Is there a way out of the mess in Washington? It doesn’t seem that way. The Washington fandango over a government shutdown and breach of the debt ceiling is careening from farce toward tragedy.
Republicans in Congress belatedly closed ranks behind Mitt Romney this past week, with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell abandoning their neutrality in favor of the clear nominee. The goal is a happy political marriage until Election Day in November—and, ideally, beyond. Arranged marriages of this sort—between presidential candidates and their parties’ members in Congress—are practically mandated by the election cycle.
The House GOP’s initial decision to reject the extension of the payroll tax cut was a bone-headed move. Indeed, it was impressively masochistic in the way it brazenly violated not only public opinion, but also the will of Republicans in the Senate, the vast majority of whom voted for the bill. But while Congressional Republicans were violating all manner of political common sense, that’s not to say that they weren’t following any sort of political logic at all.
Tonight’s GOP debate, co-sponsored by my own institution, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, will be focused on foreign policy, and, as is the nature of such events, the journalists moderating it will likely pose a lot of softball questions, with almost no follow-up and nothing that really cuts to the core. Here’s a list of questions that I would love to hear answers to (and I imagine many primary voters would, too), but that almost certainly won’t get asked in the dozen primary debates scheduled in the weeks ahead.
In his continuing, illusive quest for the Grand Bargain, New York Times columnist David Brooks has now offered some free campaign advice to President Obama: Drop the angry and divisive populist talk; link your reelection to the Congressional supercommittee to tackle the deficit; lower the ideological temperature. Political independents now recoil from big government, Brooks argues, so Obama should be blurring, not highlighting, the differences between the two parties over the role of government. Obama should say thanks, but no thanks for the advice.
One of the biggest problems of reporting on our dysfunctional politics has been the reflexive tendency in “mainstream” media to balance, via what is increasingly false equivalence. A glaring example was a front-page, above-the-fold story in Saturday’s Washington Post by Lori Montgomery and Rosalind S. Helderman, titled (in the print edition, though not on the web), “Gloom Grows as Congress Feuds.” The story was about the looming showdown, and possible government shutdown, over disaster relief funding.
With an economy seemingly on the precipice of a renewed recession, an angry conservative movement that regards him with disdain, and a disillusioned liberal base disappointed in his first term, Barack Obama’s bid for reelection next year will, by all indications, be a tough, maybe even uphill fight. But daunting as the campaign may seem, the president can at least take some solace in a precedent from 64 years ago: Harry Truman’s campaign for reelection in 1948—successful, despite a poor economic climate, and a polarized electorate—offers a promising path for Obama’s reelection.
[Guest post by Norman Ornstein:] Jennifer Rubin, writing in The Washington Post to reflect the thinking of the right, said that John Boehner needs to win in the House, even if it is a pathetic bare 216-vote win, to send the signal to Democrats and voters that his plan is the only thing that can pass that chamber. The idea that there is any plausibility to that notion is ridiculous. Many things can pass this House—if the goal is to get votes from all of the members, not just from among the 240 Republicans, with the hope of catching a random Blue Dog or two to claim bipartisanship.