I've just watched the president address the Republican retreat in Baltimore. Address is not quite the right word, because it was a genuine - and remarkable - conversation between Obama and his political opponents - transparently on CSPAN. I don't remember similar public events of this length and this informality and candor in the past, but I may be forgetting some. But the theme was very straightforward: the president does not expect total GOP support on everything he is trying to do; but he does believe that the tactical oppositionism and electioneering that infects our current politics is making it impossible for the republic to grapple with the real and pressing problems we face.
He was especially good on entitlements, the need to reform them - and the impossibility of doing so if every time someone tries to they are hazed for "raising taxes/killing jobs" or "cutting medicine/killing seniors". This applies to both parties, of course. But it has been pretty brutal from the GOP this past year.
But here's the key thing: Obama is best at this. He is best at defusing conflict; he is superb at engaging civilly with his opponents. It's part of his legacy - I remember how many conservatives respected him at the Harvard Law Review. But he needs to do more of this, even though he may get nothing in return. Why? Because unless the tone changes, unless the pure obstructionism and left-right ding-dong cycle stops, we are on a fast track to catastrophe.
That was the core message of Obama in the election. It was one of my core reasons for backing him over Clinton - because he has the capacity to reach out this way. I remain depressed at the prospects for a breakthrough, but this was good politics and good policy. More, please. Do this every month. Maybe over the long haul, the poison of the past has to be worked through with Obama as therapist in chief.
(Photo: Saul Loeb/Getty.)
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