House Republicans Revive Obama

Ken Thomas

February 1, 2010

A House Republican staffer tells me that President Obama’s colloquy with the House GOP Caucus “doesn’t make much difference because a dialogue can’t cure the massive political and economic problems he has on his hands.” This optimism ignores the main problem of the meeting, which was not just the Republican revival of Obama but their evisceration as a principled, effective opposition.

The Republicans don’t seem to realize that Obama’s fall was the exposure of a student body president as a schoolyard bully. Republican deference to him enables him to play his former stellar role (albeit minus the Greek columns). This is seen most clearly in the whining of two members that the Democrats don’t take their ideas seriously and that they are dissed as the party of No. Why treat Obama as though he has moral authority to grant legitimacy? Is he going to denounce Gramma Pelosi in front of them? (He didn’t.)

Once again House Republicans don’t seem to take seriously the incisive rhetoric that brought their party victories in the off-year elections. Either they believe that the Obama Administration and its leader threaten the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence or they don’t. For a while they seemed to have acquired an American voice, but then they reverted to their prior Stockholm Mentality and allowed themselves to be captivated and captured.

First of all, civil treatment of the President need not have been deferential treatment. Minority Leader Boehner should have shown his colleagues a few clips of question time in the House of Commons. Moreover, the issue of civility should have been turned against the President. The Caucus should have demanded that he apologize to the Supreme Court for his outrageous and false statement that their recent decision on campaign financing would have opened the doors to foreign corporations contributing to U.S. elections. No apology, no appearance.

The Republicans seemed to buy into the notion that Americans want more agreement and less bickering, a platitude that Obama mouthed. But what Americans truly want and have wanted throughout the centuries is a government that protects their fundamental rights. And the Obama Administration has failed to do this, most strikingly in the policy and process of the health care bills and in its treatment of terrorists. The Administration and its party in Congress have shown its arrogant disregard for legitimate public concerns for its well-being and safety.

(If the Guantanamo prisoners aren’t to be tried in New York and not returned to Guantanamo, then let them be tried in a less contentious place—why not Nebraska? Unlike New York Senator Gillibrand, Nelson is most certainly toast. But the trial will probably wind up in Utah or down South.)

Moreover, where was a question on the extremist positions on abortion his Administration has taken? Obama should have been pressed on the Supreme Court’s upholding of the law banning partial-birth abortions.

Boehner failed as a leader in not having his members develop a coherent set of questions. Once the White House wanted the session televised he had to change any previous rules he had in his mind.

But tactics aside, a greater neglect is the ultimate cause of these pathetic judgments. If cooperation with the President is akin to splitting a check at a restaurant, the real problem is that we don’t care for the entrees, which someone else chose, and we don’t even like the restaurant. Why can’t Republicans learn: In the public mind bipartisanship has come to mean a conspiracy of Washington against the rights of the people. The classic document on the relationship between the protection of natural rights, the rule of law, and the separation of powers is Article I of the Massachusetts Bill of Rights of 1780. It recognizes the fundamental need for government to have the power to protect rights and the subsequent need for government to be restrained in its powers, lest people’s rights be violated: “A government of laws, and not of men.” Massachusetts spoke up three weeks ago in affirmation of their ancestors of 230 years ago.

Why are the House Republicans so pusillanimous in defending the Massachusetts men of yore and today? The Supreme Court’s overturning of part of the McCain campaign finance law reminds us of one major culprit—George W. Bush, who signed the law into effect despite his stated misgivings about its unconstitutionality. This recalls Bush’s failure to exercise his constitutional duty in not vetoing any pork-laden Republican-passed bills in his first term. Bush’s inability to educate House Republicans to their constitutional duties when they were in the majority is partly to blame for their pointless behavior last week. That is why those Obamatized Republicans behaved essentially as Bush Republicans and not as the Massachusetts Republicans of 1780 and 2010.

Ken Thomas is a regular contributor to the Ashbrook Center’s blog, No Left Turns.