Charles Krauthammer sticks to his party’s script in his new columnthis morning, complaining about President Obama’s “refusal to compromise or even negotiate.” It got me thinking about how best to explain to conservatives why this makes so little sense.
Maybe it’s time to flip the script to better illustrate the point. After all, when it comes to funding the government and protecting the integrity of the full faith and credit of the United States, we’re describing an inherently cooperative process – the White House needs Congress to pass legislation, the Congress needs a president to sign the legislation. One without the other doesn’t work.
With this mind, imagine a hypothetical.
Let’s say President Obama, feeling good after winning re-election fairly easily, adopted an overly confident posture with lawmakers. He started boasting about the fact that his approval rating is four times higher than Congress’ approval rating; his policy agenda enjoys broader public support than Republicans’ policy agenda; and he decided it’s time they start rewarding him before he considered engaging in basic governance.
“Sure,” Obama said to Republicans in this imaginary scenario, “I’ll sign the spending measures to prevent a government shutdown, but first you have to raise taxes on the wealthy. And end the sequestration policy. And pass comprehensive immigration reform. And approve universal background checks. The American people are with me, so I expect you to compromise and negotiate with me on these matters.”
The president then said to GOP lawmakers, “And sure, I’ll sign a bill to raise the debt limit, paying the bills you already piled up, but I’m not ready to sign a ‘clean’ bill. Instead, I also expect Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill, a public option for the health care system, universal pre-K, and billions in infrastructure investments. If you refuse, I’ll have no choice but to tell the public you refuse to compromise and negotiate.”
Much of the political establishment has come to accept a certain frame: the White House is going to have to accept some concessions to make congressional Republicans happy. Obama won’t like it, but voters did elect a House GOP majority.
What I’m suggesting is that this assumption is incomplete. No one seems to question, or even consider in passing, what Republicans will be asked to do to make the White House happy. Boehner & Co. won’t like it, but voters did elect a Democratic president.
Of course, the point of this apparently silly hypothetical is to help Krauthammer and others who share his ideology understand a basic truth: Obama isn’t making any demands. He’s offered no threats. There is no presidential wish list, filled with progressive goodies – unrelated to the budget or the debt ceiling – that Obama expects Congress to pass before the president fulfills his duties.
This notion that Obama “refuses to compromise or even negotiate” isn’t just deliberately misleading; it’s demonstrably silly. If the president was making extravagant demands, threatening to veto every bill lacking liberal treats, Republicans and their pundits would have a point.
But until then, can we at least try to recognize reality as it exists?