It was only a couple of years ago that I first saw the Prime Minister’s Questions, wherein Members of Parliament get to query the Prime Minister. I found it astonishing that such a thing existed, that the PM had to think on his or her feet in response to the questions of the day from opposition party members.
Today, President Obama appeared at a retreat for House Republicans, and after a short speech, he took questions for more than an hour. You can find this on CSPAN, and there are a lot of commentaries being written, all of which I’m sure are good … pick the one you normally read, I got my first taste from Salon, via Mike Madden, who offered the anecdote that gives this post its title: “Democratic operatives around Washington watching it had pretty much the same reaction: ‘Where the hell has this guy been?’”
I was very depressed after the State of the Union address, as I realized just how far my own opinions were from our President’s. Today was a much different affair. Obama did a few things. He presented himself as a reasoned centrist, and managed to make that position seem tolerable to someone like me by acknowledging differences of opinion but not of facts (as Al Franken, among others, said, you’re entitled to your own opinions, you’re not entitled to your own facts). In pressing that point, he made what I generally find to be his loony passion for bipartisanship seem quite worthy. But he also called the Republicans out for forcing rancor into American politics by working, not in a bipartisan way, but in a way designed solely to provide talking points for future elections:
Obama gave the lie to Republican claims of bipartisanship, called them on those lies, but left the door open for future discussion, all while identifying himself as a centrist, not a Bolshevik. It was a brilliant performance that clearly established the differences between him and the Republicans, which I believe is essential if the Democrats are to have continued electoral success … without making that difference clear, he risks losing his liberal wing to apathy.
Now, it was easy in one sense to enjoy the session, because of what was left out. Nothing about foreign affairs, and nothing about human rights issues related to the “war on terrorism.” But for what it was, this was something.
And I couldn’t help thinking of another session that would be illuminating. If Obama, rightly, insists on his status as a centrist, and if I am correct that centrist Democrats are gradually making the word “liberal” seem like something marginal in comparison to the Democratic Party, why not have Obama do something like he did today, with liberals in place of Republicans. He’s got the skills to pull it off. While he was great today, it doesn’t take much to demonstrate that Republicans don’t always have a clear grasp of reality. It would be harder, I think, to do the same to liberals. But I’d like to see him try. He’s beaten Joe Palooka … it’s time to take on the #1 contender.
I no longer expect President Obama to make a case for liberalism. But I don’t need a President who agrees with me on everything. What I do expect is a President who is more than a lesser evil, someone who makes a legitimate case for his positions. I saw that President today. Where the hell has this guy been?