At a fundraiser this week, President Obama told supporters
, "I'd love nothing more than a loyal and rational opposition, but that's not what we have right now." Apparently, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wasn't amused
"The self-pity that Obama continues to exhibit is really kind of sad, really," McCain said on Wednesday during Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." [...] "You know, I can't work with him at all," McCain said. "When is the last time he really called leaders of both parties together over at the White House, say, for a dinner, a social event."
The failed presidential candidate added that Obama "does not have this desire to have social interface with people."
I don't mean to be picky, but when a politician accuses a rival of "self-pity," and then in the next breath, he whines that the rival hasn't invited him over for dinner, the politician probably hasn't thought his argument through.
As Jed Lewison joked
, "If President Obama would just call me up for dinner or a social event, and ask me to have social interface with him, then everything would be better and the world would be a fantastic place, but he won't do that, so please excuse me while I go drown myself in a pool of tears shed over his self-pitying ways."
But let's go a step further with this, because McCain isn't just confused about the nature of self-pity; he's also wrong on the merits.
I'm reminded of an anecdote
from last year when Obama invited several congressional Republicans to the White House for a private screening with the stars of the movie "Lincoln." The president extended the invitation in secret, so the GOP lawmakers wouldn't face any pressure from the right to turn Obama down.
It didn't matter. None
of the Republicans accepted the invitation to go and watch the movie at the White House.Indeed, as we've discussed
before, Obama has hosted casual “get-to-know-you
” gatherings; he’s taken Republicans out to dinner
on his dime; he’s taken House Speaker Boehner out golfing
; and he’s held Super Bowl and March Madness parties at the White House for lawmakers.
Now, reasonable people can debate whether this outreach should have been even more aggressive, but for McCain to tell a national television audience the president "does not have this desire to have social interface with people" is obviously ridiculous.
But let's go a step further still. If the lack of schmoozing isn't the problem, what is? As we've discussed many, many
times, traditional governing dynamics are largely impossible given that the Republican Party has reached an ideological extreme unseen in modern American history. It’s a quantifiable observation
, not a subjective one.
The result is a situation in which GOP lawmakers refuse to compromise or accept concessions, partly due to partisan rigidity, partly out of fear of a primary challenge, partly out of their contempt for the president, and in many instances, all of the above.Indeed
, the parties sharply disagree with one another -- there is no modern precedent for partisan polarization as intense as today’s status quo -- and presidential outreach won’t change that. Congressional Republicans tend to fundamentally reject just about everything the White House wants, believes, and perceives as true. "Social interface" changes nothing.
Let’s return to the thesis presented a while back by Tom Mann and Norm Ornstein
: “[W]e have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. “Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
The notion that schmoozing will lead to progress rests upon the assumption that congressional Republicans are responsible officials, willing to negotiate and work in good faith, and prepared to find common ground with Obama. All they need is some face-time and presidential hand-holding. Once they can get along on a personal level, a constructive process will follow.
It’s a pleasant enough fantasy, and I wish it were true, but everything we've seen points in the opposite direction.