By Teresa Welsh |
The framing of this question may well reveal more about the state of American politics and media commentary on dysfunctional government than the responses. The implicit assumption is that President Obama's personal relationships with individual Republicans (or the presumed lack thereof) and his supposed reticence in tabling bold proposals for resolving the nation's fiscal problems is a (if not the) major reason so little progress has been made in reaching a bipartisan consensus. I believe that assumption is greatly at odds with reality and distracts readers from the core governing problems confronting the country today.
Presidential leadership is contextual—shaped by our unique constitutional arrangements and the electoral, partisan, and institutional constraints that flow from them. Under present conditions of deep ideological polarization of the parties, rough parity between the parties that fuels a strategic hyperpartisanship, and divided party government, opportunities for cross-party coalitions on controversial policies are severely limited. Constraints on presidential leadership today are exacerbated by the relentlessly oppositional stand taken by the Republicans since Obama's election, their continuing embrace of Grover Norquist's "no new tax" pledge, and their willingness since gaining the House majority in 2011 to use a series of manufactured crises to impose their policy preferences on the Democrats with whom they share power.
Ironically, Obama tried harder and longer than the results merited to work cooperatively with Republicans in Congress. He has learned painfully that his public embrace of a policy virtually ensures Republican opposition and that intensive negotiations with Republican leaders are likely to lead to a dead end. No bourbon and branch-water laced meetings with Republicans in Congress or pre-emptive compromises with them will induce cooperative behavior.
Obama has now set out on the right course in his dealings with Republicans in Congress. No naiveté about the opposition he faces but a determination to make some cooperation in the electoral interests of enough Republicans to break the "taxes are off the table" logjam and move forward with an economic agenda that makes sense to most nonpartisan analysts and most Americans
About Thomas Mann Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
Paul Broun U.S. Representative for Georgia
Phillip Swagel Former assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the Treasury Department.
Brandon Rottinghaus Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston