By most measures, President Obama’s post-election press conference went pretty well yesterday afternoon. He laid out some short-term priorities; he talked up areas of possible compromise; he made the case for national optimism; and the president made clear there were some areas of policy where he just won’t be able to accommodate far-right demands.
Four years ago at this time, the Beltway panned Obama’s post-midterm comments, but yesterday, the president seemed to handle himself pretty well.
That is, unless you’re in the Republican media, which seemed to collectively freak out in response to the White House press conference.
Right-wing media reacted with disbelief and outrage at President Obama’s post-election speech, in which he said he intends to cooperate with Republicans – despite Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell making the same claim earlier the same day.
As Alexandrea Boguhn noted, the conservative pundits’ reactions were over the top, even by their standards. Fox News’ Sean Hannity whined about Obama’s “breathtaking arrogance.” Erick Erickson, without a hint of irony, called the president a “petulant man child” who gave “the middle finger” to Americans.” Drudge said Obama intends to “do whatever he wants anyway” because Republicans “won’t arrest him.” Another Fox News contributor concluded, simply, “Obama’s insane.”
As if this weren’t quite enough, this morning, National Journal published the latest from Ron Fournier, whose new complaint is that the president isn’t changing enough in response to election results. (True to form, the columnist didn’t mention any kind of substantive or policy changes the president should pursue, only that the White House should do something, about something, to satisfy some unstated standard.)
Fournier, whose demands for more presidential leadership have become a widely ridiculed cliche, apparently believes true leaders respond to adversity by guessing what others might want them to do and acting accordingly.
But the more I hear from the president’s detractors on the right, the more I’m inclined to ask: what’d they expect to happen yesterday?
Yes, the president’s party fared very poorly in sixth-year midterms. No, that’s not unusual. Franklin Roosevelt’s party suffered even greater losses in his sixth year in office. In Dwight Eisenhower’s sixth-year midterm, his party lost 48 House seats and 13 Senate seats, making Obama’s 2014 look mild by comparison. Ronald Reagan’s party lost eight Senate seats – and their majority – in 1986.
I don’t know if FDR, Ike, and/or Reagan held press conferences the day after their midterm setbacks, but I do know none of them abandoned their policy agendas or decided to start endorsing elements of the opposition party’s agenda.
Maybe the Sean Hannitys of 1938 thought Roosevelt was “breathtakingly arrogant” for refusing to acknowledge America’s obvious hatred of the New Deal. Maybe the Ron Fourniers of 1958 wanted Eisenhower to start firing random White House staffers to prove that the president was serious about getting things done with Democrats.
But at this point, the complaining really doesn’t seem consistent with the circumstances.