Published September 19, 2013
On Monday, as the tragic shooting in the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard was still in the process of unfolding, President Obama gave a partisan speech observing the fifth anniversary of the financial crisis. Despite the fact that the shooting had yet to be fully resolved, Obama blasted the Republicans to the American people, saying that members of the political right do not have the best interests of everyday Americans at heart.
In his rush to tear into his political enemies on the economy, Obama had not even stopped to order that the White House's flags be lowered to half mast, to commemorate the tragic loss of life in the Navy Yard.
Republicans, and even some figures on the political left, have harshly criticized the president for this tone deaf treatment of the Navy Yard shooting. And I agree--it was thoughtless and insensitive. But President Obama is far from alone in his undiplomatic and tone deaf behavior.
The Republicans have been equally bad.
The GOP has gone all-in on defunding ObamaCare, making it the centerpiece of their legislative agenda, despite the fact that it is legislation that has already passed, and is fully legal--as confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Only today, John Boehner announced that he has decided to let far right, Tea Party extremists move ahead and vote on defunding ObamaCare--a highly risky strategy that could result in total government shutdown.
Indeed, Republicans in Congress have made playing political chicken with the government-- and by extension, with American livelihoods--their signature negotiating style.
In sum, there is a culture of meanness and political opportunism in Washington--on both sides of the political aisle.
It is of the utmost importance that Congress learn to negotiate. When I worked for the Clinton administration there was plenty of partisan disagreement and strife, however, we still negotiated with Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and we succeeded in balancing the budget.
Yes, there were differences---many, for sure--but they got resolved.
Our current situation is even more dire: we're simultaneously contending with a mass shooting mere miles from the White House, the fight over the debt ceiling, the budget deficit, and an international crisis in Syria that was ineptly handled by American leadership, and further, I fear, is far from being resolved. Indeed, we may be facing far more contentious problems in Syria, based on Assad's either compliance, or noncompliance, with the chemical weapons agreement reached late last week.
Additionally, we need to begin addressing our longer-term fiscal problems. Cooperation and compromise will be crucial in making the tough decisions that need to be made on entitlement reform.
Congress needs to be working together, but instead, both sides are digging in deeper.
In agreeing to tie the vote to defund ObamaCare to an emergency spending bill, John Boehner has effectively given up on negotiation and compromise in favor of a strategy whose linchpin is political brinksmanship. Had Republicans in Congress agreed to let the two bills--one for defunding the health care law, and the other, a spending measure that is crucial to avoiding government shut down--move forward separately, we might have avoided what looks now to be an impending partisan showdown on government funding--and potentially, on whether the government will be able to function at all.
President Obama's partisan and irregular governing style--one in which he makes the loss of 12 lives in his backyard secondary to an opportunity to blast Republicans on national television, and generally accentuates partisan divides and differences in any way he can-- dovetails with this Republican strategy.
Neither side is communicating, and it seems that both parties' priorities are not to grow our troubled economy and work constructively for the American people, or even to listen to and take cues from the events unfolding around them, but rather, to barrel on straight ahead, and to humiliate , call out and corner the other side whenever possible.
We need to change this culture in Washington that is crippling our policy both at home and abroad.