The Two Hands of Obama: the Olive Branch and the Right Hook

Let’s play a game. Try to guess who each of the following statements is directed to. Here we go…

  1. We extend a hand and get a fist in return .”
  2. Yet even as ____ reached across the aisle with one hand, ____ pushed back with the other .”

They seem to be saying similar things. They both deal with bipartisanship. They both accuse someone of disingenuously acting in a partisan fashion. They both use hand metaphors. But interestingly enough, they describe two different parties. The first one was said by Obama at a recent New Hampshire town hall in which he called out Republicans for opposing him on health care. The second one was written by the Associated Press in an article discussing Obama’s recent speeches in which he simultaneously makes a play for bipartisanship while throwing jabs at Republicans.

It’s been a confusing few weeks for bipartisanship. It started with the President addressing the House Republican caucus extolling the virtues of different points of view:

“I’m a big believer not just in the value of a loyal opposition, but in its necessity. Having differences of opinion, having a real [is] . . . not something that’s only good for our country, it’s absolutely essential. It’s only through the process of disagreement and debate that bad ideas get tossed out and good ideas get refined and made better. And that kind of vigorous back and forth – that imperfect but well-founded process, messy as it often is – is at the heart of our democracy.”

I agree. And I challenge you to find a Republican who wouldn’t agree. The problem is that President Obama’s calls for bipartisanship can be nothing more than mere rhetoric, aimed at scoring some political points. There is no other explanation for why he followed up a week later with these jabs at Republican’s “differences of opinion:”

In an attempt to portray Republicans unanimous opposition to the Democrat’s health care plan as a political tool:

“You can’t walk away from your responsibilities to confront the challenges facing this country because you think it’s good short-term politics.”

On Republicans opposing last year’s massive stimulus package Obama argued :

“They’ve found a way to have their cake and vote against it too.”

In a response to Senator Lincoln Obama suggested that adopting their policies isn’t going to do any good for Democrats:

“If the price of certainty is essentially for us to adopt the exact same proposals that were in place for eight years, leading up to the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression – we don’t tinke with health care, let the insurance companies do what they want; we don’t put in place any insurance eforms; we don’t mess with the banks, let them keep on doing what they’re doing now because we don’t want to stir up Wall Street – the result is going to be the same.”

Together it represents a strategy that Obama has perfected: extending the olive branch with one hand and delivering a right cross with the other. Republicans must punch back. We must counter Robert Gibbs baseless assertion that “the party of ‘no’ has become the party of no new ideas.” And we must rebut any attempts by Obama to mischaracterize Republican alternatives. Because frankly we do have ideas, including:

  1. Providing affordable insurance to those with preexisting conditions through Universal Access Programs designed to expand and reform high risk pools
  2. Malpractice tort reform including capping noneconomic and punitive damages which the CBO says would “reduce spending on mandatory programs by about $41 billion and would increase revenues by $13 billion”
  3. Regulatory reform in the small group an nongroup market, including establishing association health plans to pool random risks and allowing individuals to purchase across state lines. The CBO estimates these reforms would reduce premiums:
    1. 10% for employers who get coverage through a small business
    2. 8% for those who do not have access to employer-provided coverage
    3. 3% for employees who get coverage through a large business

While the President continues to play political parlor tricks, Republicans have been given the opportunity to rise above the fray. Leave Obama standing at the pulpit of illusory bipartisanship and take a step towards the needs of the American people. If Obama’s remarks are any indication, I have a feeling he won’t be willing to meet us there.

– Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee