The Washington Post

Obama's victories and shortfalls

In his morning post, my noble adversary, Ed, sees a left-wing media conspiracy to bash Republicans and blame them for what he calls President Obama's dithering. He cites E.J. Dionne Jr. 's column and even lumps Norm Ornstein in with the left-wing crowd! My read of Dionne's column was different from Ed's.  I thought  E.J.'s main point is that Romney has to rely on negative energy against Obama to propel him to victory because his economic message of tax cuts and regulation is a loser. And, for the record, Norm Ornstein is a member in good standing of the American Enterprise Institute, not known as a left-wing organization, but more important, he is perhaps the most respected and fair observer of Congress and has been for almost four decades. So, his conclusion (in an NPR interview) that congressional Republicans have become the party of obstruction should carry real weight.

As Ornstein and (his co-interviewee) Tom Mann conclude, "One of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition."

Congressional Republicans are still voting against the health-care law, for crying out loud. In that, they remind me of World War II Japanese soldiers holed up and still firing, months after their country had surrendered because they hadn't gotten word they lost.

Back to Ed's main point that Obama dithers. Some of that is fair. Obama came to Washington with a naïve and perhaps arrogant  view that his election had been transformative, and that he could work with Republicans.  But, on the stimulus, health care and the deficit, he quickly learned that Republicans' goal was to deny his legitimacy and his reelection.  Where I fault Obama is that he wasn't better able to govern around Republican intransigence. In some ways, he did. He got a stimulus bill, although less than he wanted, signed into law, and he got the health-care law. But he did not expend enough of his energy and rhetorical skills  to move independent voters to his point of view, so his victories were seen as partisan.

On many of the big things, I believe, Obama has the winning political argument and the right policy. He has shown an understanding of the global economy, for which the United States must invest in education, basic and vocational, in bio-medical research and infrastructure. He understands the threat posed by the debt and has shown a willingness to buck his own party on entitlements. But his ability to consistently sell these positions to the American people with the same kind of relentless focus and discipline his campaign is known for seems to fail him in his presidency.

The good news, however, is that the Republicans and Romney may not have enough to beat him. Their economic plan, now 40 years old, consists mainly of redistributing wealth from the middle-class to the wealthy through tax cuts and of cutting regulations as an elixir for business. As Huck Finn said, "... I can't stand it. I been there before."


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