It seemed unremarkable at the time. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters that President Obama's goal is to "annihilate the Republican Party." And most of Washington shrugged. This was a man who had lost many public battles with President Obama whining about what he thought lay ahead.
But six weeks later, Boehner looks prescient. The Washington Post, in a rare example of balanced reporting on this administration, revealed that the president has commenced an all-out blitz, headed by Obama campaign guru Jim Messina, to raise enormous sums of money to help Democrats regain control of the House in 2014. His first two calls shortly after his November re-election victory, we are told, were to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who would become speaker again if Democrats can pull it off, and Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic House campaign arm.
President Obama's plan, according to the Post, is to "flip the script" of second-term presidents. Instead of pushing for change in the fifth and sixth year of his administration as most re-elected presidents attempt to do before their influence wanes, he wants to pick fights that showcase differences between Republicans and Democrats now, use those differences to get Democrats elected to the House, then use his final two years to enact a full-bore progressive agenda—gun control, climate change, immigration.
The White House denies all this, of course—just as it denied that the sequester was the president's idea, that he had "moved the goalposts," on tax increases, as Post icon Bob Woodward reported, that he wouldn't make sequester cuts as painful as possible, and that he'd negotiated in good faith.
But a significant and not yet fully appreciated thing happened on the way to "Total Obama Domination." The sequester occurred. Americans survived. Woodward's claims—both that the president moved the goalposts and that the sequester was his idea—proved more believable than the president's denials. And the Post story has too much detail about President Obama's plans for the House to not be credible.
In other words, Americans have received multiple indicators—all at once—that this president is not above twisting the truth to get his way politically. They also learned that some modest cuts in planned future increases in federal spending won't, in fact, destroy the country. And they learned their president is willing to go to such incredibly petty lengths as canceling all White House tours to make his points.
The pushback already has begun. Tuesday's Post carried a story about how "some Republicans" have begun to fear backlash from the sequester. But all it could manage as "proof" was a remark by Rep. Pete King of New York,, one of the caucus' most prolific spenders, that he "knows people" who are concerned. And Democrats stepped up attempts to point out pre-sequester polls that indicated more people "blame" Congress than the president. But that was back when the sequester could be thought of as something to be "blamed" for and before we learned how little it actually would affect our lives.
Now that Americans see President Obama's motivations more clearly, they won't be so quick to identify the Republican House as the source of all obstruction in Washington. The House, for its part, should do more than ever before to earn that reputation.
If President Obama is going to harken back to the days of President Nixon with his non-denial denials, Republicans should look back to the days when Dean Smith ruled the basketball world at the University of North Carolina and his all-world point guard, Phil Ford, expertly ran out the clock using Smith's four corners offense.
There is no shot clock in politics. The president has no intention of doing anything productive on the big issues of the day—spending, entitlement reform, energy policy—and Republicans get nothing for helping him accomplish his agenda and lose nothing for blocking it.
It's time the president learns what real obstruction looks like. And also, how cooperative Republicans can be when he truly reaches out and seeks real solutions to our nation's challenges.
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