If I was Obama I’d probably want to stamp my feet right about now. “It’s not fair,” I’d cry. “How can I be so unpopular, Look what I’ve done.”
But there’s a reason Obama has the support of half a country (and he still does – plenty of people still went for the Democrats in the mid-terms, and I don’t. Here he is, fresh from his party’s worst performance since 1948, humble and conciliatory. Robert Gibbs, his spokesman said: Obama would be “open to listening to what the debate is on both sides” of the tax-cut issue.
That may be just talk, he may be, inwardly, fuming and anything but “open to listening”. But he has to appear as if he is willing to reach across the divide, to promote bipartisanship and act as though he understands what the voters are upset about.
Because the Republicans are hungry for power, hungry for revenge, hungry to erase everything that the Obama administration has achieved over the past two years. What they aren’t is in a particularly conciliatory mood; they are unlikely to be up for working together.
And of course, as Bill Clinton’s experience suggests, the more Obama offers to cooperate, and the more the Republicans refuse, the better it is for his reelection chances. In 1995 the Republicans refused to play ball on the budget, and turned down any chance of a deal. They told Clinton that “they would shut the government down and my presidency would be over”, if he didn’t give in to their demands.
Well, the first part of that was true. On November 14, the federal government did shut down, but public opinion went against the GOP and Clinton came off as the good guy, returned for a second term in 1996.
Obviously, it was a different situation, but at the heart of it was that the Republicans, and in particularly Newt “Contract for America” Gingrich, looked petty and childish. They looked, essentially, like they were throwing a tantrum for not getting their way.
The Republicans, with their tax cut plans, their ambitions to destroy healthcare reform and so forth, may be on their way to tantrum territory. The more Obama supports them, the more he shows willingness to compromise, the more it could all end in tears for the Republicans.