He was always "no drama Obama." He promised to bring civility and a sense of cooperation back to Washington.
But in his news conference this week, President Obama had clearly had enough of trying to make nice with Republicans—or even, for that matter, with Congress in general, which he chided for heading back to their districts for constituent work periods instead of staying in town, as he has done, to work on the debt crisis.
The president has a point, but of course, he doesn’t have to be personally, and constantly, raising money for his re-election campaign, which is a big part of what members of Congress do when they head home for weekends and recesses. Presidents have people who do that for them, but most congressmen and senators have to do some of the personal pleas for cash on their own.
But Obama’s irritation and newly combative tone suggests two important turning points: the 2012 campaign has officially started, and the dream of having a civil and cooperative relationship with a divided Congress was just that—a dream. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP primary.]
It was a nice idea, trying to work together and bridge ideological and regional differences to make good public policy, even if that policy included compromises that gave everyone something to hate in the final legislation. But Congress, while long a place for diverse opinions, is no longer a place where lawmakers are willing to put policy ahead of campaign politics. Giving in, even a little bit, on an issue might produce an actual budget or other legislation, but it will also annoy the base in each party, imperiling campaigns. And with the majority status of both chambers of Congress in play next year, people aren’t inclined to compromise.
Obama, too, was in campaign mode at his press conference, making repeated references to "corporate jet" owners and other wealthy people and businesses he said would benefit at the expense of the middle class. Capitol Hill Democrats have been making that case for many months ("Bravo!" House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to Obama’s newly confrontational tone). But Obama’s pivot suggests that he, too, has lost faith in the ability of the two parties to work things out. But the battles are rarely anymore about actual policy. They are about regaining the majority in the next election.