Jonathan Cohn

Tomorrow's GOP Spin Today

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Over the next few months President Obama will be attacking the Republican Congress for refusing to act on the economy, just as he has been for the last few months. I assume we’ll hear something along those lines tomorrow, when Obama gives a speech in Cleveland.

Will it work? The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin is skeptical. Among other things, she notes in a new item, the likely Republican nominee is Mitt Romney, who has never served in Congress and who, as governor of Massachusetts, worked with the opposite party in order to pass legislation.

Rubin may be right about the politics. She may be wrong, too. I really don’t know. But Rubin doesn’t simply think Obama’s rhetoric is likely to fail politically. She also disputes the substantive claim Obama is making:

Recall that Obama had two years with majority control of the both houses of Congress. Aside from jamming through ObamaCare, which has, among other things, ended the career of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), he accomplished nothing other than hiking the debt. It’s hard to run against your own party in Congress.

Wow, that’s quite a statement. Since we’re likely to hear it again in the coming year, and not only from Rubin, it's worth some scrutiny.

In 2009 and 2010, the years Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, Obama signed several sweeping pieces of legislation  – overhauling everything from student loans to financial regulation. He also signed into law a series of initiatives designed to rescue the economy, chief among them the Recovery Act. The cumulative results of these measures? A new agency to protect consumers from financial industry abuse; more vigilant food inspections; new public works coupled with a new system for awarding grants based on merit; a new program for rewarding innovations in public education; and cash for struggling Americans, in the form of unemployment benefits, aid to states, and tax cuts that most economists believe saved the nation from a much worse economic crisis.

All of that is in addition to health care reform, which is already reshaping the industry and will eventually make insurance available to all. One could argue (ok, I have argued) that it's the single most important domestic policy initiative since the 1960s. 

And that’s just the legislative record. Obama also used executive authority to rescue the U.S. auto industry, doing so in a way that Romney now says was wrong. He's implemented stringent new regulations on mercury and other dangerous emissions. As commander-in-chief, Obama presided over the killing of Osama Bin Laden, among other terrorist leaders, as well as the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Obama did this despite unprecedented use of the filibuster and the open willingness of congressional Republicans to make Obama’s defeat their top priority. That's an obstacle Romney never faced in Massachusetts. Keep in mind that, because of the filibuster, true Democratic control of Congress lasted only seven months – from early July, 2009, when Al Franken gave the Democrats sixty voters, until early February, 2010, when Scott Brown reduced the Democratic majority to 59. 

Conservatives like Rubin may not like what Obama did in office: They may think health care reform is a boondoggle, that the administration should have let GM go bankrupt, and so on. And in their disappointment, at least, they’ll find some sympathy on the left. Many liberals wish the Recovery Act had been bigger, long for a public insurance option, are unhappy with Obama’s record on civil liberties, and are downright livid over his decision on ozone emissions.

Fine. The merits of Obama’s accomplishments are grounds for reasonable debate. But to say the accomplishments don’t exist? Even for Republicans and their allies, that's an audacious attempt at historical revisionism.

Update: I added links, plus I fleshed out the list of accomplishments (including those liberals don't like).

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