Obama's Lament.


I'm already tired of President Obama's apology tour:

But as the president returned home on Sunday to face an even more rigidly divided capital city, Mr. Obama went even further: he blamed himself for the failure to do what he had repeatedly promised: to change the tone.

He said his own “obsessive” focus on implementing the right policies had led him to ignore a part of the reason voters handed him a mandate in 2008.

“I neglected some things that matter a lot to people, and rightly so: maintaining a bipartisan tone in Washington,” he told reporters in a brief question-and-answer session aboard Air Force One as he returned from a 10-day trip abroad. “I’m going to redouble my efforts to go back to some of those first principles,” he promised.

I can appreciate that Obama is sincere about making Washington a more friendly place, but he was never in a position to change the capital's tone. Republicans committed themselves to a rejectionist strategy before he entered office, and since the public takes its cues from elites, there was no hope that his agenda items would be seen as "bipartisan." The mere fact of unanimous Republican opposition meant that the public would see his administration as sharply partisan, even with moderate policies. Moreover, once committed to unanimous and categorical opposition, Republicans had no choice but to sharpen the ideological contrast; it's the only way they could credibly explain their opposition to policies that had once been Republican ideas.

Given the zero-sum nature of politics, there is nothing Obama could do to make Washington more civil, short of adopting the Republican platform wholesale. And even then, Republicans would just move the goalposts further, denouncing their previous views as socialism -- "Only Stalin would cut taxes on capital gains!" -- and attacking Obama for some deviation from the Platonic ideal of Bircherite conservatism. I get the politics of Obama's apology tour -- he wants to appeal to independents -- but since they mostly sway with the wind, he would be better off taking a page from George W. Bush's performance in 2006 and approaching his midterm "rejection" with confidence, and a little defiance.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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