In his dealings with Republicans in his first term Obama was cold and naïve. Now, he’s cold and nasty.
He used to phone their leaders and ask them to stand up to the Tea Party. They’d put the phone on mute. Now, he calls press conferences to remind them that he won the last election. Republicans listen; the quiet ones seethe, the freer spirits howl at the moon.
In a series of statements, he’s taunted Congress to act “promptly” on contentious issues and apologized to the American people for Congress’ “games”. On the appointment of his Defense Secretary, on Senate filibusters, on the debt ceiling, gun controls, immigration reform, and further tax revenues and reform, he’s annoyed Republicans and worried centrists who pine for more discreet negotiations at their next cliff-side rendezvous.
Obama’s new chivy style is well documented in this morning’s Politico by Glenn Thrush and Reid J. Epstein. (They concentrate on legislative tactics and set aside the more interesting possibility that Obama is actually indulging himself, after four years of biting his lip.
But, let’s leave emotion speculation to history and Bob Woodward.)
In his first term, Obama tried to generate bi-partisanship by personal example--being more restrained and more open to compromise than anyone else in town.
Some say that Obama was on the right track but needed to be more ‘accessible’.
Political folklore instructs that the positive half of Lyndon Johnson’s Presidency was secured by his big bear, sweaty, tactile ways with other men. Temperamentally, that style isn’t available to Obama. And in any event--in all honesty--is America actually ready for its first black president to throw his weight around like a backslapping pol?
Obama appears to have taken away a different message from the mid-Sixties legislative accomplishments of Johnson: a president can get conservative and liberal careerists in Congress to go along with him when they fear that they will miss the parade--and appear out-of-date and extreme.
Most elected politicians stop being brave when they stop being called “brave” back home, and start being called irresponsible. That’s what got a $600 billion income tax increase the support of over a third of the Republican House of Representative on January 1st.
That tribal impulse, fortunately, helped pass civil rights legislation though, unfortunately, it also helped finance the build up of the War in Vietnam. It’s not a gentle way of making progress. But, Obama has got the parade moving and clearly wants to keep moving.
His provocations, so far, probably help.
As the more temperamental members of the Republican caucus react to Obama’s teasing and pander to their most radical supporters, the harder it will be for mainstream Republicans to resist Obama's legislative and fiscal proposals.