President Obama is on a little bit of a roll. Call it “mini-mo.” And now the latest news from Bully Pulpit Central: Obama is inviting his good friends the Congressional Republicans, as well as Congressional Democrats, to meet with him at the White House on February 25 to talk about health care policy.
As a blogger for the The Washington Post headlined his piece, “Obama calls the next play for health-care reform.” OK, some might say, that’s just typical mainstream media cheerleading for the O-team, but recent events show that Obama is reclaiming the initiative. Indeed, we can identify four reasons why the 44th president has had a pretty good couple of weeks.
First, the State of the Union address on January 27. The big news from that speech was Obama’s “spending freeze,” which was widely ridiculed as more symbolic than substantive. But even so, the freeze demonstrated that Obama has at least some independence from Congressional Democrats. And so we can see at least the glimmers of Bill Clinton-style “triangulation.” And Clinton, of course, was a two-termer.
Second, the very next day, the 28th, Obama traveled to Baltimore for his televised Q-and-A with House Republicans. It’s safe to say that the GOP-ers were not overly impressed by their visitor, but they weren’t the intended audience; the American people, watching it live on TV, were the true target. And the folks at home saw Obama at his best: cool, calm, and collected, defending his positions in a high-pressure situation. And he didn’t need a TelePrompter. So all of those who have been saying that he can’t open his mouth without a TelePrompter were proven wrong. He does just fine without one--and he would, in fact, be better off if he used it less.
The third reason is the decline in the unemployment rate. Yes, yes, it fell to “only” 9.7 percent--a figure that would have the MSM talking about “depression” if the president were a Republican. Indeed, overall employment continued to fall, too, and so there’s reason to think that we could be in a “jobless recovery”--if, in fact, we have a recovery at all.
The fourth factor is something that Obama had nothing to do with. It was the decision of a leading House Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to release a strongly conservative budget plan, calling for deep cuts in spending, including the partial privatization of Social Security and the voucherization of Medicare. Maybe we need those deep cuts in spending, but for sure, those cuts are not popular with middle-of-the-road voters.
Congressional Democrats, seeing their own chance to get back on offense, immediately pounced on the Ryan plan, even thought it was not an official product of the House Republican leadership. As of Friday, the Democratic leadership, smelling political blood, was scheming to force a House vote on Ryan’s proposal. That would be a tough vote for most Republicans: Do they side with Ryan and the limited-government tea-partiers? Or with senior citizens and centrists?
Republicans with long memories will recall that the GOP has been down this particular road before. Back in 1995, another bunch of Republican insurgents had much the same idea: Cut Medicare. And another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, picked a fight with the GOP--and won. So now, with Ryan, are Republicans repeating that unhappy history? Most Republicans on Capitol Hill are looking forward to whacking Democrats this year; they are not looking forward to whacking popular programs for the elderly.
So now, in two-and-a-half weeks, comes Obama’s health care meeting with Congress. Obamacare has cratered, in the wake of the Scott Brown special election, and thus the White House must figure out what to do next. There’s no way to know what will happen at that session, of course, but it’s a safe bet that there won’t be much actual negotiating on February 25. Yes, we are finally getting those C-SPAN negotiating sessions that the candidate promised during the 2008 campaign--and we will soon discover why the proposal was half-baked when Obama first cooked it up.
But here’s another bet: Obama will do just fine later this month. As he did during the State of the Union, he will remind Republicans that since they won that 41st vote in the Senate, they, too, share the power. So, Obama will surely say, Republicans have a duty to step up and contribute to the solution.
The Republicans are free to say “no,” of course. They can even say “hell, no” if they want to--although if they come across as too partisan and belligerent, they will look bad to “purple” voters. And if the Loyal Opposition is really lucky, it will get a chance to put forth a few of its own health are ideas. But make no mistake: Obama will have the home-field advantage. He will set the agenda, and he will get the last word. After all, it’s his bully pulpit.
Yes, there’s a long way to go between now and Election Day 2010, to say nothing of Election Day 2012. But as of now, Obama is showing a better sense of how to play the game--the key realization being that he is better off playing the outside game against Republicans, as opposed to the inside game with Democrats.
Obama even seems to realize that when he shares the spotlight with Republicans, that’s not all bad for him. If voters are mad at Washington, this is precisely the time to share the “credit,” as far and wide as possible.
James P. Pinkerton is a writer and Fox News contributor. He is the founder/editor of the Serious Medicine Strategy blog.