When opinion makers say President Obama shares blame for sequestration because he hasn’t been able to “lead” Republicans toward consensus, they conspicuously never explain how a President — who’s not very popular with Republicans — might do that.
Fortunately, in the White House briefing room today, we heard one tongue in cheek, but nevertheless educational suggestion. Couldn’t Obama just kidnap John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and set surrender on taxes as a ransom for their release?
The question was meant to elicit chuckles — but also to elicit a response, and it thus reflected a fairly common belief within the press corps that Obama could be doing … something … to restore reason to Congressional Republicans.
And yet the premise of the question was so absurd that it unintentionally revealed how flawed that underlying belief is. It also provided Obama an opportunity to make a simple point — that the people who have decided, for whatever reason, to criticize his leadership on this particular issue, have to resort to magical thinking to make their criticisms stand up to scrutiny.
“I know this has been some of the conventional wisdom that has been floating around Washington that somehow, even though most people agree that I’m being reasonable, that most people agree I’m presenting a fair deal, the fact that they don’t take it means that I should somehow do a Jedi mind meld with these folks and convince them to do what’s right,” Obama said.
They’re elected, we are a constitutional system of government, the Speaker of the House and the leader of the Senate and all those folks have responsibilities. What I can do, is I can make the best possible case for why we need to do the right thing. I can speak to the American people about the consequences of the decisions this Congress is making or the lack of decisions made by Congress. But ultimately, it is a choice they make. This idea that somehow there’s a secret formula or secret sauce to get John Boehner or Mitch McConnell to say Mr. President, you are right, we should close some tax loopholes for the well-off and well-connected in exchange for some serious entitlement reform and spending cuts…. If there was a secret way to do that, I would have tried it. I would have done it.
I don’t imagine that members of the “Obama’s failed to lead” chorus will ever cede this point. And fortunately for them, Obama mangled a Star Wars/Star Trek reference, so they can just make jokes about that and pretend it wasn’t in service of a pretty powerful argument. But there it is. It would be great to see David Ignatius or Bob Woodward or the Post editorial board respond.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.