Monday, February 1, 2010

Beyond the Political Cage Match



On Friday, President Obama walked into the hornets nest in Baltimore, also known as the House Republican retreat. Not only did Obama voluntarily walk into enemy territory, he opened himself up to questions and brought the media with him. This is the first time a president attended such an event sponsored by the opposition party...and he did it live on television.

I can't remember the last time I watched something on C-SPAN until the wee hours of the morning but I found myself doing just that on Friday night watching a rerun of that afternoon's events. It was fascinating political theater. Though the questions were anything but unscripted, the give and take was free flowing and fascinating. It also gave me hope that perhaps, just perhaps, both parties might be able to sit down and actually work together on the large number of issues they actually agree on.

To quote the President at the Baltimore retreat: "They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel-cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together, to get things done, and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day."

Amen to that.

5 comments:

msteven said...

While I agree with the specifics of your post, it seemed a little one-sided. Basically, I don’t believe that Obama is unique in his attempts to speak to the opposing political party. I think that likely every U.S. President, certainly in the last 25 years has said something similar to the ‘political steel-cage’ comment. I believe that every President has attempted to work with the opposing party, because it allows him to be successful in his agenda.

As you’ve rightly said before, our political process is and has been poisoned; poisoned because of power, money and media attention. Governing and legislation are a form of entertainment where the process is almost exclusively a public relations war.

Therefore, I don’t share your hope that there will be bi-partisan work done on behalf of the American people. The reason I doubt this is that I believe that the majority of people are already poisoned (in the partisan sense). It doesn’t seem like there are enough independent thinkers in government (or media for that matter) who are willing to consider crossing party boundaries for the sake of accomplishing something. Too many voters either believe that a) the unemployment is issue is not being addressed by Obama or b) it was caused by George W. Bush and Obama hasn’t had time to ‘fix it’. There aren’t enough voters who understand that the unemployment rate is not the result of one man, one party or even legislation. It cannot truly be ‘fixed’ (certainly in the short term) in a capitalist economy.

I hope I am wrong – and that our legislators and political leaders do work together, like it used to be before politics became theater. I just haven’t seen any evidence of it and think that Obama attending the Republican retreat was more theater than meaningful or substantive.

DC said...

msteven--I have to strongly disagree that I was being one-sided. I believe you took issue with my assertion that Obama's foray into enemy territory was unprecedented. I didn't come up with that on my own--I was basing it on John Fund's column in the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a bastion of liberalism. Here's his exact quote: "He became the first President not just to attend a Congressional retreat of the opposition party but also to take members' questions live on television."

And as someone who studies this topic (the presidency), I cannot remember a similar event taking place though I encourage someone to show me otherwise.

I do agree though that this will likely not lead to any meaningful bipartisanship--it's just a glimpse at how things could be. Given the looming midterm elections, I expect the partisanship to be as rampant and discouraging as ever...

Casey said...

Thanks for your post. I wish you would update more often :)

I have to agree with DC, that although this may not be a new message and although it may be tilting at windmills... It is important to call into the discussion an air of civility. I think that this was the major point.

Obama was not talking about everyone having brunch, and sharing family stories. His main idea was that when the republicans and the democrats decided to take the debate to demonize the other side, then there is no room to negotiate. Sure they don’t have to agree on everything, but falling into the realm of the extremism on both sides only leaves the debate to be "boxed-in"

Their insistence to make someone into the bad guy only leaves voters to believe that any compromise is essentially dealing with the devil. However, it would seem that the average independent voter seems to keep a fair balance in what we see in our elections. When either side becomes too radical, or too extreme, then independents tend to shy away from voting for them. This is what makes our democracy work.

Although I think there is a responsibility for leaders in our government to hold themselves to a higher standard, it is also the responsibility of the citizens to demand from and support candidates who don’t only espouse the political talking points, but bring to the table real ideas. They must be engaged in demanding that their representatives be thoughtful and make compromises when needed.

Unfortunately, the average voter who is involved in politics or who can be very vocal, don’t take the time to educate themselves and just trust the voice of others whom, in this day and age of information sharing, are not always held accountable for the views they express.

But as an independent and someone who considers herself a centrist, I have hope in the process and I have more hope for the process when this “cage fight” it brought to the publics attention to be addressed.

msteven said...

To both Casey & DC,

I was unclear. I didn’t mean to disagree that Obama attending the Republican retreat was unprecedented. I have no doubt that it was. I also agree with Casey’s comment in the context of the way things should be versus how in terms of political discourse. It would be in everyone’s best interest (except possibly the media/entertainment) that civility, compromise and common sense be shown.

What I disagreed with from the original post is the idea that Obama’s ‘reaching out’ to the opposing party is unprecedented. And the fact that he is not getting cooperation from the Republicans is a unique event – as opposed to recent relationships between the Executive and Legislative branches. Both sides were touting this event to show that they are willing to work with the other. Obama did not just show up unexpectedly nor was not welcome. I’m just saying that I believe it was a staged example of political theater at its finest – and each side had their own PR agenda.

Demonizing and finger pointing continues from both sides. When someone attempts to bridge a gap by compromise, they are sadly demonized by some in their own party. Unfortunately, the attempt to reach out is portrayed as weakness and the attempt to play hard ball is portrayed as intolerant/uncompromising. I’m saying that is some ways, it is a no-win situation.

I too consider myself an independent and a centrist to the extent that I have views which cross party-lines. I guess I am pessimistic in that I believe that the popularity of such divisive figures like Beck, Limbaugh, Olbermann, Huffington & others seem to have an effect on voters. Negative-misleading campaigning is effective. That and that many voters decide based on economic indicators strikes me as sad. We would make better choices if we knew better.

I enjoy your blog and comments.

Anonymous said...

Ronald Reagan constantly went in to "enemy territory"; as did Kennedy, Nixon, heck Nixon even engaged war protestors! Nothing new here. It does make a decent process story though.

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