The Very Serious People report that President Obama sounded “humble” and “downbeat” at his post-election press conference yesterday. The New York Times used bigger words.
“Over the last two years, we’ve made progress,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference intended to reassert his leadership as Republicans celebrated their capture of the House and gains in the Senate. “But, clearly, too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday. And as president, I take responsibility for that.”
More conciliatory than contrite, Mr. Obama used that phrase, “take responsibility,” six times but rejected the suggestion that his policies were moving the country in the wrong direction. He conceded that legislation to limit greenhouse gases was dead and said he was “absolutely” willing to negotiate over the extension of tax cuts, including for the wealthy. But he drew the line at any major retreat from signature priorities, saying he would agree to “tweak” his health care program, not “relitigate arguments” over its central elements.
While Republicans also called for more cooperation, they suggested that Democrats might not have fully absorbed the lessons of their drubbing.
“Their view is that we haven’t cooperated enough,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader. “I think what the American people were saying yesterday is that they appreciated us saying no to the things that the American people indicated they were not in favor of.”
For those of you new to the genre, this is a common form of post-traumatic kabuki that every president goes through after their first mid-term election. Their party loses seats. They come out the morning after and based on the number of seats lost, they act contrite and conciliatory, and occasionally inject a tad of honesty into it by using words like “thumpin'” (vide George W. Bush), and they make some motion to sound like they’re going to reach out to the other side. That sets the stage for the winners to be magnanimous for a moment and then revert to being insufferable pricks. Both sides have done it and it will ever be thus. After all, it’s theatre and [spoiler alert] Hamlet always dies at the end of the play.
In this particular case, the GOP will not suddenly turn into the grown-ups who put the country ahead of their own agenda. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, they don’t have to. They are in control of the House. They will not pass anything that the White House wants no matter how much talk there is about reconciliation and compromise. They can vote to repeal healthcare and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 just to do it. They will send it to the Senate where nothing will get done because Jim DeMint or Rand Paul or Ben Nelson will object. And even if something passes — like a kidney stone — the president will veto it. If you want to get totally pessimistic about anything — the past foretelling the future — the GOP will whoop through making the Bush tax cuts permanent and the Democrats will cave because they don’t want to get demagogued by Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers in 2012. It doesn’t matter; they will anyway. So they might as well pass the bill now, get it over with, and settle down to two years of Sarah Palin and John Boehner telling us that compromise is what other people do.
Welcome to Square One. Please be sure you have your belongings as you leave the theatre.