Friday, January 29, 2010

"The responsibility to govern is now yours as well."

So far it seems that Republicans were unswayed by this week's State of the Union address. This is unsurprising. Minority Whip Eric Cantor went so far as to say that he didn't appreciate Obama's lecturing tone. Fair enough. Likewise, while he didn't say it in so many words, President Obama doesn't appreciate Congressional Republicans failing to act like adults who were elected to govern. Hence the lecture. Act like children, and like children ye shall be treated.

Anyways, the tone of Obama's speech suggested that he was most concerned with keeping Democrats working hard for the solutions America desperately needs and trying to inoculate them against catching a case of midterm election fright and "run[ning] for the hills." Any Republican cooperation, he seemed to imply, would be welcome but unexpected.

Here's a bit that I really liked: "If the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well."

In the first part of the statement, Obama stresses that the fact that the Senate currently needs 60 votes to pass a bill has nothing to do with the Constitution. The only significance to the number 60 is that which is given to it by the Republican vow to filibuster against pretty much anything Democrats propose. As we've seen, requiring 60 votes to get something done apparently results in worse, not better, legislation, as it forces Harry Reid to pander to Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. All that political horse-trading and back room dealing that the Republicans are complaining about? All a direct consequence of their filibuster threat.

The second part of the statement, "responsibility to govern," hints at that. Again, I don't see this to mean that Obama really expects Republican collaboration on anything (with the exception of climate change; moderate kudos once again to Lindsey Graham for actually doing his job). Rather, I suspect that Obama is signaling that if the Republicans choose to do nothing except try to hold up his agenda, they will be responsible nonetheless for whatever has to happen for the legislative branch to function, whether that's the afore-mentioned horse-trading and back room deal-cutting, or using the controversial reconciliation maneuver to get around the threat of a filibuster.

So, summing up and translating what I hope Obama is saying with that statement: We have a majority in the Senate, which is all that the Constitution says we need to pass laws. If you refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of that majority, refuse to contribute meaningfully to policy-making, and try to use the rules of the Senate to keep us from governing, we will govern on our own. If that means cutting deals and using the rules of the Senate to our own advantage, the ultimate responsibility for that rests with you, and we will make sure that the voters know it in November. And don't even think about trying to tell them otherwise.

So, if Republicans think they can keep up with the obstructionism and win big in November, I think they'll be badly disappointed. It's been a rough year for Obama agenda-wise, but we're talking about a smart and ambitious leader who showed during the campaign that he learns from his errors quickly. Can you name a single mistake he's made twice? Shifting his focus to job creation is a smart move that forces Republicans to explain to voters why they're holding things up, whereas healthcare put the burden on the Dems to explain what they were even trying to accomplish.

Obama is still facing a tough fight in getting his agenda through Congress, but it looks to me like he knows what he's doing. Let's not forget that as much as he's an Ivy League intellectual, an idealist, and a gifted orator, the President is also a graduate of the Chicago School of Bareknuckled Politics. He knows how to win a fight.

1 comment:

  1. My ambassador said something today that he meant to describe the U.S. as a whole, but I think is entirely applicable here. He said that some cynics will write Americans off as a dying civilization, a nation on the decline. But while we definitely stumble and fail at some endeavors, we pick ourselves off, brush off the dust, and evolve and innovate. And that's what makes America the great nation that it is -- the fact that our core values promote creativity and the daring to try. Our president has something that few leaders have -- a combined intelligence, innovative spirit, and chutzpah, grounded on some very fundamental American values (that I am proud to share). Not all of his approaches will work, and frankly, some may fail spectacularly. But in the end, his administration will make significant progress in making the world (and the lives of his citizens) better. Yes, we can.