Posted on 29-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

It is in many ways a sad reflection of the nature and structure of American politics, when the televised event that occurred today when the President visited the Republican Party retreat is news in large part because it actually occured (and before the cameras no less).  Others (notably transplanted Briton Andrew Sullivan) have noted the major difference between American democracy and the one in Westminster, where the Prime Minister has to show up for question hour and defend his or her policies to the questions raised by the opposition.  Unfortunately the monarchical trappings of American democracy run deep and many Presidents probably felt it beneath their dignity to subject themselves to a grilling of this sort (which is still light compared to what happens in a parliamentary democracy).

There already has been some chatter that Republican operatives think it was a mistake to give President Obama a chance to call out Republican misstatements in front of the camera. See link.  Hopefully such considerations will not prevent events like this that allow a debate of a rare genuine debate of policy issues (in contrast to the histrionics that are inevitable in the tit for tat cable TV soundbite process) from happening in the future.  After all the Republicans also get their chance to call out the  President for his misstatements, and some did try today.  In other news Fox “News” appears to have cut away more than 20 minutes before the event ended to start playing the Republican party meme that the President was lecturing, leading a good deal of mockery on the liberal blogs.  Cannot wait to see the inevitable Jon Stewart spoof.

A few cherry picked comments I am glad the President managed to get in his response (link to transcript and embedded video is at end of post):

—-

There was an interesting headline in — in CNN today: Americans disapprove of stimulus, but like every policy in it. And there was a poll that showed that if you broke it down into its component parts, 80 percent approved of the tax cuts, 80 percent approved of the infrastructure, 80 percent approved of the assistance to the unemployed.

Well, that’s what the Recovery Act was, and I — you know, let’s face it, some of you have been at the ribbon cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities.

Now, I understand some of you had some philosophical differences, perhaps, on just the concept of government spending, but as I recall, opposition was declared before we had a chance to actually meet and exchange ideas. And I saw that as a missed opportunity.

—-

And then the last portion of it was infrastructure, which, as I said, a lot of you have gone to appear at ribbon cuttings for the same projects that you voted against.

Now, I say all this not to relitigate the past, but it’s simply to state that the component parts of the Recovery Act are consistent with what many of you say are important things to do: rebuilding our infrastructure, tax cuts for families and businesses, and making sure that we were providing states and individuals some support when the roof was caving in.

—-

[I]f you’re calling for just across-the-board tax cuts and then, on the other hand, saying that we’re somehow going to balance our budget, I’m going to want to take a look at your math and see how that — how that works. Because the issue of deficit and debt is another area where there has been a tendency for some inconsistent statements.

—-

So all I’m saying is we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality.

I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.

I mean, the fact of the matter is is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, “This guy’s doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”

Transcript of event here if you do not wish to sit through about an hour and a half of the clips.

Video of President’s speech

Video of Q&A

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