Magical Thinking in the Press Corps


Dana Milbank joins the fantasy-based faction of the press corps that’s still convinced President Obama could get more done if only he’d schmooze with Republican members of Congress a little more:

Arguably, Obama’s no-more-Mr.-Nice-Guy approach is good politics. His first-term experience made clear that he gained nothing from Republicans when he took a passive approach. Yet…it’s tempting to wonder whether Obama could achieve more if he could establish personal connections with Republicans on Capitol Hill. But Obama disparaged the notion behind Calmes’s question—that a better bedside manner could help his agenda.

“I like a good party,” the president informed her after attesting to his “friendly guy” status. “Really what’s gone on in terms of some of the paralysis here in Washington, or difficulties in negotiations, just have to do with some very stark differences in terms of policy.”

That may be true, but until recent years, sharp disagreements were smoothed by personal ties. On Monday, by contrast, Obama showed unrelenting hostility toward the opposition, accompanying his remarks with dismissive shrugs and skeptical frowns.

I continue to wonder what it will take to put a stake through the heart of this hoary Beltway meme. It’s true that Obama isn’t the schmooziest president in history, but how much evidence do you need to convince yourself that schmooziness simply isn’t the problem here? We know for a fact that Republicans constructed their strategy of total opposition before he was even sworn in. Eight days after his inauguration, House Republicans voted against the stimulus bill unanimously. In the Senate, Republicans embarked on a strategy of total opposition to everything from Day 1, filibustering every bill, every appointment, and every judge. Senate Democrats spent months negotiating over health care reform—without Obama playing a role—and eventually learned that Republicans never had the slightest intention of agreeing to anything. After winning control of the House in 2010, the GOP’s top priority was to engineer a hostage crisis over the debt ceiling. This isn’t arcane knowledge or ancient history. It’s common knowledge.

Over the last four years, one thing has become crystal clear: The mere fact that Obama supports something almost guarantees united Republican opposition. Schmoozing doesn’t matter. Golf dates don’t matter. Invites to the White House bowling alley don’t matter. Milbank implicitly admits as much, and yet he’s still “tempted” to think that Obama could smooth things over if only he’d hoist a few more beers with Eric Cantor. After all, that kind of thing used to work.

This is magical thinking. The reason it doesn’t work anymore isn’t because Obama is insular. It doesn’t work because the Republican Party has become a party of zealots. What does it take for DC columnists to finally admit that?

Front page image: Samantha Appleton/The White House

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