This past weekend, a harsh-but-funny SNL skit claimed President Obama has finished an eighth of his first term with “nothing to show for it.”
That’s probably an unfair assessment. But this clip could have a salutary effect. Longtime fans like myself will recall that Candidate Obama was prone to periods of inaction or, viewed from the sidelines, complacency. We hated it then; today, as the sitting President, it’s incalculably worse. But these periods inevitably terminated, and culminated, ultimately, in his victory. Still, it’s time to hold him accountable, and demand quick action.
Why now? Previously, I was content to see President Obama attempt to play for a transcendental, bipartisan, consensus-building presidency. He was too. His goals were modest and seldom forced; his first Supreme Court nominee (of three in this term, probably) was an even-keeled center-left figure; his push for healthcare reform, cautious; etc.
For our temperance, we paid dearly. Conservatives didn’t hesitate to break out the big guns over Justice Sotomayor, even though her selection was, truly, an attempt to avoid a controversial nominee. A tepid healthcare bill brought the “tea partiers” out in force. The lesson is clear: whether we aim for consensus, or for bold progressive action, we will incur the same cost. The Republican Party is not interested in bipartisanship. Their sole motivation, plainly expressed, is to tear this President down. For his opponents, the President’s policies are beside the point: the mere fact of his existence is adequate to provoke the obstructionism, deceit, and borderline treason we’ve come to expect from the GOP.
And so the time has come to cease negotiating with intellectual terrorists. Obama should stop seeking the current consensus, and strive instead to build his own. This will be our transformation: bipartisanship on our terms. Not theirs.
America bitterly punishes partisans. Witness the downfall of the late, never-great Bush. But the American public still trusts the Democrats more (PDF), and still views us as the good guys in this fight. Republicans have won a well-deserved reputation as obstructionists, upon which we should capitalize. Provided we deliver on our promises, at this juncture, fortune once again favors the bold.
The tide has already started to turn. The public option — frequently reported dead, never reported out of committee — is coming back. Polls favor it. Once again, Obama is pushing it. We must capitalize on turning public opinion now. Presidents in every party have been known to have their low points. But as a great [fictional] man once said — “break’s over.”
Make it happen.