The loud clamor from progressives, some liberal Democrats, and even a few self-described moderates for President Obama to get down and dirty with the GOP on health care and other big ticket legislative issues will always fall on deaf White House ears. There are good reasons why. Obama never had anything resembling the big and popular mandate that the press and Democrats believed he had to make sweeping change. He ran against an aging GOP candidate saddled with the colossal burden of a divided, corruption- and scandal-plagued GOP, a Saturday Night Live joke line vice presidential running mate, a tanking economy, an unpopular war, and a GOP president whose ocean bottom ratings made Hoover Hoover look like the second coming of Lincoln.
Yet Obama still got trounced among white voters. A good chunk of whites voted for him less because of his message of hope and change, than because of disgust and loathe of Bush bumbles, fumbles, and miscues. Candidate Obama delivered carefully calibrated rhetorical toss away lines about ending the war, single payer health care, nailing Bush lawbreaking officials, cracking down on the Wall Street greed merchants, and jump-starting a new war on poverty. Yet he is and always has been a solid team-playing Beltway, centrist Democrat, and these political positions are anathema to centrist Democrats. To play the centrist political game correctly requires compromise, conciliation, and bipartisanship. Illinois Republicans, and that included some of the most conservative down state Republicans, repeatedly gave Obama high marks as the one upstate Illinois black Democrat who would continually reach across party lines to build consensus to get legislation passed.
Obama learned early that this was the sure-fire way to bag the big financial and corporate dollars, stay in good stead with the Democratic Party regulars, and garner favorable ink in the mainstream media. He gave a bigger hint that compromise and conciliation would be the watchwords of his administration in his coming of political age keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. The punch line that brought swoons and wows was that Americans shouldn't be pigeonholed into Red States and Blue States, and that he would work hard to close the political and ideological rifts and divisions between them. This was a political template for a non-confrontational, don't-ruffle-the-GOP's-political-feathers approach to policy matters.
Then there's the matter of race. The escalating GOP counterinsurgency against him is fueled by playing on the thinly veiled racial fears of a black liberal leaning president. A president who has an allegedly suspect birth status, religious ties, and patriotism, and who will subvert the liberties, and economic well-being of law abiding, patriotic hard working white Americans. This is pap and hogwash, but the scare tactic has worked.
Polls show a big fall off in his approval ratings. Democrats are now inching up on Republicans in getting the blame for the mess in Congress. This makes Obama even more gun-shy about trying to ram health care reform, or any other part of his agenda, through Congress with Democrats only. This would draw not only howls of dictatorship but stir massive political and public disruption and unrest. This would open the door wide for Republicans to rebound and actually win back a few seats in the 2010 mid term elections.
The specter of a rejuvenated, even more warlike GOP is Obama's worst nightmare. The low intensity warfare against him would severely hamper his efforts to better shore up the economy, pass immigration reform and revamped campaign reform law, and wind down the wars.
Imploring Obama to thumb his nose at the GOP and go it alone with Democrats shows pure ignorance or Kool Aid delusion of who and what Obama is and how he got where he got. It just ain't going to happen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How Obama Governed: the Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press, January 2010).
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