I wish more Republicans were like Barack Obama.
Really. Give the president his due: he fights for what he believes in.
In his first year in office, Obama faced a popular backlash against his stimulus spending bill and saw a Republican elected to Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in a referendum on Obamacare. Yet despite these and other setbacks, the president declared he had no intention of moderating his approach. “The one thing I’m really clear about is that I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president,” Obama said in a January 2010 interview.
That attitude is precisely why Obama is a now two-term president.
Instead of backing down in the face of a rising tea party movement, Obama doubled down. He knew full well that that the majority of Americans disagreed with Obamacare, but he believed it was the right thing to do. So he rammed it through Congress, passing it over the near-unanimous opposition of the Republican Party and the objections of the American people.
Voters rebuked him in the 2010 midterm elections, putting the House in Republican hands. But by 2012, Americans gave Obama a second term in office. Now, Obamacare is the permanent law of the land — and Ted Kennedy’s seat is back in Democratic hands.
Obama fought for what he believed in, never backed down, absorbed the political blowback — and won.
Why can’t Republicans do that?
Or take taxes. Obama campaigned in 2008 on a promise to raise taxes on the rich. The GOP victory in 2010 slowed his plans, but Obama never gave up — and last week, he won a resounding victory in Congress, forcing Republicans to give him $41 in tax increases for every $1 in spending cuts. (And once Hurricane Sandy relief is enacted, the spending cuts will likely become spending increases.) As the New York Times editorial page gloated, the Obama administration “achieved 85 percent of its revenue goals . . . [while] Republicans achieved none of the draconian spending cuts they wanted.” Obama ran the tables on the GOP.
Obama strong-armed the GOP by making clear he was ready to take the country over the fiscal cliff and allow taxes to rise on every single American. He was willing to let the country go into recession if he did not get his way. He knew he had political leverage, and he used it without hesitation — forcing his political opposition to bend to his will.
Why can’t Republicans do that?
Instead of using Obama’s Chicago-style, brass-knuckle approach, too many Republicans are wringing their hands today, looking for ways to moderate their approach in response to Obama’s victories.
Here is a better idea: Republicans should take a page from Obama’s playbook, do what they think is right, use all the leverage at their disposal and stop worrying about the electoral consequences. If they learn anything from Obama’s victories, it should be this: Voters reward conviction politicians who fight for what they believe in — even when they disagree with them. Pandering does not work.
The GOP’s next test comes in a few weeks time, when the deadline to raise the debt limit is reached. Democrats are gearing up to demand $1 trillion in new taxes as the price for any spending reductions. Republican leaders have said that they will not accept any more tax increases, [period — and that spending cuts are the price for a debt-limit increase.
Obama will be forgiven if he sees this as a bluff. Let’s hope he is wrong.
In the last debtlimit showdown, Republicans set an important benchmark with the “Boehner rule” — requiring at least one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in debt limit increase. This is the absolute floor of what the GOP should demand. Unlike the fiscal-cliff standoff, Republicans hold all the leverage in the debt-limit fight — because Obama cannot allow the country to default. Republicans should emulate Obama and use their leverage without hesitation — demanding deep spending cuts and structural reforms to entitlements as the price for any increase in borrowing authority.
Make no mistake: If the roles were reversed, Obama would not hesitate to use the threat of default to break his political opposition. He didn’t flinch from using the threat of a recession to force Republicans to break their no-tax pledge. He didn’t hesitate to use arcane parliamentary strong-arm tactics to pass Obamacare. Obama uses every ounce of political power at his disposal to get what he wants. It’s admirable, really. He has core beliefs and is willing to put everything on the line for them.
It’s time that Republicans did the same. If the GOP wants a path out of the political wilderness, they should start acting more like the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Marc A. Thiessen, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, writes a weekly online column for The Post.