Morning Jay: The Myth of GOP Intransigence
6:00 AM, Jun 15, 2012 • By JAY COST
There is a persistent theme in liberal circles that President Obama tried to reason with the Republican party, but they are now so extreme and so politicized that it was all for naught. This is essentially the thesis of the recent book by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, which I reviewed here, and Obama himself made basically this point in his campaign speech yesterday:
This is an important part of the Democratic understanding of the current political landscape. After all, President Obama came to Washington promising to break through the partisan gridlock; not only did he fail, his major domestic achievements saw less support from the opposition than any president in the postwar era.
Somebody has to take the blame for this. Liberal Democrats want to pin it all on Republicans, for obvious reasons. And of course their water carriers in the Washington establishment have given this argument a non-partisan gloss.
This undercuts the Democratic thesis of Republican intransigence, and points to an alternative explanation for the hyper-partisanship in Washington, D.C.
It starts with the recognition that Republican members of Congress, far from being the atavists that liberals make them out to be, are in fact highly rational, concerned above all with reelection, which colors every decision they make.
To be sure, the bonds of partisanship complicate things. All else being equal, the fortunes of Republican members are positively correlated with a Republican president, and negatively correlated with a Democratic president. The opposite holds for Democrats. So, Republican members will need a good reason to vote with a Democratic president, and Democratic members of Congress will need a good reason to vote against him.
This means that it is incumbent upon the president to work hard to attract support from the other side, to overcome the force that partisanship exerts against such deals. Obama did not do this at all. Instead, his White House adopted a thoroughly passive nature when it came to bipartisanship, and legislative craftsmanship in general. So, it should come as no surprise that they wound up with bills that satisfied the powers-that-be in the Democratic caucus, but failed to attract Republican votes.
What did the White House seriously expect? Did they honestly think they could let David Obey write the stimulus, George Miller write the health care bill, Henry Waxman write cap and trade, and Barney Frank write financial reform--and Republican support would magically develop?
Knowing this president and his team of advisers, maybe so. But this was foolhardy.