A Republican tantrum is just what Obama needs

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.

Kendrick Meek, Ken Livingstone and the Tea Party

All politics is, to some extent, tactical. It would be nice to think campaigns could be run, elections could be won and things got done on the basis of ideology alone.

 But as Nick Clegg could probably point out, power invariably involves settling.

America goes to the polls this week, to choose a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. Two years after Barack “the Messiah” Obama swept into the White House, the Democrats are set for major losses and a likely return to a Republican majority in the House.

This is not actually as bad as it seems; it’s astonishingly rare for the incumbent party to come out of the mid-terms with more seats than they had (when Clinton did in 1998 it was the exception, and more a reaction against Republican machinations than the start of a new political tradition). Still, it’s not great that the Democrats are going to go kaput, especially when you consider that a good number of losses are likely to be at the hands of Tea Party loyalists like Christine the not-so-teenage-witch O ‘Donnell.

Still, given the polls and predictions, it’s surprising to see that efforts to secure a non Tea Party outcome in Florida have failed so miserably – and even more so that a Democrat is the one responsible.

The situation is this; Until a year or so, Governor Charlie Crist was something of a golden boy in the Republican, even tipped as a potential 2012 contender. But his support of such abomination as the stimulus, plus an Obama shaped hug, led to a challenge from the right by Tea Party king Marco Rubio and Crist striking out as an independent.

Mr Rubio is an unreconstructed right-winger, fond of soundbites like this one: “The problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same.”

Paranoid? Him?

Of course, there’s still a Democrat hoping to steal the crown, the wonderfully American named Kendrick Meek (can you imagine, President Meek…it’s like a bad spoof film). Meek is drawing about 15 per cent in the polls, Crist around 35 per cent and spades ahead is Rubio, with 42 per cent.

So the choice is this – moderate voters can go for a Democrat with very little chance, or an independent with not much more. Whether the former or the latter, the likelihood is that Mr Rubio will be off to the Senate.

Unless, of course, tactical voting comes into it. I’m no mathematician, but the combined moderate vote is more than a match for the Tea Party support. Surely, it would make sense for one of Mr Crist or Mr Meek to step aside so that, in Chuchillian terms, the best-worst candidate can prevail.

Makes sense, right? Good tactics? Bill Clinton certainly thought so, which is why he tried to broker a deal to get the undeniably weaker of the two, Meek, to do the gentlemanly thing and depart the race. Allegedly there were promises of a good DC job for Meek in return for giving up on a dream that has no chance of being realised anyway.

But while politics is about tactics, politicians are often more about ego. Ergo, Meek refused. Meek, indeed.

Madness. Meek must know that by refusing a deal he boosts Rubio immeasurably, when having Crist in the seat would do far more to prevent the Republicans blocking Obama’s legislative programme in the next two years.

Maybe two years ago, in the giddy rush of “Yes we can”, principle could come first. But Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the prognosis for the next two years isn’t good. What a shame Meek couldn’t act tactically, just this once.

Not that I’m suggesting he should have actively campaigned for his opponent. Supporting another party above your own. That would be absurd, certainly not acceptable behaviour for, say, Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2012.

Oh, but wait. Apparently that’s exactly the sort of behaviour one can expect from Ken Livingstone, who was spotted on the stump for new Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman last week – despite the presence of one Helal Abbas, Labour’s candidate.

Yes, politicians should be pragmatic and tactical. But while Mr Meek doing the gracious thing would have had a purpose, Livingstone’s support of a Respect-backed politician had no such point.

It’s ironic to think, then, that tactical “anyone but Ken” voting was so key in Boris’ victory last time.

Aaron Sorkin goes back to the White House

West Wing fans, our prayers have been answered. Sort of.

OK so Josiah Bartlet isn’t going to get a third term, nor are we going to get a more detailed glimpse into the Santos administration.

But WW writer Aaron Sorkin has apparently agreed to work on a film about the rise and fall of John Edwards. Edward, you’ll remember, ran for president then suffered a spectacular fall from grace when the National Inquirer revealed the juicy details of his affair (and child) with an aide.

Keen WW lovers will recall of course that political scandal is no new subject for Aaron Sorkin. The dramatic demise of John Hoynes for a similarly stupid misdemeanour made for a nail-biting season four finale.

Of course, Hoynes was fictional… real politicians would never be so stupid. You’d think.

The Edwards tale is great Sorkin fodder, and I can’t wait for the film, which follows his political biopic Charlie Wilson’s War and the forthcoming Facebook flick The Social Network.

But as enthusiastic as I am about the project, there’s another caught-with-his-pants-down political affair I’d rather see the writer turn his attention to.

Bring on “Sorkin does the Bill Clinton life story”.

Read my feature on Aaron Sorkin here.