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Obama vs. McConnell: Who's the Grown-up?

3 years ago
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One of the reasons Barack Obama is president is because when the U.S. economy was falling off a cliff, he was the adult in the room, and John McCain wasn't. When the stock market imploded in September 2008, McCain, who had just earned a shoot-from-the-hip reputation for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, flailed. He couldn't decide what policies to back. He put his campaign on hold, then quickly reversed himself. He was clueless. Obama, on the other hand, eschewed the drama, joined the chorus of convention in favor of the too-hastily-constructed bailout for Wall Street, and came across as a steady and mature fellow. Obama, the rookie senator, looked like a leader. McCain, the longtime lawmaker and Vietnam veteran, looked like a desperate nervous Nellie. It was perhaps the most decisive moment in the general campaign.

Obama is now heading toward something of a repeat showdown -- but not with McCain, whose crankiness is undermining his influence. The president's face-off will be with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the GOP leader in the Senate. And, if Obama gets his wish, the issue again will be: Who's the grown-up here?

President Obama, Mitch McConnellCompare the recent remarks of the two men. At his victory-lap press conference on Wednesday, Obama -- pointing to the bipartisan wins he achieved this week with the ratification of the START nuclear arms treaty, the passage of the 9/11 responders health bill, and the repeal of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy -- repeatedly talked about the need for D's and R's to work together in Washington and find compromises -- even if such compromises, such as the tax-cut deal Obama struck with the GOPers, contain provisions that are profoundly distasteful to one side or the other. "If there's any lesson to draw from these past few weeks, it's that we are not doomed to endless gridlock," he said. "We've shown, in the wake of the November elections, that we have the capacity not only to make progress, but to make progress together."

Obama positioned himself as a leader who wants to make government function, who's willing to search for common ground with his political foes. His message: I'm so dedicated to addressing the challenges facing the nation that I'll even work with Republicans. Noting that rock-'em/sock-'em debates on spending issues are coming soon, Obama repurposed the sales pitch that played well with independent voters in 2008: we can on occasion put aside the bickering and bridge the ideological divide in order to govern. "We don't have to agree on a hundred percent to get things done that enhance the lives of families all across America," the president said. "And if we can sustain that spirit, then regardless of how the politics play out in 2012, the American people will be better for it. And that's my ultimate goal."

Now let's check in on life on Planet McConnell. On Monday -- while Congress was contending with a series of important bills -- McConnell was making threats. Speaking of the Senate Democrats, he said, "There's much for them to be angst-ridden about. If they think it's bad now, wait till next year." The fellow who has engineered a record-breaking number of filibusters was not talking about cooperation and seeking common turf with Obama and the Democrats. McConnell, whose Republicans will still be in the minority within the Senate next year, was immodestly acting like a bully and aiming for capitulation: "If the president is willing to do things that we believe in, I don't think we're going to say, 'No, Mr. President, we're not going to do this any longer because you're now with us.' "

In an article for the conservative National Review magazine that was posted on Wednesday, McConnell went further in demonstrating he was not serious about crafting policy solutions. He derided Obama's efforts to rescue the economy as nothing more than handing "over more of our freedoms -- and more of our paychecks -- to Washington." But Obama cut taxes for 98 percent of Americans -- prior to the recent tax-cut compromise, which will lower taxes for everyone, including the super-rich. And McConnell claimed that Obama and the Democrats in the past two years "were more interested in extending the size and scope of government than they were in addressing the nation's immediate economic problems." This is more crazy-talk. Does he really believe Obama rescued the auto industry because he wanted to boost the power of the federal government, not because he wanted to save jobs? McConnell is playing the most cynical of politics. The Congressional Budget Office says that Obama's stimulus saved or created up to 3.5 million jobs. McConnell (and other GOPers) keep ignoring that critical fact, while only offering one mantra: cut taxes and spending.

With such comments, McConnell seems to care more about talking points and scoring points than about collaboration and honest debate. Granted, that approach worked damn well for the Republicans in the midterm elections. And it's hard to argue with such success. But now that the elections are done, the public may expect a bit more from the triumphant Republicans. A CNN poll taken last week showed that 56 percent of the public approved of how Obama was handling issues in the lame duck session, compared to only 42 percent who approved of the GOP in this time period.

My hunch is that Obama scored so well in that poll because he's acting like the grown-up in Washington. He's dealing with a difficult political reality and achieving results. The months ahead will be full of challenges, especially with a Republican House led by John Boehner, who has yet to signal his grand strategy for the coming year. The issues and circumstances that arise may be tougher terrain for Obama than those of the glorious lame-duck era. But the president is heading into the second half of this presidential term with force and poise. Next to trash-talking Republicans, he does seem mature and responsible. That won't hurt Obama, as he fights in 2011 for his policy priorities and for his presidency.

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.

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30 Comments

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Beau

It's really almost a waste of time trying to educate and inform people who only listen to the propaganda spewed from faux news and the like. There was a study done not long ago showing that most conservatives react far more intensely to fear than progressives, and if you think about it for a moment, it makes a great deal of sense. People who fear change are easily swayed and brainwashed by fear mongering, and being motivated by fear, they refuse to investigate even the mere possibilities of the benifits of change. Opening the eyes of the willfully ignorant is like trying to stop high tide with a soup spoon. Notice the lack of anything resembling logic or rational thinking in their responses........very sad. The only thing to be said for even trying to enlighten them is the amusement one gets from reading the infantile rantings of anti-social fear driven denial techniques.....enjoy ;0)

December 27 2010 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Beau's comment
ttdq

I agree with you totally. The President is doing such a great job. He should run his new campaign on Hope and Change. His ability to instill hope in everyone is so encouraging. The way he has brought about change in Washington just inspires all of us. He needs to keep on doing what he is doing to really bring about the change that is needed.

December 27 2010 at 9:25 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
bbbm17

jjohnblack0101:37 PM Dec 26, 2010
"thllong1 You seriously need to quit watching Fox news. If the President did not cut taxes then who did. They got cut somehow and your republicans sure didn't do it."...... You actually wrote that. That is scary, that you would put that online. All the congress did was extend the Bush tax cuts. Wow.

December 27 2010 at 12:41 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bbbm17's comment
hwaxwood

This is incorrect. Congress did indeed extend the Bush era tax cuts, but much more importantly, it extended the Obama middle class tax cuts. It was the Obama administration that engineered and put in place the largest tax cuts aimed at the middle class. Not GWB, nor Ronald Reagan.

December 27 2010 at 9:36 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

There does not seem to be an adult in charge. We have made a terrible mistake.

December 26 2010 at 6:44 PM Report abuse -11 rate up rate down Reply
randellmonaco

The Mitch McConnell-led Republicans in the U.S. Senate blocked the DISCLOSE Act from passage, and reaped the benefits of large amounts of secret money in the recent mid-term election campaigns that now will bring in this new class of freshman lawmakers eager to indulge in the self service brand of public service that Americans seemingly have come to expect and accept, but for how long? When does the public fleecing stop? At this point partisan banter seems a waste of time until we correct the root of our problems through election reform and elect a transparent government that serves the people of this nation and not themselves. The current partisan banter is a never ending smoke machine that clouds the solution.

December 26 2010 at 3:21 AM Report abuse +19 rate up rate down Reply
AL

Mr corn your analysis of the McCain defeat is, I respectifully believe, wrong. Sara Palin kept him from being another McGovern.

In spite of our disagreement I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

December 25 2010 at 9:16 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to AL's comment
marksgershenson

Sara Palin was a distraction, rather than anything useful for his ticket. Since we cannot bring back the past, certainly hind sight is 20/20, we have to move forward. McCain was all over the map then, and continues to be all over the map now. I would think the man is ready to retire. McConnel is acting the same petty way as McCain. Thank heaven there is the veto still available.

December 26 2010 at 1:59 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
dc walker

The Democrats were in control of the Congress for four years. They could have passed all these bills previously whenever they wanted just like they shoved the health care bill down our throats without reading it and without any chance of being outvoted. They couldn't even come up with a budget for the first time in over thirty years. Authors like this sound ridiculous as well as those who agree with him. No common sense.

December 25 2010 at 5:17 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dc walker's comment
Baci02

... not with republicans filibustering everything. Thank you for the gridlock, that is, after 8 years turning the country to crap. Great job all around.

December 27 2010 at 12:18 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Baci02

... not with republicans filibustering EVERYTHING. Thank you for the gridlock, especially after 8 years of BushCheney during which you all conspired to force cow manure down our throats while turning the country to crap. Great job all around. We need the republicans back in charge! lol.

December 27 2010 at 12:22 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Possum

In what world or universe is not raising taxes the same as a "tax cut"? And if you don't like not paying higher taxes, then why don't you just cut the gubmint a check? Progressives don't do that, of course. They want to spread everyone else's wealth around, not theirs. That's why it is so easy for them to speak of not raising a nearly ten-year old set of tax brackets as a "tax cut."

Fair Tax or Flat Tax. Now!

December 25 2010 at 9:51 AM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Possum's comment
tpmkplace

Agree with you 100%!
And for the last ten years all you heard from the left was that the Bush tax cuts were only for the wealthy, then suddenly in the last month the left only wants to keep the Bush tax cuts for the middle class! Where did they come from?
How can you keep something the left claimed was never there!

December 25 2010 at 4:12 PM Report abuse -21 rate up rate down Reply
magic612216

In the world of Republican-speak, that's where "not raising taxes" equals a "tax cut" because in their world, if you let a tax cut expire because it was passed as a reconciliation bill (like the 2001 tax cut was, with barely a majority vote), then Republicans call it "raising taxes."

And it's not a matter of progressives "wanting to spread around everyone else's wealth." It's called 8 TRILLION dollars of debt was added due to George W. Bush's policies while he started TWO wars, passed TWO tax cuts, AND passed Medicare Part D WITHOUT bothering to pay for it with A) Spending cuts or B) Tax increases. So when the credit card gets run up, progressives are simply saying that Gee, maybe we ought to pay this debt down, don't you think?

We did just fine with the economy when taxes were SLIGHTLY higher in the 1990's. I think we'll manage just fine if the tax structure goes back to that. Given that the Bush tax cuts were supposeed to create jobs and stimulate the economy (and wound up creating the most sluggish growth in about 5 decades and anemic job growth), don't you think we ought to try the formula that actually WORKED in the past?

December 25 2010 at 10:52 PM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
Tom

Obama did not, repeat, did not cut taxes for anyone. He simply compromised and allowed the cuts which went into effect under Bush to continue. Good grief.

December 24 2010 at 2:04 PM Report abuse -14 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Tom's comment
Scott

Simply not true. Your opinion doesn't change the fact that he instituted additional tax cuts last year.

December 24 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse +23 rate up rate down Reply
magic612216

thllong, you're wrong, and Scott is right. Go back and re-read the "stimulus" bill. It cut taxes. 40% of of that bill was, in fact, tax cuts. That was signed by Obama.

December 25 2010 at 10:45 PM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply
bubba1zfg

I could not disagree more with the assessment. Obama has not shown any real leadership skills. Spending money and having no real economic plan to get the country on the right track, hardly makes for any kudos. Obama is great at pushing through any agenda that plays to the base he needs for reelection. As a small business owner, Obama has done nothing to reassure any of us that things will be better in the New Year. No confidence equals no growth and definitely no new jobs. In the real world, saved jobs that the administration touts, does not exist.

December 24 2010 at 11:47 AM Report abuse -35 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to bubba1zfg's comment
klovepr

dstack9781 I don't know who you are referring to when you say "most people" but I opposed it because it's the biggest piece of fiscal irresponsibility to ever come down the pike. I don't care what type of health reforms we put in place...AS LONG AS IT WILL WORK!!! This plan is so absolutely, fundamentally flawed it as no choice but to fall on it's face.

December 24 2010 at 11:45 AM Report abuse -18 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to klovepr's comment
suddencall

This health care bill is a republican creation, not a Democratic. Obama and Americans wanted a single payer plan which is what should have been , but republicans and Blue dogs ( republicans ) blocked that improvement and left us with a republican corporate bail out and give away.
The same problem exists in job creation. Voters are ignorant to the fact that republicans are still in control.Tyings will not improve as long as this situation exists.my advise is , buy you a tent ,you are probably going to need it .

December 24 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply

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