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Obama and the Republicans

January 30th, 2010

Obama went to the Republicans’ home turf and fielded unscreened questions from House Republicans at their retreat in Baltimore. Below is the full White House video (video and transcripts part one & part two) of his opening remarks and of his one hour and seven minutes of answering questions lobbed at him by his political opponents.

Now, one thing I would like to observe: when did Bush do this? Right-wingers make claims that Obama and Democrats are “afraid” of “journalists,” meaning they won’t allow Fox News to stage a right-wing political ambush under the pretense of a debate hosted by a “news outlet.”

The thing is, Obama has put himself not just up in front of the media, he has put himself directly in front of very aggressively challenging right-wing forums. Obama went on O’Reilly’s show on Fox; did Bush ever go on Olbermann? Hell, no. Now, maybe I missed something, but I sure as hell don’t recall Bush ever opening himself up to answering more than an hour’s worth of unscreened questions from Democratic lawmakers on live TV. No, I think I would have remembered that.

So, right off the bat, you have to give Obama huge props for going where no Republican leader would ever have the guts to go, namely into the lion’s den of opposition. On this, Obama is the courageous, bipartisan leader, and Republicans are the weak-kneed sissies afraid to be held accountable by the opposition. There can be no argument on that.

Next, watching the opening remarks and much of the questioning, you have to give Obama big marks for bipartisan outreach. He made several excellent points about how he has compromised and worked across the aisle, gave Republicans their due on many things, and publicly committed to working with the other side. Compare that to most of the questions, and you’ll see that while the Republicans in the room had some conciliatory remarks, they most definitely were way more partisan in their remarks than Obama was. Clearly, they felt that Obama had stumbled into their crosshairs and they were going to make a shooting gallery of it. But under the most challenging of questions, Obama more than held his own. He did not allow his record to be misrepresented, and did a good job of beating down the untrue accusations lobbed at him.

And there were quite a few incredibly biased and unfair “questions” (often couched in partisan speechmaking–just listen to the first “question”). I nearly gagged when one guy actually had the balls to say “We have not been obstructionist.” I had to remember that a few moments before, he had said that he represented freshmen in the House. I don’t know what their record is, but maybe among that small group, there has not been the same level of obstructionism as has been iron-clad amongst Republicans as a whole, and especially Senate Republicans. What this guy said may have been true in its very limited sense, but coming from a Republican lawmaker, and clearly intended to represent Republicans in general (note how he did not say “House freshmen have not been obstructionist,” but instead removed the classification to a preceding sentence therefore giving a false impression in the claim), it is one of the more outrageous claims ever spoken. And sure, freshmen House Republicans may not be as obstructionist as their party as a whole, but that’s because they can afford to be: there’s no filibuster in the House, and the Democrats have a clear majority, so 100% opposition is not necessary, and they can afford to cross lines more often. But if Democrats held a razor-thin majority, you can bet your ass that these guys would be exactly as obstructionist as their Senate brethren are.

Obama scored huge points in pointing out how Republicans have demonized Obama:

Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and, certainly you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much, but that’s not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. No, I mean, that’s how you guys — (applause) — that’s how you guys presented it.

And so I’m thinking to myself, well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist — no, look, I mean, I’m just saying, I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — is similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.

So all I’m saying is, we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.

And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.

Truer words have not been spoken. Watch the whole video, and I think you’ll be impressed with how Obama does. I have to say, he is very motivational; listening to him speak, especially seeing him stand up to and hold his own and then some against a crowd so pitted against him almost gives me hope again. But then I remember that it’s not House Republicans who are the problem, it’s Senate Republicans, and for all the tiny morsels of outreach the crowd claimed they were offering, none of that means squat if Senate Republicans don’t end their record-breaking filibuster marathon and stop their monolithic obstructionist campaign.

UPDATE: Amusing point: Obama was doing so good a job at defeating Republican attempts to make him look bad, and doing it so adroitly and effectively, that Fox News, which was airing the event no doubt in hopes that Obama would get his ass handed to him, cut away from the event 20 minutes early. To those who would claim that they planned to or had to go to another event, I ask this: if Obama were getting embarrassed instead of the other way around, do you think they would have cut away? Not to mention that they cut away to “analysis” of the event, and spent a lot of time bitching about how Obama was “lecturing” Republicans. Um, yeah.

  1. Tim Kane
    January 30th, 2010 at 14:31 | #1

    This was Obama at his best. It reminded me of why I voted for him. Daniel in the lions den, and all of that. Touche.

    The most telling comment is the Republicans lamenting that it was televised. I haven’t seen the entirety, but the little I did see, he seemed to talks sense, while they tried to whip senseless Fox News – Teabagging talking points on him. In the process, the Republicans looked like a bunch of unreasonable, ignorant, stupid, jackasses and Obama simple a class act and a cut above.

    That is, of course, just good politics on his part, and it will help him politically, but if all he ever does is carry water for the elites in this country, it matters not.

    January 30th, 2010 at 21:41 | #2

    Luis, welcome back!

  3. Kensensei
    January 31st, 2010 at 04:46 | #3

    Thanks for posting this link, Luis. I had heard excerpts of this played on the talk shows here in the States but wanted to hear the dialog in its entirety. Obama has a gift for balancing honest “straight talk” with genuine respectfulness. I hope such meetings with the opposition will continue and eventually bear fruit.

  4. January 31st, 2010 at 11:36 | #4

    I agree that he was very eloquent and that Obama more than held his own, however, I wasn’t surprised. Obama is very intelligent, very comfortable in a public forum, and is overall a great orator. However, this conference was merely part of the political game and there wasn’t really anything of any substance.

  5. Mark
    February 4th, 2010 at 15:21 | #5

    The reason President Obama finally met with Republicans is only because health care is on life support, cap and trade to “save the planet” is effectively dead, the economy is on the ropes, stimulus plans are not effectively reducing unemployment, the deficit is growing far faster than our ability to repay it, and there were 3 (2 successful) Islamic terrorist attacks this year. And he’s on the record books for dropping in popularity faster than any other first term president. Obama’s a politician and it’s only in desperation he finally agreed to meet with Republicans. Until Mass. spoke, it was “we won, not you” so shut up and color, you across the isle. The people spoke in Mass., so the President belatedly choose to reach across the isle in hopes of accomplishing something. Bush never had to show off his meeting with Democrats, because he’d already been doing so. Bush didn’t need a cheap, theatrical trick because he was the real deal. So, I agree with Maksim, this was a snake oil salesman demonstrating his talent…nothing more, nothing less. For Kenese, meetings with “the opposition” will bear fruit when the party in power chooses to listen and try to meet in the middle. Until then, they’re useless spectacle. Both sides need to sincerely reach across the isle. I, unfortunately, am not optimistic.

    February 6th, 2010 at 12:54 | #6

    Mark, I do not live in the U.S. and I cannot judge by my own personal experience. But I do follow American politics and all I read in mainsteam international press, such as The Economist, is that Obama bent himself over backwards to accommodate the Republicans and come up with bipartisan policies: so far he only found obstructionism from them. This is not to say that the Democrats are always prim and proper, but to accuse Obama of demagoguery seems to me a bridge too far.

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