A visibly frustrated President Obama delivered a blunt message to Republicans with whom he had feuded over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling over the past month on Tuesday: Elections matter. I won; you lost. Deal with it.
"You don't like a particular policy or a particular president? Then argue for your position. Go out there and win an election. Push to change it. But don't break it. Don't break what our predecessors spent over two centuries building. That's not being faithful to what this country's about."
"Go out there and win an election." That's about as direct as you will ever hear a politician be about how he feels about his opposition and how they are conducting themselves. (It's not the first time Obama has used the "I won" construct. Remember the health-care summit in early 2010 when Obama told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): "The election is over.")
Obama's argument comes down to this: He believes that the 2012 election -- in which he was reelected easily and Democrats surprisingly picked up Senate seats and won a handful of House seats -- was a clear signal that the American electorate prefers his vision for government to the one offered by Republicans. He views that mandate as a broad one -- encompassing fiscal matters, health care, immigration and pretty much everything else.
Republicans, obviously, disagree vehemently with the "elections matter ... and I won" concept -- noting that they still control the House, which means that simply accepting Obama's priorities in toto because he won reelection isn't representing their constituents well. (Democrats make the counterpoint that while Republicans control the House, they actually got fewer raw votes in 2012. True. But, that gets us into redistricting -- and that's a whole other can of worms we aren't opening in this blog post.)
At the center of this disagreement -- policy differences aside -- is what it means to be the loyal opposition. Obama believes that Republicans have the right to dislike/disagree/fight his policies but only within the bounds of standard operating procedure on Capitol Hill. ("Push to change it. But don't break it.") That sentiment, in truth, is probably shared by 80 (or so) House Republicans -- including Speaker John Boehner. But, for the other 140 House GOPers -- including the four dozen or so committed tea party conservatives -- opposing the president and his policies means using any means necessary to do so. That includes a government shutdown and very nearly going past the debt-ceiling deadline.
For that group of 140, elections matter, too -- their elections. And, their constituents not only don't blanche at their tactics but embrace them. In many districts in the country, being involved in an effort to repeal Obamacare -- even if it led to a government shutdown -- was a very good thing politically.
Obama's annoyance -- and call for cooperation -- then will fall on mostly deaf ears. It's hard to play a "fair" game when the two teams can't even agree on what the rules should be or what winning (and losing) looks like.