President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, gestures as State of the Union address during a jointhe...
Charles Dharapak

Obama learned from the best: his GOP rivals

It’s not entirely clear what House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) meant yesterday when he warned President Obama not to act on immigration policy. The “poison the well” comments were clear enough, I suppose – apparently Obama risks hurting Republicans’ feelings – but it was the second half of the mixed metaphor that got me thinking.
Speaker John A. Boehner, emboldened by Tuesday’s election results, warned on Thursday that President Obama risked “burning himself” if he took unilateral action to reform the United States immigration system.
 
In Mr. Boehner’s first news conference since Republicans scored decisive victories in the midterm elections, Mr. Boehner said: “When you play with matches, you risk burning yourself. He’s going to burn himself if he continues down this path.”
It’s open to some interpretation, isn’t it? Maybe Boehner means this will lead to some kind of congressional rebuke?
 
My suspicion, however, is that the Speaker was referring to the prevailing political winds. Republicans positioned themselves as a virulently anti-immigration party, won big in the midterms, so Obama risks “burning himself” politically if he does the opposite of what the victorious Republicans want.
 
Indeed, there’s been a fair amount of talk along these lines on the right over the last couple of days: given the scope and scale of the GOP successes, the president can’t justify ignoring the election results.
 
But I’m reminded of an anti-drug-abuse commercial from my youth. The dad confronts his son, demanding to know where he learned to do drugs. “From you, all right?” the son says. “I learned it by watching you.”
 
The president could very easily offer Boehner & Co. the same response when they demand to know how he could dare stick to his policy agenda in the wake of an electoral rebuke.
 
* In 1998, in an unprecedented result in a sixth-year midterm, President Clinton’s party actually gained seats in Congress, as voters turned against the Republicans’ impeachment crusade. In the immediate aftermath, Republican pushed impeachment through the GOP-led House anyway, acting in the lame-duck session before newly-elected lawmakers could take office.
 
* In 2006, Democrats rode a wave of public disgust with the Bush/Cheney administration, taking the House and Senate majorities, driven by public opposition to the war in Iraq. In response, Bush escalated the war, deploying more U.S. troops, which was the exact opposite of what most midterm voters wanted.
 
* In 2008, Democrats rode another wave to take control of Congress and the White House. Republicans said they didn’t care and wouldn’t change anything about their agenda.
 
* In 2009, there were five congressional special elections. Democrats won all five. Republicans again said they didn’t care and wouldn’t change anything about their agenda.
 
* In 2012, Democrats won another presidential election with relative ease, unexpectedly expanded their Senate majority, and earned a million more U.S. House votes than their GOP counterparts. Republicans again said they didn’t care and wouldn’t change anything about their agenda.
 
Now, however, Republicans seem absolutely aghast that Obama might actually govern on immigration policy, despite the midterm results.
 
From you, GOP leaders. He learned it by watching you.
 

Midterm Elections 2014 and Barack Obama

Obama learned from the best: his GOP rivals