The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems).

Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take some executive actions in areas where Congress hasn't done anything, like immigration or corporate inversions. While I'll give Fournier credit for acknowledging that to know whether such actions are good or bad we'd have to look at each one individually (a remarkable concession), I can't stomach this:

For argument's sake, let's say Obama is right on the issue and has legal authority to act. The big question is …

Would it be wrong to end-run Congress? Another way to put it might be, "Would more polarization in Washington and throughout the country be wrong?" How about exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility? If the president goes too far, he owns that disaster.

Fournier is saying that even if Obama is right on the merits of an issue and has legal authority to take a particular executive action, to go ahead and do so is the same thing as creating "exponentially more polarization, gridlock, and incivility." But it takes two to tango, or to create polarization. (Gridlock and incivility, one party can do on its own, as we well know.) In other words, Fournier is saying that when Republicans react to an executive action by remaining firm in their obstructionism and being uncivil about it to boot, it's one person's fault: Barack Obama.

Isn't it long past the time when we were able to put aside the quaint notion that Republican actions are determined in any meaningful way by what Democrats do or don't do?

It isn't only journalists who have believed this; for some time; Democrats believed it, too. Many Democrats voted for Obama in the 2008 primaries because they were worried about the ferocious opposition Hillary Clinton would engender from the GOP. As they quickly found out, that opposition is a Republican action, not a Republican reaction. I remind you (for the umpteenth time) that on the very day Barack Obama was inaugurated, Republican leaders met for dinner and decided to oppose anything and everything he tried to do. Politically, it was a pretty smart move. But it wasn't because Obama hadn't reached out to them and they were mad—he had only been president for a couple of hours. Within weeks, they responded to the fact that Obama hired people to work in the White House by accusing him of appointing a group of unaccountable "czars" who were wielding tyrannical power.

On this subject, there are basically two kinds of Republicans. There are those who understand that maximal opposition will yield lots of political benefit for them, and there are those who genuinely believe that Obama is an evil Kenyan Marxist tyrant trying to destroy America. When it comes to things like how they react to the administration's policy initiatives, the distinction doesn't matter. They both arrive at the same place, whether through clear-eyed political calculation or wild-eyed hatred. And nothing—nothing—President Obama does or doesn't do makes a bit of difference.

To read Fournier, you might think that if Obama came out and said, "Fixing immigration is really Congress' responsibility, so I'm not going to do a thing until they put a bill on my desk," Republicans would respond, "We appreciate the trust the President is putting in Congress, so we're going to get right to work passing comprehensive immigration reform." But of course they won't.

If we know anything about the way today's Republicans react to this president, it's that nothing he does really matters. They're going to do what they're going to do. There will be gridlock and incivility if he does things they don't like, and there'll be gridlock and incivility if he does nothing at all. To think otherwise you have to ignore everything that's happened for the last five years.

Comments

"They're going to do what they're going to do. There will be gridlock and incivility if he does things they don't like, and there'll be gridlock and incivility if he does nothing at all."

You forgot to add: "If he does things they do like, they will immediately rewrite their platform so that those things are now tyranny, after which there will be gridlock and incivility."

Excellent analysis, Mr. Waldman. I wish you could have persuaded the Obama administration of these insights in 2009.
I was naive then, too, thinking that we could work together. When Reagan was President, the Dems were a rubber stamp. Apparently, that road is a one-way street.
The Repubs play hardball; the Dems, softball. Do Dems get down in the mud with them? Fight obstructionism with obstructionism?
Vat a mess!

The predictability of professional objective journalism: Ron Fournier isn't really a person. He's just the necessary consequence of the post-war model of journalism. If only Pulitzer had given his money to poor people instead of Columbia, the world would be a far, far better place.

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