The president over the past few weeks has sounded an awful lot like the centrist-promoted candidate we heard from in 2008. Will it lead to a repeat of 2009 or a renewal of his presidential promise to the nation?
Last week highlighted a new President Obama, one that was willing to champion his own causes and agendas while looking to engage leaders from the other side of the aisle and consider their ideas in kind. By delivering the prime time State of the Union address (one filled with some right-leaning ideas such as domestic nuclear energy) and by giving Americans a ringside seat Friday to the House GOP retreat (where he exchanged compliments, jokes, and jabs with the GOP Congressional caucus in an attempt to move past obvious differences), the president gave a direction and tone that said clearly: under his leadership, the best solutions to fulfill his credo of “… not accept(ing) second place for the United States of America…” (as he noted to the nation on Wednesday night) would be paramount, even if that includes reining in both sides of the partisan circus that is Washington.
This seems to be a new and welcomed tone from the Obama administration for transparency and cooperation after overseeing a period of blatant partisanship and “Washington as usual.” Or perhaps this was merely more of the same talk that sounds eerily familiar—rhetoric stemming back to the days of the Obama campaign.
Time will tell. After all, we have heard this tone before from the president, only to watch Washington (and particularly the Democrats in power) repeat the minutiae and mixed results that often come from Washington.
In a reflection appropriate for Groundhog Day, it is fitting that we look back on the State of the Union address and the Obama appearance at the GOP retreat with a sense of guarded optimism. Since 2009, we have heard the tone from the Obama administration regularly resonate a willingness for transparency and bipartisanship in addressing the tough issues facing the United States. We are able to point to incidents where the president was willing to cross the aisle to address his opposition, be it in conservative media (e.g., speaking with Michael Smerconish on his show), noting Republican ideas for legislative solutions (e.g., noting portability in the September 2009 health care speech before the joint session of Congress and mentioning nuclear power and off-shore drilling in the State of the Union address), or speaking directly to Republicans on their terms (e.g., the House GOP retreat on Friday.) We are also able to note repeatedly his rhetoric of centrism and pragmatism in other speeches (e.g., many of his campaign events) and appearances (e.g., claiming centrism on Friday with both the stimulus package and the health care reform bills.)
What actions occurred as a result? The same partisan processes that contradicted the president’s words with actions that served to be more divisive than a man proclaiming to be a unifier would ever like to see. We have seen the most left-leaning Democrats drive the legislative train so far during the Obama administration, free of the restraints of ethical responsibility to the American people to include Republican debate and of the White House oversight to keep the Democrat majority focused on Americans’ desires and not its own personal agendas. At times, we have seen the president chastise the Republicans in office for failing to support more of his (and Democratic Congressional leaders) initiatives. For all of the president’s rhetoric for bipartisanship from 2008 and, more recently, the past few weeks, he has also been silent during the continued labeling of the GOP as the “Party of No,” despite conveniently ignoring the fact that Republicans often are procedurally locked out of legislative debate because of the numbers on Capitol Hill.
So, we have to ask the question this Groundhog’s Day: are we repeating the past all over again- from the words of “hope and bipartisanship” to the actions of “blame and label” – or has the president finally conceded that his centrist public persona and liberal agenda do not mesh, thus forcing him to rein both parties in for the benefit of the nation?
Time will tell if this is a repeat of the past empty rhetoric or a recognition that victories in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts have validated the nation’s growing apprehension with federal policies under President Obama’s watch—which, in turn, forces the president to break the past cycles of 2009 and adapt in kind. A “Groundhog Day” effect on Washington (think Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, not Punxsutawney Phil) will not only yield a slew of Republican cities at the state and federal levels throughout the country, but it may also elicit a stray faction within the Democratic Party—not dealing with a president that is further politically weakened—that decides to throw a wondering eye toward a new leader for 2012. Historical precedents of 1976 and 1980 indicate that presidents may not lose to intriguing primary candidates while in the White House, but such challenges can serve as enough to derail a re-election campaign at a time of national trepidation for the future. And if this is the case, it could be a long and interesting race to November 2012 for both parties, particularly along the lines of raising funds, uplifting American confidence, and promoting new ideas for solutions.
Whether the president decides to copy his previous pattern of “…do as I say, not as I do…” with consensus- and solution-building from both parties or choose a more sound political direction, America likely will not be facing a repeat of the Washington of 2009 as the characters in the cult classic movie were forced to do. Either the president will force legislative discipline and cooperation upon Pelosi and others or he will lose additional political numbers and capital soon. Either way, it looks like the nation will be entering a brand new day soon—one clear of the repeated (partisan) mishaps and minutia we saw in 2009—like those forced to survive Groundhog Day endured.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the author of the book, “Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative)”. He has been featured on multiple outlets and shows including XM Radio’s “The New School”, Fox Charlotte’s “Fox News Rising,” CNN’s “Newsroom,” and Fox News’ “Glenn Beck.” Follow him on Twitter as @lennyhhr and on Facebook.