To voters angry at Washington, President Obama has an explanation for the deepening of gridlock, incompetence, and zero-sum gain thinking during his five-plus years in office: It's not his fault.
Not that finger-pointing solves anything, but Obama wants you to know that it was Republicans and the media who put his presidency on ice. At a fundraiser in Chicago on Thursday night, Obama said:
"You'll hear if you watch the nightly news or you read the newspapers that, well, there's gridlock, Congress is broken, approval ratings for Congress are terrible. And there's a tendency to say, a plague on both your houses. But the truth of the matter is that the problem in Congress is very specific. We have a group of folks in the Republican Party who have taken over who are so ideologically rigid, who are so committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don't think making investments in early-childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you're not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing.
"They, so far, at least, have refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system, despite the fact that every economist who's looked at it says it's going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country.
"So the problem "¦ is not that the Democrats are overly ideological — because the truth of the matter is, is that the Democrats in Congress have consistently been willing to compromise and reach out to the other side. There are no radical proposals coming out from the left. When we talk about climate change, we talk about how do we incentivize through the market greater investment in clean energy. When we talk about immigration reform there's no wild-eyed romanticism. We say we're going to be tough on the borders, but let's also make sure that the system works to allow families to stay together "¦
"When we talk about taxes we don't say we're going to have rates in the 70 percent or 90 percent when it comes to income like existed here 50, 60 years ago. We say let's just make sure that those of us who have been incredibly blessed by this country are giving back to kids so that they're getting a good start in life, so that they get early childhood education."¦ Health care — we didn't suddenly impose some wild, crazy system. All we said was, let's make sure everybody has insurance. And this made the other side go nuts — the simple idea that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, nobody should go bankrupt because somebody in their family gets sick, working within a private system.
"So when you hear a false equivalence that somehow, well, Congress is just broken, it's not true. What's broken right now is a Republican Party that repeatedly says no to proven, time-tested strategies to grow the economy, create more jobs, ensure fairness, open up opportunity to all people."
Obama could be forgiven for trying to motivate his liberal base with distorted and overheated rhetoric, if it wasn't clear that he actually means it.
The truth is that both parties are ideologically rigid. Unbending is the nature of a political parties, especially when voters themselves are sorting into "red" and "blue" teams; when computer-assisted redistricting and other structural factors encourage partisanship; and when the media industry is being pushed (and is pushing voters) to political extremes.