Why it’s difficult for Obama to “beat” the GOP

Why can’t Obama defeat the GOP already?

That’s the question we keep hearing from pundits like the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and National Journal’s Ron Fournier. They have pushed Obama to show more leadership and, somehow, overcome Republican opposition. As Fournier put it in a recent piece, “Obama needs a coach to look him in the eyes and say, ‘Mr. President, I’m not excusing the other team. They suck. But you need to beat them, sir. That’s your job, because if you can’t stop them, we lose.’”

But what does it mean to “win”? Winning would mean getting legislation through Congress. It’s one thing to face an opposition party that has a defined agenda it’s trying to implement. You can cut deals and hold negotiations, and perhaps you can win in the sense that you can get more out of the negotiations than the other side does. But that isn’t actually an option with today’s GOP.

Here’s new evidence of the dynamic Obama is up against.

The Republican National Committee has released an ad — called “The First 100 Days” — which criticizes Obama on the failure of his legislative agenda. Including gun control. It features a still black and white photo of Obama as he embraces the mother of a Sandy Hook victim. The idea is that Obama is to blame for failing the Sandy Hook families — even though Republicans are the ones who killed the gun control proposals they wanted with a filibuster.

And this isn’t even the first time Republicans have attacked Obama for failing to overcome their opposition. Last year, for instance, Mitt Romney hit Obama for his inaction on the economy, ignoring the extent to which Republicans have blocked action — but it’s the most egregious. And it’s of a piece with the other GOP tactic of proposing policies — like Medicare and Social Security cuts, to use a recent example—and attacking Obama when he adopts them as his own.

What’s really happening here, as the Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky writes, is that the Republican Party has departed from traditional norms of political behavior. He notes that the GOP has become  “a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics.”

In other words, the GOP doesn’t behave like a party should — it isn’t trying to govern, and it doesn’t have a particular agenda. It opposes Barack Obama’s presence in the White House, and will do anything — kill its own proposals, hold the economy hostage — to damage his standing with the public. How do you bend a party to your will when it has decided that its only self-interested course of action is to deny you all cooperation at all costs?

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.

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