These somewhat insolent actions recently taken by Republicans — the Netanyahu speech and now the letter to Iran — are a kind of mirror image of what Obama has been throwing the GOP’s way. The convenient Democratic line has been that from the beginning of his presidency Republicans adopted a strategy of unwavering opposition to Obama. And it’s true that on the night of Obama’s inauguration a group of prominent Republican Senate and House members attended a meeting where they adopted a hard-line approach. But the Republicans may not have been as recalcitrant as the Democrats have made it seem. Who hasn’t heard that McConnell decreed that he wanted to make Obama “a one-term president”? But according to Glenn Kessler, whose fact-checking article I just read, the “one-term president” comment was filched from an interview McConnell gave to National Journal. When you see it in context, what McConnell said isn’t as negative as the Democrats, for whatever self-serving partisan reasons of their own, made it sound. Here is that part of the interview as reproduced by Mr. Kessler:
McConnell: In the last 100 years, three presidents suffered big defeats in Congress in their first term and then won reelection: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and the most recent example, Bill Clinton. I read a lot of history anyway, but I am trying to apply those lessons to current situations in hopes of not making the same mistakes.
NJ: What have you learned?
McConnell: After 1994, the public had the impression we Republicans overpromised and underdelivered. We suffered from some degree of hubris and acted as if the president was irrelevant and we would roll over him. By the summer of 1995, he was already on the way to being reelected, and we were hanging on for our lives.
NJ: What does this mean now?
McConnell: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”
NJ: What’s the job?
McConnell: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
NJ: Does that mean endless, or at least frequent, confrontation with the president?
McConnell: If President Obama does a Clintonian backflip, if he’s willing to meet us halfway on some of the biggest issues, it’s not inappropriate for us to do business with him.
Meet us half way like Clinton did! Hardly the “I’m never going to work with this president” that the Democrats spun it into, although by calling the action a “Clintonian backflip” McConnell somewhat undercut his own message. In any case, McConnell couldn’t have been more gracious in his reelection speech four months ago, a speech in which he affirmed reconciliation and bipartisanship. After all, Republicans now had to prove that they could get things done. Such was the Congress the voters had given Obama. But instead of meeting Republicans half way or even making overtures in that direction he moved farther left. He refused to heed Boehner’s warnings to not further infuriate House Republicans. Alas, at that point Obama decided he was only going to be responsive to liberals — a stance directly opposed to the message that catapulted him to national prominence in the first place. In Boston, he called us
a single American family: “E pluribus unum,” out of many, one…there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.
Where is this uniter of liberal and conservative America? I see a president who has all but written off conservatives, treating them more like people from another country than as fellow citizens. In yesterday’s White House briefing, Josh Earnest called the Senate Republicans’ letter to Iran “the continuation of a partisan strategy.” I wonder whether the White House is sensitive enough to perceive that its own actions since the last election have appeared to congressional Republicans in precisely the same light? The latter are now engaged in a game, possibly a dangerous one, of tit for tat with the White House, a game the president unfortunately invited them to play. They’re encroaching on the executive just as they perceive the executive to be encroaching on them. The imperial presidency has given way to the imperious Congress. But isn’t this precisely what Obama asked for by ignoring the results of the last election? There are rumblings the president is considering another executive action, this time on taxes. If Republicans perceive it as another encroachment, they might decide to do the same. Where does it end? Both sides should cease their provocations.