At the House GOP Conference today, President Obama gave by all accounts an excellent performance. Not surprisingly, since he's an excellent speaker and debater. But there is an irony I find quite amusing. Obama said:
The only thing I don't want -- and here I am listening to the American people, and I think they don't want either -- is for Washington to continue being so Washington-like. I know folks when we're in -- in town there, spend a lot of time reading the polls and looking at focus groups and interpreting which party has the upper hand in November and in 2012 and so on and so on and so on. That's their obsession.
It prompted this from Andrew Sullivan:
But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.
That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton - because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.
But every single left of center blog I've read today focused mainly on the horse race implications. And every single one thinks that the Democrats came out ahead as a result of this event.
Steve Benen: "I don't imagine the House Republican caucus will forget anytime soon -- if the president is going to use their invitation to score big victories, he probably won't be invited back next year."
BTD: "If politics actually worked this way, Dems would win every time. And Obama would be our FDR. But it doesn't. Do not expect the GOP to ever make this mistake again."
Ed Kilgore: "it -*offered Democrats some nice video clips of Obama more or less running circles around his would-be tormenters with relative ease."
James Fallows: "not incidentally from the White House's point of view, perhaps the most effective performance by Obama since taking office."
Sam Stein: "For roughly an hour and a half, Obama lectured GOP leaders and, in a protracted, nationally-televised question-and-answer session, deflected their policy critiques, corrected their misstatements and scolded them for playing petty politics.
Ta-Nehisi Coates: "That was an athletic display--like watching Hopkins dominate Trinidad back in the day. Or Jordan drop 63 on the Celtics."
The change promised by Obama and for which Sullivan still hopes may well be what the American people want. Gerald Seib argued in today's WSJ that:
It's becoming increasingly clear that one of the results of the economic meltdown has been a parallel meltdown in the public's confidence that their bickering, partisan leaders in Washington can come together to deal with it, or with much of anything. When Americans were asked in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week to describe their view of the federal government, 70% agreed the government is either unhealthy or in need of large reform. That's up from 43% who felt that way just after President George W. Bush's election. ...
The better answer lies in the culture of the capital, where every problem is seen less as an issue to be resolved than a tool to improve political position; in which every position taken by a leader of either party is automatically and mindlessly assailed by the other side's political-attack machines; and in which lawmakers willing to negotiate a compromise are assailed by their own party's activists as spineless.
One comes away from the left side of the blogosphere's reaction to the Obama-GOP meeting convinced that whatever Obama's intention may be, his activist base saw this moment as just one more "tool to improve political position."
The prospects for change seem remote to this dyspeptic distopian. Fortunately, I don't expect government to make things better. And, of course, I'm constitutionally inclined to think change is usually for the worse. So I'm not as bummed out as I imagine some would-be optimists are.
(Caveats: (1) It's not a huge sample of blogs. But I read everyone linked by Memeorandum contemporaneously with wiring this post. (2) I've spent very little time reading conservative bloggers' reactions to the event because I wanted to see if Obama had changed hearts and minds on his side of the aisle. It may well be the case that the right side of the blogosphere equally views the event in horse race terms. Even if that's the case, however, it's always a change agent's job to get his own house in order and his own ducks in a row first. Take the beam out of your eye before trying to get the splinter from mine.)