No matter how genuine your intentions, it is impossible to negotiate with a party that refuses to talk. Still, faced with the colliding problems of Republicans in Congress who viewed “any government action [as] bad for the country” and an economy quickly descending into depression, President Obama tried to keep his campaign promise of changing the tone of Washington. Since the opposing party would not negotiate, he used their publicly stated policies and replaced infrastructure spending with tax cuts in his stimulus plan. To overcome an attempted filibuster he reduced the amount of spending. For his efforts he was rewarded with a package that passed without any Republican votes and an opposition party that gloated any time that a projection did not meet reality as America slowly recovered from near calamity.
Next, the President took on healthcare reform. Not learning the lessons of the stimulus package, he compensated for the refusal of Republicans to negotiate by once again abandoning his base. A single payer plan morphed into a plan that was essentially similar to the one that Republican Governor Mitt Romney had instituted in Massachusetts. Even with these Republican roots, parliamentary maneuvering was required to get it passed without a single Republican vote. To make matters worse, many Republican Governors sacrificed the well being of their constituents to block implementation of an expansion of healthcare paid for by the federal government. There are 14.8 million Americans who are no longer uninsured since Obama took office, but that has not stopped Republicans from trying to repeal Obamacare “60-plus” times, including a recent passage that had to be vetoed by President Obama.
While Obama has clearly failed at bringing bipartisanship back to Washington, the only apology he owes on the subject is for making the promise in the first place. After watching the Republicans impeach Bill Clinton for lying about oral sex, did he think that the first African-American president would fare any better? More of Obama’s nominees have been blocked by Senate Filibuster than all other Presidential nominees COMBINED and with a year left in his term, conservatives are already saying that they will attempt to block the confirmation of all additional Obama nominees. This a problem that Obama cannot fix.
But still he apologizes:
“Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency — that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better. There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.”
-President Obama, 2016 State of the Union
At first glance this self-reflection and criticism seems refreshing in today’s political climate, but the Trump Candidacy has proven that it is not what the American public wants to hear. Lincoln’s gift was not that he capitulated to the other side, it was that he was willing to fight when given no other choice. Perhaps if an assassin’s bullet had not changed history’s course, his stronger hand could have put together a reconstruction that did not require one hundred years to end Jim Crow and the Confederates would be viewed as the traitors that they were. The voters have twice placed Obama in the White House and he needs to spend the last year of his Presidency using the authority that this gives him and avoiding the capitulation that marked the first seven.
If there was any doubt how far the Republicans have drifted from loyalty to country to loyalty to party, a potential crisis brewing in Iran as the President delivered his address exposed how far they are willing to go to prove a point. It used to be that having ten sailors held by a foreign country would be enough to put partisanship in search of the common goal of getting them released. Instead, Senator Tom Cotton blamed the event on the recently signed nuclear deal and said “the White House tonight is a hot bed of cold feet.” Republican Presidential candidate said that the capture was a “direct consequence of the weakness of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy.” I wonder if he was disappointed that his talking point disappeared when the Obama-Kerry team was able to get the sailors and their equipment released the next day.
With the sailors free, the Republican faux outrage machine has now turned to concern that the United States apologized to Iran for “a mistake that was our fault”. Like petulant children, they insist that America should never apologize as it makes us seem weak. Obama should remember this as he signs his next batch of Executive Orders.