Mitt Romney seems to have decided to run an entire presidential campaign on quibbling semantic arguments, which is certainly a novel approach, but not one I'd recommend for future candidates. It's not that every campaign doesn't spend way too much time complaining about the words their opponent says, but he really has taken it to a totally different level; every day seems to bring a new expression of feigned outrage at something Barack Obama said.
Over at MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog, I have a new piece about one of these inane back-and-forths that happened last week, when Obama said he learned you couldn't change Washington from the inside, and Romney got really peeved and promised he would change it from the inside. My point was essentially that if I hear one more pundit talk about the good old days when Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill would argue during the day, then share a beer and bellow some old Irish sea shanties in the evening, I think I'm going to lose it:
Let's look at the biggest accomplishment of Barack Obama's first term, the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In that Univision interview, Obama tried to describe this as a triumph of change from the outside, as the American people exerted pressure on their representatives. But that's not really what happened. There was some outside organizing, but it probably didn't carry the day. The reform that one president after another failed to accomplish didn't happen because Barack Obama and his supporters changed Washington. It happened because Obama wrestled with Washington, struggled with it, and finally overcame roadblocks both institutional (the filibuster) and personal (the narcissistic cynicism of characters like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson). And today, almost everything about those processes remains the same. If Obama tries to do something else as ambitious in his second term, it'll be just as difficult.
What matters isn't whether Washington was transformed, but that because of Obama's health care victory, 30 million more Americans will have health insurance, and that starting in 2014 none of us will be denied coverage because of our pre-existing conditions, and all of the other positive results of the ACA. If you're the parent of a child with leukemia who can now get insurance, that's change you can believe in.
Guess what: if Barack Obama wins a second term, things are going to be just as unfriendly as they were during the first term. Yes, Barack Obama failed in his promise to bring Republicans and Democrats together, just like George W. Bush failed in his promise to bring Republicans and Democrats together and Bill Clinton failed in his promise to bring Republicans and Democrats together. But while it would certainly be nice if everybody could get along, in the end that's about one-zillionth as important as what they do or don't do for the public.