable Care Act, the total elimination of Wall Street reform safeguards, the end of EPA enforcement of clean air measures, and a tax repatriation holiday for international corporations.

Does this sound like a policymaker interested in negotiation and areas of common ground?

In case you’re curious, in the CNN interview, Crowley offered no pushback against McCain’s argument.