Of all the ridiculousness currently pervading D.C. political coverage, nothing is more mind numbing than the attempts to evaluate Obama's "charm offensive." Though the politicos and CNNs of the world prattle on as if there is something in Obama's behavior, tone of voice or whatever that might "break the fever" of the current GOP, simple, incontrovertible reality says otherwise.
There is no plausible compromise in the offing now, because the Republican party is incapable of it.
I leave aside for now the wisdom of a compromise. The premise of all the grand bargain talk is that we need to do something dramatic now about deficits or else. But the grand bargain devotees -- an assortment of wealthy deficit scolds, increasingly hysterical and incoherent pundits like Robert Samuelson and Beltway bloviators more broadly for whom the deficit issue is the one policy position that they can advocate for without compromising their own sense of political balance and neutrality -- have simply failed to explain clearly, despite endless opportunities, why we need to act on deficits now.
As Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, et al. have pointed out repeatedly, the pressing economic problems facing us are a sluggish economy and high unemployment. And reducing deficits will only exacerbate those problems. The presumed perils of more deficit spending -- rising interest rates and runaway inflation -- have simply not materialized.
But the president has seemed determined to strike a deal, including one that Alex Pareene has aptly described as "a compromise in which conservative policy is being offered in exchange for conservative support for a conservative policy." Because the Beltway punditocracy has failed, with few exceptions, to report on one of the central political developments of the past generation -- the GOP's transformation from a conservative party with extremist elements into an extremist party full stop -- it remains stuck in an increasingly irrelevant and destructive paradigm of "both sidesism." And because it is so stuck, it finds itself in the absurd position of blaming the highly malleable Obama for not being willing enough to capitulate to that extremism. That failed media paradigm also leaves DC political commentators unable to acknowledge and integrate into their thinking the fact that public opinion is evermore clearly opposed to the GOP's extremism on issue after issue (remember the amazing attempt by Politico's Dave Catanese to blame the furor over Todd Akin's unbelievable rape comments on... liberals?!)
I was about to write that Ryan's latest budget -- which, in defiance of all laws of ideological probability -- is even more extreme, out of touch, delusional and so forth than his previous budgets -- should have put to bed once and for all any plausible assertion that the GOP is capable of acting seriously or in good faith about such matters. But of course, the same could have been said about the Ryan budget of 2011 or 2012, or the utter absurdity of the Romney campaign's position on Medicare, in which it bashed Obama for precisely the "cuts" that Ryan budgets themselves endorse (or countless other examples). In a party replete with climate denialism, polling denialism, statistical denialism and so forth, why would anyone expect anything else? As I've noted before, in this era of polarization, the Republicans have moved dramatically farther to the right than the Democratic Party has to the left and a cavalcade of ideological fanatics and crackpot theories continues to hold sway at the highest reaches of the GOP.
Nothing has changed since the election on this front because the key sources of Republican intransigence remain in place. A decades long process of policy and demographic driven changes have left the party in the hands of a predominantly authoritarian base, which has intersected with structural political dynamics to ensure that while the party's national political fortunes continue to deteriorate, its ability to exploit its political advantages in the states and in House districts remains. The political, intellectual, ideological and policy consequences of these developments mean that the party is likely only to become more extreme, not less, for at least the next couple of political cycles. No amount of charm, or compromise, or whatever is going to change these dynamics.
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