04/06/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Rodney King Strategy

Ever since the Massachusetts election, Barack Obama has been asking Democrats and Republicans, "Can't we just get along?" It seems he thinks if he just asks hard enough or wishes intensely enough that the Republicans will finally play fair.

They've voted no on everything and given him absolutely zero votes on most pieces of legislation. Obama has already tried inviting them over to the White House, negotiating with them, implementing the policies they asked for (deficit reduction commission was the perfect example) -- and they still gave him no votes. Apparently the Rodney King strategy is not cutting it.

I understand the political value of reaching out to the other side. You appear reasonable and centrist, which in this case Obama actually is, to a fault. But there has to be a limit to it. Because right now Obama is caught in a no-win situation of his own making. He promised two seemingly contradictory things -- that he would get beyond the partisanship in Washington and at the same time he would bring real change.

It takes two to tango on bipartisanship. So, if you can't get the other side to play ball and you still want to bring real change, you only have one choice. You have to bring out the pliers and a blowtorch. You have to put the other side on the spot and call them out if they block the change Americans voted for.

But if Obama does that now, they'll say he didn't change the tone in Washington and he's being too partisan by attacking the Republicans. So, he's in a lose-lose situation. If he doesn't put the Republicans on the spot he can't deliver on the change he promised, but if he does attack them then he didn't deliver on getting beyond partisan bickering.

But he can turn this around to a win-win. How? By setting a deadline. He can say that he is willing to do the concessions he has already promised the Republicans and list what those are. But if they still refuse to vote with him by a certain date, then he has no choice but to call them out. At that point, it is his duty and obligation to point out to the electorate who blocked the change they voted for.

In the words of John McCain, he should make them famous and we should know their names. If Chuck Grassley votes to kill health care reform, then every person who is denied health care in Iowa because of a pre-existing condition should know it was Grassley who did it. Every person that loses a family member because insurance dumped them after they got sick, they should know that their loved one died because Chuck Grassley played partisan politics. Grassley filibustered while people died. These are the men who killed health care reform and these are the men who killed your family.

If President Obama does this, then he can credibly say he reached out and gave the Republicans a chance to be bipartisan along with him. If they refuse, he'll have no choice but to unleash his political wrath on them. This shifts the responsibility for bipartisanship from Obama to the Republicans. He did his part and they didn't, so there had to be consequences. Everyone can see the logic in this. People understand that you have to make your case and put your opponents on the spot. The Republicans are never shy about doing this, so it should come as no surprise to them.

Offer them an olive branch, but if they slap it down, roll up your sleeves and deliver the ass-kicking of a lifetime. That would be the change we can believe in.

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