Liberal fantasies about Obama’s power to bend intransigent Republicans in Congress to his will are not helping.
President Obama has come under fire recently. Which is not surprising given the blatant partisanship of Republicans in Congress. It’s a matter of course that the Fox News’, Red States and World Net Dailies of the world would be quick to pile on Obama as a “failure.” But what is surprising is that this time the fire is of the “friendly” variety, coming from more liberal bloggers and opinion writers. And with the Senate’s failure to pass the Manchin-Toomey gun background checks bill, the uproar of criticism toward Obama headed toward a fever pitch.
The cavalcade began with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and her piercing commentary about how it’s Obama’s job “to get them (Congress) to behave.” The liberal doubters—nay, Progressive doubters—took that as the green light to pile on, and the avalanche had begun.
According to the National Journal’s Ron Fournier, Obama should be able to “rise above circumstance,” but that he was “unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn GOP opposition.” Fournier goes on to say that what Obama needs is a coach to “look him in the eye and say ‘Mr. President, I’m not excusing the other team. They suck. But you need to beat them, sir. That’s your job, because if you can’t stop them, we lose. And there’s no excuse to losing to such a lousy-bleeping team.’”
Right, because Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan have all been perfectly reasonable and eager to work with this black, Democratic, communist, socialist, illegitimate president in the first place. They’re just dying to reach out and collaborate with him, if only he’d ask nicely. Right, Darrell Issa? All we need is Paul “Bear” Bryant on the case.
What is unconscionable to these folks is that a gun background checks bill (and really, that’s all it was—Dianne Feinstein’s assault weapons ban was left completely out of it, as was an amendment that would limit the size of magazine clips) could fail in the Senate when polling nationwide showed close to 90% support for the concept. With 90% of the American public supporting the notion of expanding background checks on who could legally purchase a gun and who would be legally prohibited from doing so, how could that bill possibly fail?
According to Dowd, it’s clearly Obama’s fault: He didn’t do nearly enough arm twisting and cajoling and schmoozing, and because of it he couldn’t muster up enough support to pass it. Never mind that the bill earned 54 votes in the Senate, a clear majority.
This stacked on top of Obama’s inability to coerce Congressional Republicans to negotiate in good faith on the debt ceiling, sequestration, the budget deficit, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security…….In short, his inability to convince the opposition party to behave as a responsible governing entity instead of strictly an obstructionist presence.
What should be telling is the agenda in the House of Representatives, led by a Republican majority. In short, there is none. They don’t hope to accomplish anything, other than preventing Obama “victories.” There are no goals laid out, no priorities set. Just obstruction. And never mind that today’s Senate requires a 60 vote supermajority to accomplish anything, rather than a simple majority as the Founders had intended, thanks entirely to the cowardice of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
But what this really indicates is a fundamental misunderstanding of Obama and his approach to governance on the part of some otherwise really smart people.
Quick lesson in Constitutional Law: Bills that would become law—particularly as it pertains to revenue and the budget—must originate in the House of Representatives. Congress makes the laws, not the President or the Judiciary. That changed under FDR, who used the crisis of the Great Depression to change the way the government functioned. The Roosevelt White House wrote the bills that would ultimately constitute the New Deal, and proceeded to promote it through Congress—with large majorities of Democrats in both houses. LBJ did the same with the Great Society—again with large Democratic majorities. George W. Bush’s White House wrote the disastrous prescription drug bill that required extensive arm twisting and procedural tricks in the House to pass through a Republican dominated House and Senate.
Congress had become lazy through the decades, expecting the Executive Branch to do all of the heavy lifting on important legislation while they got to sit back and take the credit for someone else’s work. But that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and Obama, being a Constitutional scholar and law professor, knows this. So instead of spoon-feeding Congress as other recent presidents have been wont to do, Obama decided that it was time for Congress to actually earn their paychecks and do what they are Constitutionally obligated to do: Legislate.
This is how the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, as was formerly the pejorative until the president decided to own it) came to be. The Obama White House, instead of writing the bill and attempting to walk it through Congress, came up with a framework and set Congress off with the task of actually writing the law, a near complete departure from how important legislation had been handled in the past. Lawmakers, for once, had to actually do the legwork themselves and create the law from scratch.
It certainly didn’t hurt that in 2009 Obama had large majorities from his own party in both chambers, as had his predecessors. This is something that seems completely lost by many in the liberal commentariat these days.
This was also Obama’s approach to handling the gun bill. Provide a framework and let Congress hash it out as they’re supposed to do. Only, since the Republican led House has no interest in actually doing anything whatsoever—they might as well be in a state of permanent adjournment—the Democratic led Senate took up the task with a bi-partisan effort led by Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin. It was certainly a less than stellar effort, but at least it was an effort, a good and decent start. ‘A’s’ all around for them.
The bill failed because Mitch “Our goal is to make Obama a one term president” McConnell and his horde of obstructionists refuse to do anything that even hints at this president being anywhere close to acceptable. They filibustered, which today simply means nothing more than a 60 vote threshold to even function.
But let’s, for a moment, assume that the president, exasperated by a dysfunctional Senate and a non-functional House of Representatives, decided to be more proactive and add the legislative duties of Congress to the Executive Branch. Would anything change?
<obligatory laughter break>
That might have worked prior to 2011, but in an era where if Obama suddenly had a change of heart and decided that a 20% across the board tax cut was the surest path to economic recovery, the Republicans would stumble all over themselves to denounce it as a blatant Socialist plot. Thus, any specific legislation proposed by Obama would not have gotten past the front gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. before being ridiculed and dismissed out of hand.
The commentariat needs to keep its eye on the ball, so to speak. The president doesn’t have some magical “Green Lantern” powers that suddenly give him the ability to bend an intransigent Republican Party that cares about nothing but power for power’s sake to his will.