An Open Letter to Republicans: Learn to Like Obama, You'll Soon Need Him

Mar 2nd, 2010


At the current rate of Democratic decline, come November we may be ‘treated’ to a Republican-majority Senate, and evenly split House, and Obama. Incompetent Democratic leadership, general dissatisfaction over a lingering recession that would hurt any party in power, and a wave of intellectually incoherent, pseudo-populist Tea Party hysteria are all equally to blame. Without a plausible Republican challenger for 2012 (yet) , it seems likely to me that we may have a Republican Congress and a Democratic White House through 2016.

Obama’s election and a Democratic supermajority have until now completely relieved Republicans of any responsibility of leadership. Coherence no longer required, their bloviations have become ever more infantile without much negative consequence, as support has rallied to them by default, just as it did to Democrats in 2006. So while obstruction style, party-of-no posturing is political gold for Republicans until November, soon after they win some elections they’ll actually have to start doing things. The last thing they’ll want to do is pass a bunch of red-meat legislation only to be thwarted by Obama’s veto pen. For the first time in two years, they’ll actually care about making the country better.

I suggest that their first priority should be to realize that Obama can be more of an ally than they ever imagined. Republican rhetoric vis-a-vis Obama has oscillated wildly between two extremes: (1. A populist critique, borrowed from the ghosts of Democrats past, of his decidely right-wing style corporate welfare/bailout policy, and (2. The wild-eyed, he’s-a-socialist-fascist-out-to-destroy-this-country schtick popular with the Tea Party crazies. I humbly suggest that Republicans need to narrow the scope but increase the intensity of their criticisms. Obama is a Clinton-style Democrat, a man of principled ends and malleable means. So for the love of God, give up the radical rhetoric:

    A very short reality-check for Republicans:

Gun Control
Rhetoric: He’ll take away our guns! Buy now to defend yourselves!

Reality: Thus far, Obama has been friendly toward the gun lobby. Guns are now allowed on Amtrak and in National Parks, several states are expanding concealed carry laws, and there has been no pushback from the White House. Yet reflexive rhetoric has not accepted this new reality, as witnessed by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre,

“We have had some successes, but we know that the first chance Obama gets, he will pounce on us.”

Rhetoric: Obama is a weak-kneed wuss who can’t admit we’re at war! The country’s never been in more danger!

Reality: Trigger-happy Obama has ordered dozens of assassinations and has radically increased strikes on Al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Some Republicans are now complaining he’s killing too many terrorists.

Gay Rights
Rhetoric: He’s only saying he’s against gay marriage to get elected! Once in the White House, it’ll be all-gay-all-the-time! Compulsory gay education! Condom bananas for 1st graders!

Reality: He has devastated gay rights supporters by his continued refusal to endorse gay marriage. While he’s likely liberal on the issue, it’s clearly an expendable bargaining chip. His official push to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been made only after the consent of top military brass.

Fiscal and Monetary Policy
Rhetoric: Buy gold! The currency will collapse! Reckless spending means hyperinflation is coming!

Reality: While the spending has been sloppy, we’re not at dangerous ratios of debt/GDP, China can’t let our dollar weaken without weakening themselves, and the Euro is melting under the weight of Greece and Spain. There is no serious threat to our status as reserve currency, and this alone will maintain its value for now (though not forever). Interest rates are still near zero, and raising them would quickly and efficiently dampen inflation. High spending is the right policy right now.
The point of all this is that pragmatism is lonely, as Clive Crook has said,

Sadly for the president, the left objects to his pragmatism more than it applauds his ambitions, and the centre and right object to his ambitions more than they welcome his pragmatism.

Republicans and Obama will need each other to pass legislation. Obama’s a sensible guy, a tough negotiator, a coherent intellectual force, and despite the intractability of our national political problems, he’s a good President. Republicans, you’ll need him.

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