For Obama, No Point In Being Conciliatory Now

I didn’t watch much TV last night, but I got the impression that whenever the gabbers ran out of steam in describing what was unfolding, they’d revert to blah blah blah about whether the results would re-inaugurate some sort of Era of Good Feeling in Washington.

It’s unclear to me if this sort of talk reflects incredible delusions about the hostility to compromise of latter-day Republicans, or the belief that Barack Obama and Democrats have no play but total surrender. Either way, it makes no sense, even if both sides make the obligatory cooing sounds about bipartisanship and “solving the country’s problems” for a few days.

Last night’s results, in fact, will enormously ratchet up pressure on Republican congressional leaders to act as thought their party is already in charge. We’re much more likely to hear ultimatums than peace offerings. I’d figure Boehner and McConnell will let the White House know, privately and publicly, that life can get easier if Obama (a) approves the Keystone XL pipeline, (b) indefinitely delays any DACA expansion, and (c) indefinitely delays final action on climate change regs.

Maybe (a) is a viable option; for all any of us knows, the administration has already decided to approve Keystone. But pure merits aside, backing off on DACA would squander the most important political chip Obama can play for his party before leaving office, and backing off climate change regs might well kill prospects for doing anything on the most important long-range challenge facing the country for many years to come. I personally cannot see anything within the power of congressional Republicans to offer Obama that would justify either concession. Saying “no,” on the other hand, will almost certainly cause Republicans heartburn over the inevitable divisions of opinion about how, exactly, to respond (after the shrieks of rage have subsided). Add in the fact that an awful lot of Republican activists and opinion-leaders are going to vastly over-interpret the midterm results into either a “mandate” or a sign of manifest destiny, there’s little reason to think the GOP is going to listen to those who think the next two years must be devoted to changing the party’s image. At this point, it would be a terrible idea for Obama and Democrats to help Republicans achieve a “pragmatic” makeover they’re not willing to earn by disappointing the almighty “base.”

Besides, Democrats have another task that should absorb their time for the next year or so: coming up with a agenda for keeping the economic recovery going while boosting its tangible benefits for the 99%. Making progress on that front would be better medicine for the Democratic Party and for the country than considering concessions to the people who think there’s not enough inequality today.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.