I am willing to give Michael Gerson and Pete Wehner points for trying, but there actually is no point to trying to talk sensibly to the conservative base. Quoting James Madison and Aristotle (that heathen!) isn’t going to convince the mouth-breathers of anything.
Ryan Cooper explains why:
In a sense, this is the damage done by the combination of President Obama’s moderation and instinct for compromise, and Republicans’ preposterous imaginary version of same. In an effort to reach moderate Republicans and obtain a Grand Bargain, Obama has reached ever-further right on policy. But since Republican beliefs about the president are based in reactionary, deep-seated cultural anxiety, all he has succeeded in doing is accidentally claiming nearly the entire sane policy spectrum for the Democrats.
I’m not sure that Obama’s actions were as accidental as Mr. Cooper suggests. If you go back and look at his campaign and then his initial staffing decisions, it’s pretty clear that he wanted to build a coalition that extended from the far left wing to the starboard edge of the center-right. Among his early supporters were moderate Republicans like Colin Powell and the children of Dwight D. Eisenhower and William F. Buckley. He kept lifelong Republican Robert Gates on as his Defense Secretary and picked Ray LaHood to be his Secretary of Transportation.
You can look at this uncharitably if you happen to be a progressive Democrat who wants an emphasis on progressive policies. You can look at it as largely an accident of President Bush’s epic fuck-ups, which made “reasonable” Republicans gettable for the Obama campaign. But I view it as a sign that Obama understood that he needed a huge coalition to get things done, and that’s what he accomplished in his first two years.
However, with most reasonable Republicans already in his coalition, the president discovered that he had unleashed in his opposition an unrestrainable strain of Goddamned Crazy that could be not put back in the box or the bottle or wherever the hell it came from. Wasilla, probably.
Back in January 2010, after the Senate had passed ObamaCare but before the House had done so, President Obama met with the Republicans at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, in Baltimore, Maryland. After some brief remarks, he took questions, including one from Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Here is the last part of the president’s response to Blackburn:
The last thing I will say, though — let me say this about health care and the health care debate, because I think it also bears on a whole lot of other issues. If you look at the package that we’ve presented — and there’s some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating, we were in the process of eliminating. For example, we said from the start that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your — if you want to keep the health insurance you got, you can keep it, that you’re not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.
And so we were in the process of scrubbing this and making sure that it’s tight. But at its core, if you look at the basic proposal that we’ve put forward: it has an exchange so that businesses and the self-employed can buy into a pool and can get bargaining power the same way big companies do; the insurance reforms that I’ve already discussed, making sure that there’s choice and competition for those who don’t have health insurance. The component parts of this thing are pretty similar to what Howard Baker, Bob Dole, and Tom Daschle proposed at the beginning of this debate last year.
Now, you may not agree with Bob Dole and Howard Baker, and, certainly you don’t agree with Tom Daschle on much, but that’s not a radical bunch. But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you’d think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot. No, I mean, that’s how you guys — (applause) — that’s how you guys presented it.
And so I’m thinking to myself, well, how is it that a plan that is pretty centrist — no, look, I mean, I’m just saying, I know you guys disagree, but if you look at the facts of this bill, most independent observers would say this is actually what many Republicans — is similar to what many Republicans proposed to Bill Clinton when he was doing his debate on health care.
So all I’m saying is, we’ve got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. I’m not suggesting that we’re going to agree on everything, whether it’s on health care or energy or what have you, but if the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don’t have a lot of room to negotiate with me.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You’ve given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you’ve been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.
And I would just say that we have to think about tone. It’s not just on your side, by the way — it’s on our side, as well. This is part of what’s happened in our politics, where we demonize the other side so much that when it comes to actually getting things done, it becomes tough to do.
The most important thing?
“You’ve been telling your constituents…this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that’s going to destroy America.”
Way back in January 2010, the Republican Party had already catered so much to the Crazy that the president called them on it to their face.
And then they ignored him, and a handful of them were eaten by the wolves they had helped to create, just as the president had predicted.
So, Gerson and Wehner can try to talk reason all they want, but the reasonable horse left the barn a long time ago. It’s out rampaging through town, knocking down old ladies and terrifying the children.