Michael Shear of the New York Times writes wistfully of bygone days when there was bipartisanship on the Hill compared to the political gridlock of today. He notes the funeral of Senator Daniel Inouye where President Obama said he learned from Mr. Inouye “how our democracy is supposed to work.”
Mr. Obama learned some strange lessons about democracy. Recall his retort to a Republican Senator just three days after he took the oath of office in 2009 when challenged on the make-up of the stimulus bill. “I won,” the president said — as if those two words explained the mysteries of the universe. Actually, it was more like “Shut up, he explained.” At that time — as now — the president wasn’t interested in compromise in the traditional sense of the term. He wanted victory. He wanted obedience. The debate was over because of his election victory and the GOP should bend knee, humble themselves, and thank him for his generosity.
Shear and the Times are performing a similar task today:
Though it has been 45 days since voters emphatically reaffirmed their faith in Mr. Obama, the time since then has shown the president’s power to be severely constrained by a Republican opposition that is bitter about its losses, unmoved by Mr. Obama’s victory and unwilling to compromise on social policy, economics or foreign affairs.
“Emphatically?” A switch of a little more than 500,000 votes in 5 key states would have seen Mr. Romney president. And just how moved should the GOP be by Mr. Obama’s victory? The fact that they aren’t dancing in the streets is apparently cause for criticism by Mr. Shear who accuses — without proof — the GOP of being “unwilling to compromise.” Mr. Boehner agreed to a tax increase, agreed to take the debt limit vote off the table, agreed to most of Mr. Obama’s stipulations on entitlements. Shear and Obama aren’t interested in “compromise; only submission to the president’s will.
House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.
New polls suggest that Mr. Obama’s popularity has surged to its highest point since he announced the killing of Osama bin Laden. In the latest CBS News survey, the president’s job approval rating was at 57 percent.
But taken together, events suggest that even that improvement in the polls has done little to deliver the president the kind of clear authority to enact his policies that voters seemed to say they wanted during the election.
Is Shear serious? The GOP should abandon it’s principles because Obama is more popular? And voters didn’t “seem to say” anything of the sort – that Obama should have “clear authority to enact his policies.” He’s got all the authority he needs; he was elected. The Constitution is silent on granting the president any more power than that to enact his agenda. It doesn’t give him dictatorial power to ride roughshod over the Congress. The legislative branch is supposed to be co-equal with the executive.
It’s not the GOP’s fault that the president is incapable of enacting his policies. In fact, it is just as legitimate to point out that the president has yet to “compromise” with Republicans on much of anything; Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the stim bill — all were passed by virtue of the huge Democratic majority in Congress. They were all horrid pieces of legislation, poorly written, poorly thought out, and chock full of unintended consequences for which we will be paying dearly for years to come.
And Republicans were supposed to sign on to such extraordinarily damaging legislation?
I am sure there are some Republicans who refuse to grant Obama any legitimacy at all. The GOP is a large party and some legislators can’t find it within themselves to acknowledge that compromise with the president is necessary. But Republicans have their own legitimate ideas about how to avoid the fiscal cliff — ideas the president has sneeringly rejected.
How about Mr. Shear urging the president to show some statesmanship rather than telling the GOP to fold and give Obama everything he wants? It’s true that Obama won the election. But what he does with that victory is at least as important as how the Republicans respond.
So far, the president hasn’t covered himself in glory.