Saturday, January 30, 2010
PRESIDENT OBAMA IN THE LION'S DEN
I watched a remarkable event yesterday. President Obama traveled Friday to a House Republican retreat in Baltimore, MD, to engage in a lively, robust question and answer session with House GOP members. Mr. Obama stood his ground for an hour, answered each question thoughtfully, factually, and took responsibility by conceding the failure to televise the health negotiations. "It's a legitimate criticism," President Obama said. "So on that one, I take responsibility."
And for the trolls stuck on the one note childish "Teleprompter!" meme, there was no teleprompter, no cue cards. The president used his powers of intellect and thorough understanding of policy to debate and answer the questions put to him by the GOP House members. For over an hour.
FOX News--apparently aware of how informed, relaxed, and reasonable the president looked in this venue--cut away from the Q&A in the middle of an answer that Mr. Obama was giving. Mustn't promote anything that might make this man look good, even if it means making your propagandist station look spiteful and jealous. But we know FOX is not a news channel, so why expect them to act like one.
At 1:11 p.m. ET — when there was still 20 minutes left to go — Fox News decided to cut away and begin its commentary. Anchor Trace Gallagher’s immediate reaction was that Obama was being too “combative” and “lecturing” — like he was at his State of the Union address. Correspondent Bret Baier agreed, saying there was “a little bit of that,” but conceded that there was a “decent…give-and-take on the specifics.”
No matter. The reviews are flooding in and they all praise the effort both sides made at talking with and listening to what each side had to say. And the reviews give a lot of the credit to President Obama.
“Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months,” writes the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder. “Debating a law professor is kind of foolish — the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president.”
Ezra Klein sarcastically writes, “Apparently, transparency sounds better in press releases than it does in practice.”
On a side note, Luke Russert, an MSNBC reporter, revealed that a GOP insider told him that they should never have allowed this exchange to be televised (apparently it made the Mr. Obama look, well, very presidential and not at all like a guy who's trying to destroy this country, as many conservative trolls who visit this blog hysterically claim).
RUSSERT: Tom Cole — former head of the NRCC, congressman from Oklahoma — said, “He scored many points. He did really well.” Barack Obama, for an hour and a half, was able to refute every single Republican talking point used against him on the major issues of the day. In essence, it was almost like a debate where he was front and center for the majority of it. … One Republican said to me, off the record, behind closed doors: “It was a mistake that we allowed the cameras to roll like that. We should not have done that.
Here's Andrew Sullivan's take on it:
I've just watched the president address the Republican retreat in Baltimore. Address is not quite the right word, because it was a genuine - and remarkable - conversation between Obama and his political opponents - transparently on CSPAN. I don't remember similar public events of this length and this informality and candor in the past, but I may be forgetting some. But the theme was very straightforward: the president does not expect total GOP support on everything he is trying to do; but he does believe that the tactical oppositionism and electioneering that infects our current politics is making it impossible for the republic to grapple with the real and pressing problems we face.
He was especially good on entitlements, the need to reform them - and the impossibility of doing so if every time someone tries to they are hazed for "raising taxes/killing jobs" or "cutting medicine/killing seniors". This applies to both parties, of course. But it has been pretty brutal from the GOP this past year.
But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.
That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton - because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.