President Obama finally got the chance to directly confront his critics on the Hill today, and I have to say, this was a damned good television, and a great showing by the president, who batted down Republican arguments like a champ. The much more combative, feisty Obama than we’ve seen at any time, including the campaign, fired back at the GOP’s no jobs from the stimulus claims by reminding them that the three months before the stimulus passed — December 2009, and January and February 2010, saw 600,000 and 700,000 job losses, which couldn’t be a result of a stimulus package that didn’t exist. He swatted down the charge that he rejected plans that would have created more jobs and cost half as much by saying “why would I oppose that?” … and he just slammed the party of no by saying that they’ve boxed themselves into not being able to work with him when they’ve simultaneously been going around saying “this guy is trying to create some Bolshevik plot to destroy America.” And he added that he can’t just adopt Republican proposals without some independent verification of the claims the GOP is making about their plans. The bottom line: Obama told the assembled GOPers that demonizing him does them, and the country, no good.
UPDATE: The reviews are in, and they’re staggeringly good. Ezra Klein has called the mini town hall “the most compelling piece of television I’ve seen, maybe ever.” And a Republican aide reportedly confided to Luke Russert that they shouldn’t have allowed cameras in. In other words, the House GOPers got played by the POTUS. More here. Meanwhile, Mike Pence and the GOP is out spinning the confab today, pushing hard to retire the “party of no” label.
Where has THIS guy been for a year? Watch the whole thing: (the Huffpo has the transcript)
The Republicans, meanwhile, are repeatedly whingeing that Obama isn’t listening to their ideas, and that Nancy Pelosi is shutting them out, to which he keeps reminding them that he does read their bills and proposals, but it can’t be that they vilify him on Monday, and then race to the ribbon cuttings to tout the very spending they rail against on Tuesday. Obama just added that on healthcare and other bills, “if there’s universal opposition because the Republican caucus doesn’t get 100 percent or 80 percent of what they want, then it’s not gonna work, because that’s not how democracy works.” And “just because it’s my administration that’s proposing it doesn’t mean you can’t support it.”
UPDATE 1:19 p.m.: Obama just said “we have to be careful what we say about each other, because our constituents start believing us, and it boxes us in.” He added that the media runs with the negative, and he acknowledged that both parties are guilty of demonizing the other side. He then complimented Rep. Paul Ryan, then quickly took it back “in case he gets a primary challenge,” getting a laugh out of the crowd.
The uptake: Politico portrays the meeting as straight out of “prime minister’s question time,” which is actually, surprisingly true for Politico. It would be good for the republic, I think, if this kind of thing happened more often. (BTW Politico just switched their headline from “Obama grilled by House Republicans” to “Obama rumbles with House Republicans.” Wonder if they’re getting sensitive to their reputation for being the Internet equivalent of Fox News …
I think Republicans went into this thing thinking they were going to paste the president to the wall and embarrass him on television. Instead, from where I sat, Obama got the upper hand on nearly every questioner, quickly dismantling their talking points like a good prosecuting attorney, while they, clearly self-conscious about coming across as the mean, Obama-hating “party of no,” and so gratuitously referring to the president as “sir,” and reiterating what an honor it was for him to be there, came across as clearly the losers of the one-on-many debate. Even Mike Pence, the hero of the Republican right, got repeatedly schooled.
Great work by the president, who should have adopted this persona a long time ago. But now that he has, it’s welcome.
UPDATE: Mediaite reports that Fox News, no surprise, broke from the throwndown early in order to jump right into attacking the president. As they put it, “I guess bipartisanship isn’t good for ratings?”
More reviews: Northeastern University professor Alan Shroeder called the exchange: “political theater at its finest: fascinating, thought-provoking, and educational.” And I think pretty much everyone (except House Republicans) would like to see more of this, much more. Larry Sabato concurs that such meetings should be held (and televised) regularly, and he adds:
No one expects that the parties will join hands and sing Kumbaya. They shouldn’t, in fact, because their job is to present alternative philosophies and policies to the public. But if you want to see the most destructive aspects of political polarization reduced or eliminated, here is a forum that should be institutionalized and held regularly.