It was all going so well with those debt ceiling talks until, in President Obama’s words, “I couldn’t get a phone call returned.” Well, maybe not “well,” strictly speaking. But at least no one was yelling.
Speaker John Boehner walked away from the talks Friday afternoon, and now Obama wants Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, and Senator McConnell there at 11:00, where they are going to have a Very Serious Talk.
In the mean time, in the course of his 6 PM Friday press conference, he did everything short of swell several sizes and turn green.
And it was riveting.
“Can they say yes to anything?” he thundered. “What can you say yes to?” Well, not quite thundered, but closer to thundering than he’s come in years, except once when he was reading a book aloud to Sasha and got carried away doing the voices. The floorboards began rumbling beneath him. A gap opened in the earth and swallowed several goats and a reporter for the Economist.
“We’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue Republicans ran on!” he intoned.
“That's what the American people are looking for, is compromise,” he said. Compromise, and a “willingness to ignore talk radio.” When I think of the American people, those are hardly the first two traits that come to mind — usually we’re looking for another, Bigger Mac, or some way to make our talk radio talk louder — but let’s go with that.
This was not “the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans,” Obama insisted, as several pies flew telekinetically across the room and hit a man who was busy writing a column about Mitch McConnell’s plan — a plan, Obama noted in the course of the conference, that he would be willing to accept, because Being An Adult Means Taking Responsibility For Doing Tough Things. “A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous for them,” he told reporters. But they came up against “the seeming inability of particularly the House of Representatives to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences.”
He blamed pledges, talk radio, and columnists. How could Republicans behave like grown ups, what with the anti-tax pledges they’d taken (largely toothless) or the talk radio (largely senseless) or the columnists (largely shameless)?
Miss Manners parses the vocabulary of Parent-Child arguments in a way that I find intensely illuminating for this discussion. “Okay, then be your own boss“ translates to “Threatened revocation of parental authority when the child won’t do what parent wants anyway.” “What can you say yes to?”
That certainly is the case here.
They won’t return calls! They have a “seeming inability... to arrive at any kind of position that compromises any of their ideological preferences.” Don’t they realize that this is what the country wants? Compromise? There are packs of rogue American constituents outside the Capitol as we speak, foaming at the mouth, carrying pitchforks and torches and screaming, “MORE REASON AND COMPROMISE! WE DEMAND REASON AND COMPROMISE!”
“The American people are just desperate for people who are willing to put aside politics for a minute and …get stuff done,” Obama said, as his teleprompter stalked malignantly around the chamber, devastating all in its wake.
These are the real Americans who make compromises and budgets and don’t listen to talk radio, and “for us to be thinking in those terms instead of thinking about those folks is inexcusable.”
So those leaders had better show up tomorrow — or else. (Miss Manners defines “Or else” as an “all-purpose, non-specific threat.”)
The sad truth of this conference was that Obama proved exactly the thing he was railing against. We need adults. We need people to make sacrifices, to make hard choices, to get things done.
But when you yell, it’s better television.