The most famous running joke in the Peanuts comic strip repeats at the beginning of every football season. Charlie Brown asks Lucy to hold the ball for him so he can kick it. At the last moment, just before Charlie gets his foot on the pigskin, Lucy snatches it away. Despite years of torment, each new season Charlie Brown finds a reason to believe that Lucy will hold the ball down where he can kick it. But this never happens. Sound familiar? It's the story of Barack Obama and the Republican Congress.
President Obama keeps acting as if he has no history with Republicans: "This time will be different." But with each new policy initiative or political appointment, Obama runs up to kick the ball and Republicans snatch it away. Good grief!
Washington pundits contend this problem originated with Obama. "The president is too reserved," they say. "He spends too much time in the White House and not enough time schmoozing Congress members." Washington insiders say that all the Barack has to do is to lay on the Obama charm and Republican obstruction will melt away. The pundits blame Charlie Brown rather than Lucy.
The truth is Republicans don't cooperate with Obama because they want him to fail. The president should acknowledge this and paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, who famously declared, "I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad."
Four and a half years have seen the same recurring pattern: Obama proposes something or nominates somebody and Republicans block it. Their action is not based upon the merits of the White House proposal, or the qualifications of the particular candidate, Republicans oppose anything the president puts forward.
Recently, Republican Senator Pat Toomey, one of three Republicans to support gun control background checks, admitted the measure died because other Republicans didn't want to give Obama a victory: "There were some on my side who did not want to seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it."
In February, when the administration leaked its immigration plan, Republican Senator Marco Rubio slammed it, even though it had many commonsense provisions, because it had originated in the White House.
But the clearest indication of Republican obstruction is their unwillingness to fill vital positions in the government or work on the budget. Writing for the Campaign for America's Future, Terrence Heath noted:
As President Obama settles into his second term, a number of presidentially-appointed positions that require Senate confirmation remain vacant -- more than were vacant at the end of Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's first terms in office. Of the 68 positions that remained vacant at the end of Obama's first term in office, 43 had been vacant for more than a year.
A recent New York Times editorial observed:
At every opportunity since they took over the House in 2011, Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in reaching a [budget] compromise with the White House. For two years, they held sham negotiations with Democrats that only dragged down the economy with cuts; this year, they are refusing even to sit down at the table.
At the beginning of each new football season, why does Charlie Brown believe this year things will be different? Some would say Charlie has held onto his childish innocence. He believes that eventually Lucy will turn over a new leaf and become a partner rather than an adversary.
We see this same innocence in Barack Obama. He too believes people can change for the better and trusts that eventually Republicans will turn over a new leaf and become partners rather than adversaries. Many of admire Obama's optimism. His fierce belief that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."
It's admirable that Barack Obama wants to turn the other cheek and try to work something out with Republicans. Unfortunately, they're like Lucy, who has a character flaw that renders her incapable of cooperating with Charlie Brown.
Congressional Republicans have a pathological willingness to nurture resentment. Whether this is due to racism or having sold out to billionaires is not important. The reality is that contemporary Republicans are not interested in what's best for America; they are fixated on defeating Barack Obama.
Barack Obama has to understand this. He has to start acting less like Charlie Brown and more like Lyndon Johnson. He has to insist that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid enact the "nuclear option" to speed up the confirmation process. President Obama has to make it clear to Americans that Republicans aren't interested in what's good for the country because their sole focus is on defeating him.
But most of all, Barack Obama has to learn the lesson that Charlie Brown never did. Lucy isn't going to let him kick the football. Good Grief, Barack Obama! Grow up!