Faced with some concern that his second term is not off to the kind of start that ultimately will produce a positive historic legacy, President Barack Obama has finally begun to reach out on a personal basis to select Republicans to try to break the debilitating impasse in Congress.
It’s about time. At stake is a whole raft of initiatives on which he has counted to boost his legacy.
His performance since Inauguration Day barely has rated a C grade. His disdain for serious negotiation has been almost monumental, and his continuing use of campaign-like attack rhetoric in forums around the nation has managed only to lower his job approval rating. The most recent Gallup Poll showed it at 47 percent, down from 53 percent in January.
The electorate obviously was unmoved by the dire predictions he spouted about the damage that sequestration would bring, although the verdict is still out on the matter. Too much crying wolf has done the predictable. Look at the stock market following the dread sequestration — record highs. Wall Street had heard the warnings once too often.
Even a grandstand ploy like suspending White House tours because of budget concerns hasn’t impressed many despite the fact the shutdown comes just before the Easter holiday when the town is jammed with tourists, many of them school children, willing to stand in long lines for hours to see the presidential palace.
Perhaps the cynicism toward such moves has increased by an offsetting decision or two like the Treasury Department’s pushing for a $65 billion increase in U.S. donations to the International Monetary Fund while we are told of looming federal job layoffs. Actually the number is 750,000 if sequestration lasts until September, according to the Congressional Budget office. Why would the Treasury act now? The IMF increase has been pending for three years. The mandated government-wide spending cuts amount to only $85 billion, for crying out loud.
The lack of public enthusiasm for the president’s soothsaying doesn’t mean the Republicans are off the hook for their share of the blame. They clearly aren’t. It’s just that the president’s bully pulpit has become a little rickety as Americans see a government increasingly dysfunctional, tied in knots, as it were, with no one on either side willing to break a nail trying to undo the philosophical and ideological bindings.
Obama is smart enough to realize that intransigence is a two-way street and that he as the chosen “leader” is an easy target for criticism unless he takes a positive step to reach out to his opponents. If they fail to respond, the blame then shifts to them. He wants detente on the fiscal issue that will allow him to move forward on such initiatives as gun control, immigration and climate change, ultimately entering history as an innovative chief executive.
According to news reports, he has contacted those among conservative Republicans who are willing to talk about a solution — a sort of common-sense-caucus that includes among others Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The New York Times quoted Graham as saying Obama wants “to do the big deal.”
It is anyone’s guess whether these overtures will survive the kind of criticism from the tea-party right and the anti-tax lobby that scuttled past talks like those with House Speaker John Boehner and helped lead us into this unholy mess.
While there is seemingly a new willingness to stop all out warfare marked by little communication, there is little doubt the president believes that the best way ultimately to accomplish his goals is to turn the House back to his own party. Recouping the majority for Democrats in next year’s election is really his end strategy, it seems.
He made that clear — and earned loud criticism from even the press that supports him — for using his old campaign apparatus to establish a new mega fund whose activities ostensibly will be to push for essential changes in climate control etc., but is transparently focused on influencing the 2014 midterm elections.
At this stage, he is not a great president.
Dan K. Thomasson is the former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.