Obama’s outstanding outreach

The President should continue his efforts to include the minority party.

Since January, President Obama has made a much more concerted effort to reach out to Republicans, an effort he has made as public as possible.
A few weeks ago, he spent an hour and a half answering questions from House Republicans in Baltimore, a session that was broadcast live. He created a bipartisan panel to study ways to shrink the national debt, which is modeled on a proposal by Republican Judd Gregg and Democrat Kent Conrad, (and which ironically had to be implemented by executive order, since Congress refused to create such a commission on its own). Finally, he has planned a half-day meeting with Republicans and Democrats about healthcare on February 25th that will be broadcast live. Reaching out to Republicans in these ways is worthwhile, despite the RepublicansâÄô resistance. Obama is offering legitimate access to policy-making for the minority party, but since campaigns are run on promises of future action and not on results achieved in office, the Republicans seem uninterested. House Minority Leader John Boehner has absurdly called the open, live-broadcast, bipartisan session on healthcare âÄî in which Republicans have a chance to articulate their healthcare ideas to Democrats and the American people âÄî a âÄútrap.âÄù They have suggested Democrats start from scratch on healthcare, and seem to think they should have significant authority and control over most legislation. What they fail to realize is that elections have consequences; the American people gave the Democrats a 20-vote majority in the Senate, a 77-vote majority in the House, and the Presidency for a reason. However, it is still worth ObamaâÄôs time to reach out to Republicans. For one thing, it looks good politically. Voters love a good bipartisan measure, especially moderates and independents âÄî groups whose support for Democrats has been declining. This is not to say his outreach should be false or pandering; rather, we should hope the American people respond to genuine acts instead of calculated political maneuvers. Obama campaigned on changing the culture in Washington. Delivering on this promise, or at least doing his part, should still be a goal of his Presidency, and would win him a great deal of popular support. More importantly, if Republicans can be convinced that having access to policy-making is a good thing, the two parties working together will yield better results for the country. We have seen the consequences of one-party rule in all branches of government during part of the Bush Administration; those consequences are ugly no matter which party is in charge. A balance between competing forces and ideas will yield the best solutions for our country, not a single party legislating its pure ideology unchallenged. ObamaâÄôs outreach will also put Republicans and those who consider themselves Tea Partiers in a predicament. Conservatives who characterize Obama as some kind of socialist tyrant seeking to take over government and consolidate power for himself have backed themselves into a corner where engaging in constructive partnerships with the Administration hurts them politically. The way to resolve this conflict is by destroying the legitimacy of the characterization: tyrants donâÄôt actively seek to share power with the minority party. On the other hand, if Obama and the Democrats were to cut their losses and ram legislation unilaterally through the House and Senate, then the accusations of tyranny and consolidation of power would not only grow louder, they would begin to have a basis in reality. Obama should continue to reach out to Republicans for the practical benefits of better policy and legislative ease; the political benefits of bipartisanship and broader popular support; and the benefits that come with debunking opponentsâÄô rabid accusations of tyranny. That being said, the Democrats still have huge majorities in both Houses of Congress, and they have the Presidency for the moment; even as they reach across the aisle, they should be the ones driving the debate and setting the agenda. Eric Murphy welcomes comments at [email protected]