Bloodied by Tuesday’s election, Barack Obama can still achieve the grand objectives that once captivated Americans across the political spectrum. He can still unite this fractured country. He can still coax politicians from opposing camps to resolve the massive problems that America must resolve.
He just can’t make headway toward those goals while president.
In that job, Obama’s skills have hardly mattered, including his unflappable temperament, his keen intellect, his desire to accommodate conflicting views, his gift for words, and his history of bringing diverse people together. Yet those are the very traits that ideally qualify him to bridge the differences between liberals and conservatives, between the American people and their government. Indeed, as an Illinois state senator, Obama had unusual insight into how to nudge politicians to resolve problems rather than fight over them.
But as long as he’s president, Obama will fail at his greatest aspirations, because the Republicans clearly intend to derail and demean him. The Republicans captured the House by portraying Obama and his agenda as threats to the American way of life. Why would the Republicans stop now, with the White House and Senate within reach in 2012? Having won over millions of voters by painting Obama as hazardous to America’s future, why would the GOP risk alienating those voters by meeting the president halfway?
Some pundits respond that the Republicans will have to show voters they can govern responsibly by working with Obama. But when the GOP last had power, from 2001 to 2006, did they act responsibly on government spending, Iraq, reducing our dependence on foreign oil or climate change? Didn’t appeasing their voters matter more than governing? (Disclosure: I’m nonpartisan. Both major parties strike me as irresponsible much of the time, each in its own way.) This year, the GOP platform vowed to balance the budget while slashing taxes but without proposing changes in Social Security, Medicare or defense. Hardly a responsible stance on the very issue the GOP claims is most crucial. And who will the Republicans seek to blame for not coming close to this contradictory goal, if not Obama?
A few top Republicans have even trumpeted their imminent power to inundate the White House with subpoenas and thereby paralyze Obama’s ability to govern.