Friday, April 15, 2011

A gloss on a 'quote of the day'

The Dish frames up an emotionally satisfying reality check from  Joe Klein:
"It's painful when reality intrudes. Here is the reality: the Republicans have spent the past 30 years creating deficits and the Democrats have spent the past 30 years closing them. The unimportance of deficits became an article of faith during the second Bush Administration: "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," Dick Cheney famously said. It has been rather hilarious for those of us with even a minimal grasp of recent history to watch these folks pull fierce 180-degree turns on the issue--and it is even more hilarious to watch them accuse Obama of hyper-partisanship after the dump-truck full of garbage they visited upon his head these past few years."
Klein was reacting to Republican fulminations such as this from Pete Wehner (link in the Klein post):
President Obama's speech today was both outrageous and insulting, a practically perfect combination of demagoguery and shallowness. It was not a serious substantive speech; it was a political missile whose intention is was to destroy, through libel, the House Republican's 2012 budget. It was not an effort to engage in a serious discussion; it was an effort to create a cartoon image of Obama's critics.
I suspect that whatever else Americans of any political stripe think of Obama, they know he's no rhetorical flame-thrower.  In a battle over which side is excessively partisan, he wins -- poll after poll shows that Americans trust him to compromise far more than they do the Republicans.  For a second reality check, note that in this speech Obama partially offset his "partisan" attack -- that is,  a frank expose of the Ryan Plan's values and likely effects, and a short history lesson about the debt amassed in the 80s and naughties --  with a sharing of credit for the deficit reduction successes in between:
To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation's deficit -- three times. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton, by Democratic Congresses and by a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice. But they largely protected the middle class; they largely protected our commitment to seniors; they protected our key investments in our future.
That is in service of his apparent continued belief that he can, against all the odds, strike a deficit deal with Republicans today:

Of course, there are those who simply say there's no way we can come together at all and agree on a solution to this challenge. They'll say the politics of this city are just too broken; the choices are just too hard; the parties are just too far apart. And after a few years on this job, I have some sympathy for this view. (Laughter.)

But I also know that we've come together before and met big challenges. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill came together to save Social Security for future generations. The first President Bush and a Democratic Congress came together to reduce the deficit. President Clinton and a Republican Congress battled each other ferociously, disagreed on just about everything, but they still found a way to balance the budget. And in the last few months, both parties have come together to pass historic tax relief and spending cuts.

And I know there are Republicans and Democrats in Congress who want to see a balanced approach to deficit reduction. And even those Republicans I disagree with most strongly I believe are sincere about wanting to do right by their country. We may disagree on our visions, but I truly believe they want to do the right thing.

So I believe we can, and must, come together again.
Perhaps by this point, Obama has no real hope that the 95% of House Republicans who have signed Grover Norquist's 'no new taxes' pledge are ever going to sign onto a Bowles-Simpson-like tax reform that raises  a fresh trillion in revenue (and it should be more) over 10-12 years. But no one should think that he didn't expect a measure of GOP buy-in to the stimulus bill, or that he didn't expend a small fortune in political capital trying to get a handful of GOP senators to support the ACA. If, as he did with the Iranians, he goes forward now with a good-faith effort to negotiate without expecting a real reciprocal response, that doesn't mean the effort is not good faith. When it breaks off, and we have budgetary standoff until 2013, the public will know where the intransigence lay.

In my view, Obama has been faithful to a campaign promise he's often lambasted for failing to fulfill: changing the way politics is practiced.  Again and again, he has modeled principled disagreement on policy expressed and enacted with civility -- look again at his coda to the bipartisan healthcare reform summit in Feb. 2010.  In this, he has recently found a quasi-partner in Boehner, who also knows how to project good faith and (relative to his peers) respect for the opposition  The tone and style of debate is one battleship that I think he will be seen in retrospect to have turned by degrees.

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