Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Baltimore Massacre

(President Obama takes questions at GOP retreat, Baltimore, MD, January 29, 2010, zizi2  at

I had forgotten this moment. Zizi2 this morning at brings it back to life splendidly. Scott Brown had just won the Senate special election in Massachusetts. Healthcare was hanging in the balance. The President was being urged by many Democrats to pull back. And Speaker Boehner invited the President to speak at the GOP Baltimore retreat. As Zizi2 reports, he made one request - that he bring along the cameras. Boehner agreed. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, "Big mistake!"

Obama made an opening statement calling for more real conversation between the parties, and then took questions for an hour and a half. Zizi2's post has the full video. It's a stunning, solo, no teleprompter performance. As the President said towards the end, "I'm having fun."

In the clip above, he responds to a question from then Rep. Marsha Blackburn as to why he won't take input from Republicans. He replies that he has done so, that the ACA bill is founded on some GOP ideas. And then he warns the GOP not to raise the rhetoric level too high, nor draw the distinctions in too black and white a fashion (between GOP positions and his), for this would allow the Party almost no maneuvering room to craft bipartisan solutions to the country's problems.

And, of course, that is precisely what has happened in the past 45 months: GOP rhetoric and extremism has effectively eliminated the common ground that Obama in Baltimore was arguing existed. And when some common ground seemed to have been found - Immigration reform in the Senate, the Tea Party in the House worked quickly and hard to shut it down - to literally wipe any common territory off the political map.

Which brings us to now. The GOP has taken themselves into a negotiating box canyon, where there really is no shared ground, where the President has no choice but to require unconditional surrender. Anything less would be recognizing, rewarding, and even blessing a mode of political bargaining that would surely, if allowed to continue, alter the constitutional balance of power.

Why has the GOP gone so far? Lack of courage on the part of moderate GOP legislators. Weak leadership by Boehner (and here I was clearly wrong). Obsessive hatred of Obama by the Tea Party conservative core (40-80 members). The  complete 233 member GOP caucus dances to the tune of the Tea Party faction - because individual members are afraid of being primaried from the Right.

The hostage-taking part of this kabuki crisis will, I believe, end before next Thursday's debt ceiling drop dead date. The GOP will have to cave, though they will say that the ensuing negotiations over the Budget will somehow be a victory - "We forced the President to come to the table...etc...." - but it will be empty rhetoric.

Will the President give anything to get through this impasse? I don't think so.

And then we must wait and see what the Tea Party faction decides to do. 

Third party anyone??

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